The strategy conversation you can only have here

Moving the queue from the ATM to the web server


A few weeks back, in my article about online banking, I made a comment about a major South African banking group claiming to be the first to have online banking; but in fact having not much more than a few inquiry screens.

Well, that's all changed. Nedbank came to the party last Friday with their launch of Netbank. I am fortunately already a Nedbank customer and have used Beltel to access my Nedbank accounts, so I presume that the transition to their web based banking was easier than most.

As with any online bank, security is an issue. Netbank is no exception and it comes with security software that you need to download and install. To their credit they give explicit instructions on the home page.

As with most things computer, there was a problem with the software and it didn't load correctly on my computer. It was a little difficult to find an e-mail address on the site but eventually I used one of their feedback forums to cry help. A note came back a few hours later in true South African banking style: "Thanks for your note, unfortunately our staff have all left already but someone will contact you on Monday."

Being 3 o'clock on a Friday, this was pretty normal banking procedure but it did put a bit of a damper on my struggle to get online. Then out of the blue, Gary, a knight in shining armour, came galloping through on the Netbank toll free support line. "No problem," he said, "I'll e-mail you a copy of the software right away." Five minutes later and I was in business.

I was told that the software would automatically configure Netscape and the Internet Explorer on my computer which it did with no problem. Ready to log on, I hunted down my Nedbank profile number from an old statement and entered it on the log on screen. Password? Easier said than done, of course.

Going through my various bank cards, credit cards and slips of paper I tried every password that Nedbank had every given me - to no avail. Back to the toll free line. I'm sure you know that getting anyone from an SA bank to speak to you at 6.00 pm on a Friday is quite unusual. Not so with Nedbank.

After supplying Gary with my profile number, we quickly slipped back into catch 22 mode with him politely pointing out that the password would have to be issued by someone in a Nedbank branch.

By this stage my appetite had been wetted and there was no way that I was going to go home and admit that I had failed in my quest to be one of the first people to log on to the country's first online bank.

I supplied Gary with a stream of information about myself including my mother's maiden name so that he could verify who I was. Again he came through for me. "Here is a temporary PIN," he said, "please change it as soon as you log on."

Congratulations Nedbank - you really have come to the party in terms of web- based banking. Everything available through Beltel is available on the web. The functionality is of course a vast improvement over Beltel.

There are still some obvious omissions such as the ability to set up a new account payment online (you still need to go into the bank) but without leaving my PC I logged on for the first time, browsed my statements, transferred money between accounts and paid an outstanding telephone bill.

Nedbank has supported the launch of Netbank with an advertising campaign on television which it seems may have been a little too successful. Upon demonstrating Netbank to a colleague on Monday I got no joy from their web server as I waited with all the other users.

It's interesting to note how the banks have moved the queue from within the bank to the ATM machines and now we wait as our bits and bytes of information stand in line to receive attention from a web server.

The Netbank slogan: "from inline to online" may be just a little ahead of its time.