Get ready for South Africa’s new state-owned bank

 ·15 Feb 2024

President Cyril Ramaphosa has proclaimed the commencement of the new South African Postbank Amendment Act – which will become active law in the country on 19 February 2024.

Ramaphosa signed the Postbank Amendment Bill into law in September 2023, formally transferring the Postbank’s shareholding from the embattled South African Post Office to the government.

This allows for the creation of a Bank Controlling Company – the new holding company of a bank – opening the way for Postbank to become a fully-fledged state-owned banking operation in the country.

While Postbank has always offered minor banking services through the Post Office, it was strictly a savings subsidiary, unable to offer transactional accounts, credit, and other banking services.

With the Postbank Amendment Act in effect, the group, now independent of the Post Office, can move forward as a state-owned entity, apply for a new banking licence from the South African Reserve Bank, and launch full banking operations.

While maintaining the Postbank name it held under the Post Office, it will become an entirely new banking entity.

Next steps

The bank previously noted that when the new Act comes into law, it will start resubmitting and finalising its section 16 application to become a registered state-owned bank. It said it hopes to finalise the licensing for operations in the 2024/25 financial year.

Postbank’s primary objective will be to offer affordable financial services to communities not catered for by traditional retail banking, SMEs and the public sector.

In its annual performance plan for 2023, the bank acknowledged that it would be entering an already highly competitive banking market.

In essence, Postbank is ‘late to the party’ for offering affordable services as provided by smaller banks and business services offered by the likes of larger legacy banks.

Compared to large banks (Absa, FNB, Standard Bank, Capitec and Nedbank), Postbank argued that there is a small overlap of target customers between low, medium, and high-income customers.

Compared to smaller banks (TymeBank, African Bank, Bank Zero and Grindrod Bank), Postbank said there is a greater overlap in target customers and economic segments with grant recipients, low-income earners and ‘Post box’ accounts already targeted by these firms.

Despite this crossover, the group says there are about 6.5 million people in South Africa who are unbanked, and 15 million existing customers that are under-banked. In addition to this, there is about R12 billion found outside the formal banking system, excluding stokvels, which can be addressed.

The group sees a lot of opportunity in the SMME sector – a group which is quickly becoming the key focus of South Africa’s other big banks.

However, despite its ambitions, the bank is facing several headwinds ahead of its planned launch.

Postbank recorded a net loss of R2 billion during the 2022/23 financial year, following a R302 million profit in the last year.

The bank attributed the loss to the payment of grants, which it took over in 2022. Significant investment in manpower and supplementary services for physical cash payments were required.

Nevertheless, the bank said that it remains solvent, given the value of assets, even with the loss.

Read: The cheapest bank accounts in South Africa 2024: Capitec vs FNB vs Absa vs Nedbank vs Standard Bank and more

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