A NEW generation of banking service has been ushered in by FNB's eWallet - a facility that enables the bank's customers to send money to any South African resident with a cellphone, anywhere in the country, instantly.
The person receiving the money only needs their cellphone to access the eWallet facility, buy goods online, make withdrawals from FNB ATMs without using a bank card, buy airtime or send the money on to another cellphone.
It is even possible to use the facility just like a real wallet - withdrawing or using only some of the money received, while leaving the rest of the balance in the wallet for use later.
The eWallet product is a first for South Africa, developed locally by FNB. While banks have been eager to reach new customers, especially in rural South Africa, FNB Smart Services chief executive Yolande van Wyk said not all South Africans want or need a fully fledged bank account.
"We have been working on this concept for some time now, and it combines the best of all worlds.
"We have found that most money transfers take place from more developed urban areas like Gauteng, to friends and family living in rural areas," she said.
According to Van Wyk, safety in transfer and transactions was an obvious priority for the eWallet service.
"Many South Africans with friends or relatives in rural areas have been forced to rely on highly informal means of money transfer, like sending envelopes across the country with taxi drivers or other third parties.
"eWallet money transfer is accurate, instantaneous, and the account is associated with the owner of the cellphone. Each eWallet account is safeguarded by a five-digit PIN and the maximum balance that can be stored in the eWallet at any one time is R1000."
The eWallet cellphone interface is extremely easy to use.
"Any working handset - no matter how new or old it is, or what make or model it is - can use this facility, because eWallet's functionality runs over the GSM network, which covers the whole of South Africa."
It requires no downloads, installations or extra kit since it works by USSD menus, otherwise known as "star codes".
"The menus and interface have been made as intuitive and easy to use as possible, on both the sender's and receiver's ends. So far we have seen very high activity rates of over 90percent of the eWallets created, with an extremely high rate of multiple use of the service."
Since the eWallet was launched in November last year, the facility has seen a 240percent growth in users and a record transaction rate of more than R1million a day, indicating that it offers greater ease of use and peace of mind over physical methods of cash transfer.
"In the near future this kind of safe and instantaneous payment service will become more typical - our customers will one day be able to walk up to a till or pay point and make all transactions from their cellphones, without having to handle actual cash.
"While there are existing money transfer products available throughout Africa, the eWallet is a great mix of services that have worked well elsewhere and that were in demand to meet the needs of our country's people."
As an introductory special offer, all eWallet transactions to date have been free and will remain so until mid-July, from which point an easy-to-understand and highly competitive pricing schedule will come into effect.
There will be a flat fee per transfer (from FNB account holder to recipient) of R9, and the eWallet will be charged a flat fee of R2 for online, cellphone-to-cell phone and airtime transactions (on the recipient's side). Recipients do not pay for withdrawals from ATMs.
"If someone is sent R100, they must receive and be able to draw out the full R100," said Van Wyk.
"Also, checks on information, such as a balance enquiry, will remain free."