World-class banking for 2010

A section of the massive Absa Bank call
centre in Auckland Park, Johannesburg.
(Image: Chris Kirchhoff, For more free
photos, visit the image library.)

Wilma den Hartigh

The 2010 Fifa World Cup will not only boost South Africa’s tourism industry, it will also be an opportunity for the country to show off its sophisticated banking system to the world.

According to Nikki Tyrer, Accenture South Africa’s heads of customer relations management, the financial services sector should make the most of this opportunity by offering efficient service to visitors at all times.

According to Accenture research, South African banks will be under severe pressure during the World Cup. With more than 3-million visitors expected in South Africa, foreign exchange and ATM facilities will experience much higher volumes of tourist traffic.

Coping with this demand will require meticulous planning. Banks should, for example, set up additional exchange counters in branches and ensure ATMs are always online and stocked more often.

Tyrer said that while the services locals and international tourists needed may be fairly similar, the visitors could require more help in areas such as language. More than this, plans must be made for situations such as an ATM machine swallowing a foreign tourist’s bank card late in the evening when the traveller is due to fly home the following morning.

South African banks could learn from the Bank of China, she said, which set up a multilingual call centre for international tourists as part of its drive to improve customer service during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

All their branches and key staff were given training in business acumen, service etiquette, foreign languages and servicing customers with disabilities. Tyrer said tourists travelling to South Africa are unlikely to prefer a specific bank and all branches will be a key point of contact for many clients. Banks should consider additional signage in foreign languages and employ more floor staff to help with queries.

Prof Hennie van Coller, head of the Afrikaans Department at the University of the Free State, says the skills needed for a multilingual call centre can be readily found . “South Africa definitely has all the language expertise needed to set up a facility like this,” Van Coller said.

The university’s foreign language departments have already discussed setting up such a facility. He explained that it will also be useful in other sectors such as health, safety and general communication queries.

Volunteers from across the county could participate and need not be stationed in one place, Van Coller said. Postgraduate foreign language students could also get involved in the project, which could be structured as part of the courses.

Accenture also recommended that banks extend operating hours, step up security and even expand product offerings. For the Beijing Olympics, the Bank of China created targeted products for tourists such as “Olympic Temporary Accounts” and safe box facilities.

Other financial services institutions could also step in, which insurance companies, for example, offering short-term insurance against theft, or medical cover.

Doret Els, an economist with financial and investment firm Efficient Group, said the financial sector has already started taking steps in the right direction. “The latest development that allows people to pay for fuel with credit cards is very useful to South Africans and foreigners,” Els said.

She added that international visitors are used to sophisticated financial systems, which is why electronic banking systems are so important. Most tourists would prefer to make transactions electronically, instead of carrying large amounts of cash on them.

Accenture’s research had similar findings. Small businesses and vendors may require point-of-sale (POS) facilities for foreign tourists. Tyrer said financial institutions could supply POS facilities at a reduced rate for smaller businesses.

“If we have good financial structures it will attract more investment into the country in the future,” Els said. “This is a great opportunity that South Africa has to leverage.”

According to Accenture, the 2006 Fifa World Cup in Germany resulted in an annual GDP increase of 0.7%. Revenues from tourism and travel exceeded US$400-million (R4-billion), with a further $2.62-billion (R512-billion) attributed to retail sales during the four-week tournament.

South Africa stands to draw similar benefits for growth and investment, with its GDP expected to grow by about $2.1-billion (R21.3-billion) – a figure many economists consider to be an underestimate. Tyrer encouraged all sectors of the economy to prepare to create a positive experience for tourists, encouraging them to return.

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