Standard Chartered launches digital-only bank in Ivory Coast

Standard Chartered is launching its first digital-only retail bank in Ivory Coast, saying it will use the west African country as a testing ground for a global launch of digital services.

The move is part of a fightback by banks in Africa, where telecoms and financial technology companies have grabbed market share from banks by offering services such as mobile money and mobile payments, often to previously unbanked customers.

In Ivory Coast, where it has no bricks-and-mortar retail presence, the new StanChart bank will offer clients 70 digital services, including money transfers, bill payments and balance tracking.

The French-speaking west African country of 24m people, which has been growing at about 7 per cent a year for several years, has the fifth-highest mobile money penetration in the world, according to StanChart.

There are an estimated 9.8m mobile money accounts in the country registered with telecoms companies, including MTN of South Africa, Orange of France, and Moov, a subsidiary of Etisalat, the Emirates provider, and technology platforms, such as Celpaid and Quash Services.

To raise awareness, StanChart is partnering with Didier Drogba, the country’s most famous football player, who will sign up to be the first customer of the digital bank.

“For us, this whole rollout in Ivory Coast is part of a much wider strategy to capture the digital initiative,” said Sunil Kaushal, StanChart’s chief executive for Africa and the Middle East. “We don’t have a legacy retail business there and it was very important for us to pilot this launch in a country where you had a clean slate.”

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Mr Kaushal said it was important that the bank was providing what he called an “end- to-end” digital offering. “This is not just a client-facing digital app,” he said, adding that automated services would allow it to run a bank with between one-seventh and one-fifth the staff.

Mukhisa Kituyi, secretary-general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, said that the banking industry had been caught “with its pants down” as telecoms companies moved aggressively into mobile payments and services. “Mobile money has been driven by telcos, not financial institutions,” he said.

Across Africa, banks are seeking to entice back mobile customers and regain market share. In Nigeria, Diamond Bank said on Tuesday it was launching an AI-assisted Chatbot, named Ada, to provide “a human-like interaction and personalised experience” for customers. Ada, it said, would enable transactions such as airtime purchase, bill payments, stock trading, and money transfers via a social network platform.

Mr Kaushal conceded that banks had been on the back foot, but said the offering in Ivory Coast was a big part of StanChart’s response. “This is a test bed for us. All along, the banks were getting disrupted, but now we are going to be the disrupter.”

Once the operation had bedded down, he said, StanChart would launch a digital bank in other African markets, including Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana. The “stack” of 70 services being offered in Ivory Coast would form the basis of the bank’s digital offering worldwide, he said.

StanChart has traditional retail banking operations in 10 African countries.

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