Amid the prospect of regular load shedding in South Africa over the next few years, BusinessTech asked the country’s big banks how they’re set up to handle your finances when the lights to go out.
According to the power utility, it will take 20 to 30 months to work through its maintenance backlog; meanwhile the much-delayed Medupi and Kusile power projects are only set to be fully operational in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
The country’s power situation remains extremely volatile, and load-shedding looks likely to stay.
Worryingly, Eskom CEO Tshediso Matona has warned that one unexpected event at any of its power stations could potentially result in a total failure of the national electricity system. A failure which may take weeks to resolve.
In the event of such a nation-wide blackout, President Jacob Zuma and his cabinet will be taken to a secret location and soldiers will be deployed to protect the SABC and other key points.
SA mobile operators have already weighed in on how they would cope during a blackout – but what systems do South Africa’s banks have in place to keep their systems running?
Standard Bank said that it has “comprehensive” power backup arrangements, which would keep its systems running during blackouts.
Key areas that would be safe during these times include (but aren’t limited to) data centres, main office campuses and key branches.
In the event of a full blackout, the bank said it has diesel generator backup power available at all key sites, with entrenched service level agreements for service, maintenance and fuel replenishment.
“Standard Bank constantly reviews and tests its continuity plans in order to effectively respond to disruptive events,” it said.
“We are working closely with the SARB, other banks and key service providers to ensure appropriate levels of readiness in the unlikely event of a prolonged power outage.”
Nedbank said it has taken measures across its banking platform – as well as alternative distribution outlets such as Pick n Pay and Boxer Stores – to support its clients during ongoing load shedding.
“An ever increasing number of branches sales outlets and ATM’s are connected to generators and are strategically located to support surrounding branches during outages,” the bank said.
The group also makes us of a ‘buddy branch’ system where the bank re-directs clients to the nearest branch that has generator power supply.
“Nedbank’s data centres and campus buildings are fully equipped with uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and generators to ensure continued operations across its banking platform. Increased security remains a priority for the bank to ensure the safety of both its clients and staff in the event of alarm failures,” it said.
Capitec said that all its major branches are connected to generators, and its head office and business support centres are fully operational in the event of any power failure.
All branches in malls, where generator capacity is available, are also secure from power outages, and a further 242 generators were purchased for branches that did not have that option.
The bank said it also employs a “usage spread” policy, where towns with more than one branch will be directed to only one of them.
“Signage on the closed branch will direct the clients to the branch with power capabilities in their area. Branches where we have the lowest activity will be closed for the period of the power failure.”
In the event of a full country-wide blackout, the bank said it would be able to hold out as long as the fuel supply, cash-in-transit services, fix data lines and cell reception hold.
“Fuel in storage can generate power for a few days, but we will have to replenish the storage tanks after a few days,” it said.
Absa said that load shedding has had “little to no impact” on its operations due to its “energy efficiency initiatives and robust contingency planning”.
The bank noted that its Johannesburg Towers Campus is equipped with a gas energy centre for uninterrupted power supply, and that it also has generators in most of its branches to ensure the impact of load shedding on customers is mitigated.
The bank did not provide any further details on its long-term contingency plans.
According to FNB, its campus sites such as BankCity and Fairlands in Johannesburg, Portside in Cape Town and many others, have both UPS and generator backup.
The systems are also installed at FNB data centres, allowing the sites to operate indefinitely on their generator systems during blackouts.
“Our office and data centres have large diesel reserves to ensure continuity, and our digital banking channels such as Online, Banking App and Cell Phone Banking are supported by these power backup systems,” the bank said.
Further, UPS and/or generator systems have been installed across the branch network to the extent that landlords permit the installation of generators, it said.
It said that in the case of any civil unrest that may occur during a long-term blackout, the bank will take decisions based on conditions at specific sites and will close sites if needed for security reasons.