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Innovation That Makes Africansense
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Innovation That Makes Africansense



Shyft is a smartphone app and debit card.

Using international currencies has always been difficult in Africa, where many countries still have strict exchange controls. This is something that Shyft, the foreign exchange app and linked debit card from Africa’s largest lender, Standard Bank, aims to solve.

Currently being piloted in South Africa, Shyft is a smartphone forex trading app that allows anyone with a Standard Bank account to buy and store up to ZAR1-million ($76,000) in foreign currency per year. It can store four currencies, US Dollars, Sterling, Euros and Australian Dollars, as well as South Africa’s Rand.

Its users can do international transfers and create virtual cards for shopping online through the app, while a physical MasterCard can be used for international travel, both for shopping and ATM withdrawals.

Before it had even launched this year, Shyft won an award last October from banking alliance Efma at its prestigious Innovation Summit in Barcelona. It won a bronze medal for “The Most Disruptive Innovation in Financial Services” at the 2016 Efma–Accenture Distribution & Marketing Innovation Awards.

“The success of the app rests in the fact that it is redefining the way people manage their forex by simplifying foreign exchange transactions – no more paperwork, no more queues and, best of all, it will save our customers money,” says Fikile Kgobe, the head of forex and trade sales for personal and business banking at Standard Bank South Africa’s Global Markets.

“When speaking to our customers, we found that, regardless of what they were doing, foreign exchange felt complicated and difficult; they didn’t want to have to walk into a branch every time they had a forex need. Over and above this, one of the key messages that came through was the lack of control customers felt, especially due to the volatile nature of the [South African] Rand,” she told me.

Last year Standard Bank announced its mobile banking was growing 100% a year, as it launched a pan-African banking app. “We’re trying to be really focussed in Africa and take out the friction of dealing in Africa,” Peter Schlebusch, Standard Bank’s chief executive for personal and business banking, told me at the time.

Arno von Helden, the head of forex and trade product for personal and business banking at Standard Bank South Africa’s Global Markets, says this is just the beginning for Africa’s largest lender, with plans to roll it out across the continent.

“Right now we are working on a number of innovations. Some are centred on creating new capability, while others focus on improving existing customer experience based on their feedback. Standard Bank has a presence in 19 countries in Africa and we are seeing massive demand for this type of solution in those countries too,” he says.

“Shyft is also a prime example of the way we as an African bank can harness innovation from fintechs anywhere in the world, and put the convenience and simplicity that innovation makes possible quite literally in the hands of our customers. No bank can work fast enough to do that on its own. “

Von Helden says Standard Bank wanted to make its customers’ banking experience simpler and researched their needs and priorities. “Customers are now able to buy foreign exchange 24 hours a day, seven days a week at a live rate, whenever it suits them. The app has eliminated the need for paperwork and queuing at the bank.”

Alain Enault, Efma’s general manager for Southern Europe, Latin America and Africa says Shyft is a perfect example of the kind of agile innovation big banks need to adopt. “I personally believe, but this is my personal opinion, that showing what you can achieve with limited resources, budgets and teams can be a great example for others in your organization to be encouraged to think smart and take initiative,” he told me.

“Shyft is an all-in-one solution, and that makes it stand out versus less straightforward solutions to achieve a similar outcome, that imply multiple interactions. Shyft integrates all these cumbersome steps into an intuitive app.”

Efma is a global not-for-profit organisation whose members – from 3,300 retail financial services companies from over 130 countries – make up almost a third of all large retail banks worldwide, it says. Shyft won in a category filled with much bigger, better-funded and longer-running projects. “The jury focuses on the uniqueness of the initiatives that compete for the awards, and the approach taken to develop the idea and make it well-rounded solution. We usually observe that teams that had to work with limited resources and budgets had to think harder and smarter to make their idea happen. Scarcity is very often a great incentive to design elegant and simple solutions,” Enault said.


*Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff magazine (All things technology). Based in Johannesburg, his TED talk on innovation in Africa has had more than 1.4m views, this article was recently published on Forbes online.

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