Sat Oct 22 01:43:39 SAST 2016

'dot.BOMB' survivor

By unknown | Mar 10, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Robert Laing

Robert Laing

Back when the Internet was new, financial institutions dabbled in cyberspace by creating separate businesses with new brand names.

Most of these fizzled out in the "dot.bomb" era once banks and assurance companies got comfortable with the technology and used it to strengthen their businesses.

A survivor is eBucks, originally created by FirstRand as a standalone Internet bank before it became clear that its existing bricks and mortar FNB would need a cyberspace branch.

Whereas Standard Bank's bluebean Internet business has dwindled into a credit card brand - presumably to replace the Barclaycard franchise Standard lost when the UK banking group bought Absa - eBucks has grown in its niche as a loyalty programme.

Much of eBucks' growth has been over the past four years since Lezanne Human was appointed as the FirstRand unit's chief executive officer.

Human has worked at Liberty Life's MyLife foray into cyberspace before it was merged with Standard Bank's bluebean venture.

Critics who say loyalty programmes need advanced maths to understand may be disconcerted to hear that Human is a Stellenbosch University trained applied mathematician. But the secret behind eBucks' success is that it is simpler than competing loyalty programmes, says Human.

"We took the decision to give eBucks all the characteristics of a normal currency. One eBuck equals 10c. It doesn't expire, and it can be transferred like any other currency," she adds.

Loyalty programmes such as frequent flyer miles have turned into an accounting headache for companies offering them.

The International Federation of Accountants require companies to list their outstanding loyalty offerings as liabilities. The air miles promised to frequent flyers now add up to more than the asset value of many of airlines which issued them, so the effect on their books will be dire.

Human said the law doesn't affect eBucks because all its "virtual money" is backed by real currency. Unspent eBucks accumulated over the past seven years amounts to R420million, which the company has investments to cover.

She lists as one of her key achievements that when she joined eBucks, FNB account holders were only spending 20percent of their reward points. This has grown to over 80percent.

Human got to know all the banks by working as a consultant.

She says: "I liked the culture at FirstRand best."

She got eBucks into the news by offering a space flight as a prize. The winner was announced, and will get her prize as soon as Richard Branson's Virgin or one of the other commercial space flight operators starts their service.


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