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The shift away from cash and towards digital and contactless payment methods has been accelerated by the pandemic. This, Standard Bank believes, will remain at elevated levels, and continue to grow under the new normal.

“Digital payments have now become a critical service,” says Ethel Nyembe, Head: Card and Payments, Standard Bank Group. “They allow for commerce to continue while reducing the risk of physical interaction and infection. We know that we will be living with the risk of Covid-19 for a long time to come and need to find ways to continue with life despite it.”

In 2018, Standard Bank launched Africa’s first prepaid and co-branded virtual card that can be loaded in real timefrom any account that a customer has with Standard Bank. The card is accessible on the Standard Bank mobile app, where it can be created – at no extra charge – and topped up on a regular basis.

Standard Bank customers can then use the virtual card to make purchases online and access popular apps without exposing the details of their main accounts. Within the Standard Bank app, users can select a generic virtual card which allows domestic and international online shopping, or opt for a store-only card as a result of Standard Bank partnering with popular e-tailers Takealot, Uber, Travelstart, Zando and Admyt.

“The virtual card comes with significant safety and security benefits and allows users to stay in control of how much they spend,” Nyembe says. “This creates a much-improved online payments experience by making the process simpler and safer – without adding an extra cost to the pocket of the consumer.

Nyembe explains that if an unauthorised individual hacks into an e-commerce site, they will not be able to obtain confidential account information if the purchase has been made using a virtual card.

“This offering has proved popular among our customers and we saw significant growth in transactions made using the virtual card in 2019.  These numbers are accelerating this year, due to the new normal under Covid-19.”

While South Africans have been embracing virtual cards for some time, the use case for this type of digital payment method has strengthened beyond what we could have ever imagined as a result of the health pandemic.” 

With restrictions around physical movement, more consumers have turned to e-commerce platforms to get products and services. A recent Nielsen study on the impact of Covid-19 on consumer behaviour shows that 37% of South Africans are shopping more online

Prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, Standard Bank had already embarked on a journey to digitise all aspects of its business, including products and services. These solutions, Nyembe says, were developed in accordance with customers’ increasing preference for convenient and more cost-effective digital channels over traditional ones.

Nyembe explains that the virtual card proposition has now been launched in other African markets including Zambia and that this will make it easier and safer for more everyday Africans to make purchases online.

At around the same time the virtual card was launched, Standard Bank added Samsung Pay to its digital payments’ ecosystem. Samsung Pay is a mobile payment and digital wallet service that lets users make contactless payments using compatible smartphones and other Samsung-produced devices (such as smart watches) at retail stores across South Africa and globally.

Standard Bank customers have embraced the convenience of Samsung Pay with much enthusiasm. Since launching in 2018, the use of this payment method has grown exponentially, albeit off a small base.

The strength of these innovations has not gone without acknowledgment. Standard Bank’s virtual card proposition won The Banker Tech Project Award 2019 (Payments Category) and the Africa Tech Week Technology Innovation of the Year 2019 and holds a patent for the concept in multiple countries.

“We strive to be at the forefront of new technology that will make the customer’s life safe – in the physical and virtual environment. We are armed with the type of payment methods that customers require in the current environment; they have been in place before the pandemic hit and will continue to be built upon as we head further into the new normal.”