Bank Zero is open for business

Digital-only Bank Zero has officially launched for public access on Tuesday.

The group said it will take a staggered approach to its public launch, allowing people to sign up to a waiting list, from which a few clients at a time will be given access to the app where they can complete the process of registering.

The long-awaited launch of the bank follows several delays. Plans for the bank were announced in January 2018, with a targeted launch at the end of the same year or early 2019. The launch plans picked up momentum in the latter parts of 2019, but hit roadblocks in 2020 along with the rest of South Africa due to the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns imposed by the government.

A brief timeline of Bank Zero’s journey:

  • January 2018: Michael Jordaan announces plans to launch a new bank
  • June 2018: Bank Zero shows off the first mainframe, points to ‘early 2019’ launch
  • September 2018: Bank Zero’s Mutal Bank licence gazetted, with effect from August 2018
  • October 2018: Alpha testing starts, launch targeted for ‘mid-2019’
  • March 2019: Beta testing starts, launch targeted for ‘second half of 2019’
  • September 2019: Launch delayed to 2020
  • November 2019: Debit card goes live, launch targeted for ‘first half of 2020’
  • March 2020: Covid-19 virus lands in South Africa
  • May 2020: Bank Zero working from home – public beta planned for second half of 2020
  • October 2020: Pricing and fees announced, public beta expected before the end of 2020
  • December 2020: Public beta delayed to ‘early 2021’
  • May 2021: Public launch expected ‘some time in 2021’
  • August 2021: Limited public launch

Bank Zero is the brainchild of former FNB chief executive Michael Jordaan and banking innovator Yatin Narsai – both of whom are closely associated with FNB’s digital transformation during their time at the bank.

The bank operates on a mutual banking licence. Mutual banks, or mutual savings banks, are banks that typically operate without capital stock, and are owned by their members who subscribe to a common fund.

Its main value proposition is offering a zero-fee banking account where own-bank transactions carry no cost. Transactions associated with third parties – such as drawing cash at ATMs and retailer payments – draw the respective fees.

Aside from zero-fee banking, Bank Zero also boasts a swathe of security features and other digital innovations that it hopes will set it apart from other bank accounts on offer.

This includes what it deems unprecedented control over the security and access to your account.

  • App-phone authorisation for all online purchases – whether the site does secure purchasing or even if it’s unsecured (often targeted by criminals). Since App-phone authorisations are impractical for subscriptions posted by online news sites and others, it allows you to select which sites may bypass your App-phone authorisation.
  • Unique Bank Zero card patent – uses cutting-edge security, which minimises the impact of card data theft, card skimming and fraudulent eCommerce transactions. The 16-digit card number doesn’t change each time you replace your card – unless you want to – which means card details for digital subscription services don’t have to be reset.
  • All new debit orders need to be authorised – Customers can check the provided details, and reject them immediately if they don’t recognise them. Bank Zero prevents rogue debit orders from hitting your account, as long as you keep your eye out for the red Bank Zero tasks.
  • Connected banking – Directly connect your Bank Zero accounts (and/or profile) with family, friends, children, staff, co-owners of businesses, club/stokvel members, or basically anyone you choose. Share information, allow sharing (or not) of funds, and remain up to speed on all transactional banking matters relevant to you or those you connect to.
  • Full control – Use the App to control your Bank Zero card. Lock it fully if temporarily misplaced or lock partially to control ATM use. You can even select what type of ATM use is allowed. Control who does your online card authorisations; decide whether a PIN is required for small tap transactions, etc.
  • Other features include QR code payments, biometric access, and more traditional functionality like proof of payments, all handled digitally through the app.

Bank Zero says that it is an app-driven bank, as opposed to a bank with an app. All functionality – from sign-up to support – is handled through the app, with no branches or call centres in its portfolio.

It offers transactional and savings accounts (interest rates), for individual clients and businesses – but says it will not offer credit.

“We believe there is an oversupply of credit in South Africa. And we believe that through innovation we can start a process of reducing the credit burden of our customers,” it said.

“Certain types of long-term credit, when carefully applied, can lead to growth and we appreciate it when banks offer that facility. However, what we want to change is the typical instant gratification mindset – which perpetuates a culture of expensive, enslaving debt – to a more longer-term goal-orientated one.”

Future plans will be to allow customers to become shareholders in the bank through holding specific cash investment products. The bank said it will make more information on this available at a later stage.


Read: Bank Zero launch plans ongoing amid Covid-19 disruption

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Bank Zero is open for business