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Spotlight On In-Branch Banking in Africa

Our Focus On series begins with an interview with our Director of the African Region, Zia Siddiqui. He is a longtime observer of banks, a committed queue management technologist, and by our calculations, part-time soothsayer! We interviewed him to get the scoop on the past and present circumstances impacting African banks.  




 “The branch has and will continue to be prominent in Africa” 


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(Hakim Faiz) Briefly, how would you describe the impact of the pandemic on banks and their operations? 

(Zia Siddiqui) African banks are facing a responsibility to help their countries rebuild financially from the impact of the Covid pandemic. With rising pressure to take action, it is only logical that they would improve and adjust matters internally before seeking to help others. The pandemic has brought many underlying problems back into the public eye. If anything, Covid has given us the opportunity to be more proactive by showing us precisely what needs changing, adjusting and eliminating.


 “…the right attitude and informed understanding matters …since the back office processing remains un-digitised, reduction in service times seems impossible. To succeed is to find the problem and come up with the right digital initiative to solve it.” 


(HF) What were your thoughts on the longevity of the bank branch? 

(ZS) The branch has and will continue to be prominent in Africa. In 2018, I firmly trusted that the future of banking was ripe, despite limited branch coverage. With 5 branches to every 100,000 adults as compared to the 13 in Asia, and the 17 in Latin America, customer reach was wanting. The situation is similar today, and the best way to remedy this remains the digitisation of banking channels. The branch need not become defunct, rather ill advised and obsolete management resources should be done away with. 


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(HF) Where did, and do you think change was/is needed? 

(ZS) Previously, the back office where investment was required to digitise processes. The front end was safe since individual tellers are crucial for high value transactions and services. A focus on the expansion of automation in the back office processes of the physical branch space was key, as was the move for routine transactions to mobile channels and self-service machines. 

Today, the right attitude and informed understanding matters. Teller’s service time can not be reduced by assuming that it will remain high due to a lazy work ethic or ineffective management. Rather, I believe since the back office processing long remains un-digitised and unautomated, reduction in any service times will seem impossible. Management can only go so far without conscious and continuous investment in digitised management solutions, processes and ultimately, its legacy. To succeed is to study the transaction times involved and come up with the right digital initiative to solve the issue at hand. This will of course require regular monitoring, calculations and analysis to reduce service times, and hence wait times! 


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My true digital bank branch concept is similar to a digital store. Take for example, the Apple Store. A customer takes an appointment to discuss and conclude a high value business deal. Before their arrival to the branch, the teller or Relationship Manager is up to date on their history with the bank. The bank is prepared for the customer’s expectations, instilling in them trust and confidence in the product or service they are purchasing.


 “As a manufacturer, Wavetec strives to improve customer experience by deploying self-service designs for our products, as well as offering complete solution packages …that can be personalised, operate 24/7 and provide a digital experience.” 


(HF) How are Wavetec solutions poised to help in the above mentioned areas? 

(ZS) Much like in 2021, in 2018, Wavetec solutions were stores of data, which could later be analysed and compiled into reports to better aid the bank in understanding the customer’s flow and level of satisfaction for each branch. The key Dashboards for any bank to monitor are those displaying wait times and service times, as these can be used to ensure that employees stay within the defined performance range. 






While the Customer Feedback solutions monitor the level of satisfaction, as well as an assessment on NPS. Footfall data can be used to predict future trends and changes, allowing more time for adjustment, improved management and consolidation. Additionally, this simplifies the categorisation of customers based on the kinds of services they will likely avail of and provides the opportunity to judge, and review one’s digital strategy. 


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As a manufacturer, Wavetec strives to improve customer experience by deploying self-service designs for our products, as well as offering complete solution packages to banks and telecom companies. These packages include Wallet Top Up, Cash Dispensing machines, and other contactless, self-service solutions that can be personalised, operate 24/7 and provide a digital experience. As a company, we became aware of this trend and actively involved ourselves in the transformation. 


(HF) You mention the categorisation of customers, care to expand on that? 

(ZS) Over a decade ago, banks were not especially interested in engaging non-customers. Today, they want to attract the very same using their services, the ease and convenience of these and a prominent digital footprint. The goal is to engage them into the bank’s individual ecosystem, and our Queue Management technology allows them to make the distinction so different customer journeys can be facilitated.


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 “The banks who succeed are those who automate while also experimenting with various technologies to find the right mix of physical and digital channels.” 


(HF) Since Wavetec describes itself as a streamlined, seamless and contactless solution, how best do you see the combination of utilities in one kiosk as being of use? 

(ZS) With a high cost to asset ratio, African banks will need to cut back the excesses of their operating models – made possible by combining all the services on offer in one solution. A self-service kiosk will facilitate cash credit and withdrawal, KYC, risk assessments, bill payments, ticket purchases, etc. all in one platform, available 24/7. These kiosks, both Cash Deposit Machines (CDMs) or Cheque Deposit Kiosks (CDKs), a product of Azimut (Wavetec’s sister company), help cut costs and service time, improve revenues and are safe in the current health climate. 






(HF) Based on the example of banks you have seen adapt and succeed, what characteristics were common to them?

(ZS) The banks who automate while also experimenting with various technologies to find the right mix of physical and digital channels. They aim to improve the consumer experience and determine the path for the bank’s continued digital transformation journey. The key is collecting information, making sense of it in reports, consulting computer analysis and then taking the necessary steps to implement effective change and make adjustments. 

Do not skimp on cyber security and technology since they are the forefront of consumer trust and interaction, and you can not afford any interruptions. Invest in Artificial Intelligence solutions, which can be deployed for purposes of predictive analysis and to monitor customer trends. Without this, it is likely that said bank will lose their market share.


(HF) What do you have to say to those who today, and in the recent past, have  touted the “mobile first, digital first” nature of client needs in Africa?

(ZS) I support this statement which is in no way a detriment to our business model. Mobile banking compliments self-service machines as both drive convenience – with mobile banking supporting virtual transactions, and kiosks enabling physical cash handling services. Our open APIs are developed to seamlessly extend the capabilities of these machines, similar to the way the App Store has supported mobile functionality. 


(HF) Any interesting management suggestions you have come across recently?

(ZS) McKinsey’s 2020 report on the condition of banks in Africa featured an interesting opinion. They claimed flexibility in the workforce, in the division of resources and in the adoption of technology is important. And that operating models should be redesigned for speed and efficiency – such flexibility will promote multi-tasking and central capabilities-building. The result is cross-functional teams with greater work-from-home productivity. 




It is clear that the current pandemic has simply exacerbated and catalysed the need for processes that were already being adapted to. Zia is now accepting applications to predict the winners of this year’s football World Cup.




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