Absa launched ChatBanking for Twitter in May 2016, and ChatBanking for Facebook Messenger a few months later. In a press release, the bank described the service as a world-first in banking technology.

It allows customers to see the balance of their transactional account, pay a beneficiary, or get a mini-statement of their latest transactions. They can also buy airtime, data, or prepaid electricity. Setup seems to be as simple as a few clicks on Absa Online and a private message to the @AbsaChatBanking Twitter or Facebook accounts.

St Clair, who is Barclays Africa’s head of digital products, tells media update’s Nikita Geldenhuys that social media innovations like ChatBanking are set for future growth.

What has the uptake of the service been like, and how well have customers adopted the Facebook Messenger service in comparison to ChatBanking for Twitter?

There has been some good traction among early adopters, with users who sign up generally remaining active.

While uptake is not significant compared to other channels, such as our mobile app, it is within expectations. Many consumers are still hesitant about using bot-type services, but we expect that as the level of comfort and functionality of these services expands, we will see this adoption increase as well.

Due to its speed and ease of use, ChatBanking for Twitter is generally used for balance checks and prepaid purchases. The Facebook Messenger platform is slightly more popular. Users are generally more comfortable and familiar with the Messenger interface for private conversations.

Can you share some of the feedback you’ve received from customers?

According to our customers, they are particularly impressed by the speed with which they can complete transactions. It is by far the fastest way to make a payment or purchase airtime, with transactions being completed in 10 seconds or less.

One of Absa’s competitors has called social media banking a ‘fad’. Where do you think social media-based financial services, and the technology behind it, is heading in the future?

Social media is simply the first platform on which we have launched our ChatBanking solution. We see the opportunity to expand and integrate with other platforms in future.

Our aim in creating this solution was to give customers the opportunity to do their banking whenever and wherever they are, on whichever platform they prefer. It’s about giving them the freedom and choice to bank the way they wish to – and that’s a commitment, not a fad.

What’s keeping more social media banking solutions from lifting off in South Africa and the rest of the continent?

The barriers are the usual: awareness and trust. The more people use chat platforms to consume other services, the more they will trust the channel. A great example is found in Asia, where users use platforms like WeChat to book hotels, cars, food, and make payments for pretty much anything.

We are pioneers in this space and the first to bring banking services to these new channels. Chat platforms present a massive opportunity for consumers to communicate and consume services at a very low cost.

We are extremely excited about growing chat services across Africa.

What potential does this banking technology hold for financial services providers across Africa?

Social media and chat platforms are becoming the first choice for free communication across Africa, on mobile. People start their internet experience using tools like WhatsApp and Facebook.

We need to ensure that we offer banking and payment services on the devices and platforms that our customers use most. It is not going to be an easy ride, but we are already seeing millennials taking up the service and making it their channel of choice through which to bank.

Africa is where these services will soar.

Find out more about ChatBanking on www.absa.co.za.

Through its Barclays Accelerator programme, Barclays Africa is helping African innovators tap into banking trends. Read how social media could change the fintech space in the future in our article, Q&A: Yasaman Hadjibashi on social media innovations in Africa’s fintech sector.