Wizzit Bank uses cellphone technology to reach those without accounts

Xolile Bhengu

Xolile Bhengu

Cellphone technology is bringing banking to one in four South Africans who have no bank accounts.

More than 13million people, particularly in rural and disadvantaged communities, will benefit from a partnership between a local bank that operates exclusively on the cellphone banking platform and the International Finance Corporation (IFC).

The IFC has invested 10percent equity funding in Wizzit Bank, which has created software that works on all cellphones and cellphone networks across South Africa.

Wizzit, a division of the South African Bank of Athens, found that 13million (nearly 28percent) of South Africa's 47million people were unbanked; but nearly 60 percentof the population owns cellphones.

Wizzit Bank chief executive, Brian Richardson, said the bank employs 2000 previously unemployed people known as WIZZkids from the communities to which the account will be marketed.

He said: "Most South African adults own cellphones and they know how they work. It's a logical tool to create access to banking. The challenge for developing economies is not to get the unbanked to the bank, but to get the bank to the unbanked.

"It made sense for us, as the pioneer of cellphone banking locally, to ensure that the poor also benefited from this technology.

"Our members are given a debit card [that] can be used for merchant purchases. They are not charged monthly membership fees for the use of cellphone banking, but are charged as they use it. There is also no minimum balance requirement for the accounts - R50 may not be a lot to most people, but for poor communities this can be a lot," Richardson said.