A personal letter from ABSA about 22seven... Wait for ABSA Online, Andy! Please!

WOW. I'm not even an ABSA client and they hunted me down on LinkedIn to send me this personalised email (probably just the "Dear Andy" bit, hence don't feel bad talking about it) about 22seven, the new PFM startup in South Africa. ABSA are being extremely aggressive about this. And in some ways I can understand why. Otherwise, there are some big ouch'es in this one. Knee jerk if anything.

--- snip ---

Hi Andy,

Given the activity and conversation on social media sites around the 22seven launch yesterday, we have prepared the following information for you, that deals with security concerns associated with the sharing of one’s sensitive personal information.

There is also a formal statement that one can link to – available here.

The security of our customers’ financial and personal information is of paramount importance to us. We place a strong focus on ensuring that our customers are in complete control of their finances, and that there is no unauthorised access to their accounts. This is achieved in a number ways, including:

-          A two-phase logon system
-          Virtual keypad PIN input
-          SMS alerts of Internet Banking logon activity
-          One-time verification passwords
-          Free antivirus software
-          A personalised welcome message: Absa’s SurePhrase
-          Verisign Security Certificates to verify the encryption of the website
-          Multiple firewalls to restrict access
-          Advanced Encryption Software
-          Website timeout and automatic logout
-          3-password failure resulting in account suspension
-          Regular phishing awareness communications on absa.co.za , online banking and via other media channels

Absa cautions its customers to never share their sensitive personal information (including PINs, passwords, and one-time passwords) with anybody. This applies to all mediums including phishing emails, spoof sites, phone calls, and SMSes. 

South African consumers are regularly targeted by phishing attacks; and it is important to remember than by sharing one’s sensitive personal information with anyone may result in one’s account being accessed without their authorisation.

Personal Financial Management (PFM) tools are an essential aspect of the modern online transactional service, with this in mind Absa will within the next few months be unveiling its new online banking service, Absa Online, to our customers. The service, which has been in development for the past 12 months, will provide our customers with a unique online financial management experience. It will enable one to consolidate information from various institutions, budget more effectively, create a visual dashboard view of one’s personal finances and much more.

This rich array of personal financial management services will be integrated within the secure environment of Absa Online, removing any of the security concerns present in third party PFM tools.

This week Absa Online was released in a pilot phase to all 37 000 Absa staff members.

Absa Online features a fresh design, in line with modern Web trends. It also utilises a simpler and more intuitive navigational layout – to enhance the customer experience. It paves the way for us to offer customers a richer array of transactional and non-transactional services in the future.

Aside from the current functionality including payments, registering beneficiaries, opening new accounts and applying for loans, viewing archived statements and transaction histories, and much more, Absa Online also offers the following new services:

* Pay multiple beneficiaries – to make payments quicker and save you time you can now pay all your beneficiaries from a single view and at the same time.

* Capture information to complete your statement of assets and liabilities – the statement will be pre-populated with the account information that is linked to your Absa Online service. You can also manually capture any other assets and liabilities not held with Absa to create a comprehensive visual display.

* Manage your Rewards – your existing Absa Rewards account information will be displayed, and you will be able to redeem Rewards in various formats online.

* Set your own savings goals – Absa Online will allow you to create and track your progress for goals on a specific savings or investment accounts – such as “wedding dress for daughter”, or “deposit for a new car”.

* Secure Messaging system – this direct communication system will allow the customer to communicate with the bank in a secure environment.

Kind regards,

--- snip ---

Couple of issues here.
  • I understand banks are worried about this (major disintermediation threat and major phishing channel)
  • But to punt ABSA Online like this, aggressively, in the face of the launch of a competitor - well guys, ABSA Online had better be awesome. The only PFM (Personal Financial Management) tools I see here are the savings goals, elements of the "statement of assest and liabilities" (but then who the hell understands that language). 
  • Oh boy, I get pay multiple beneficiaries, send secure messaging and the ability to manage my rewards? 
Nice try. I don't want to be knee jerk and nasty myself - but this doesn't pass the smell test. You can't trumpet a launch if it's just catch up functionality to a bank like FNB - and it's certainly not PFM functionality.

Banks have a vested interest to stop this trend, even though it's been around for YEARS in the US/UK.

Firstly, they'd rather switch accounts than aggregate them. Pulling other banks accounts in means there is less of an incentive to switch into their walled garden - in fact this breaks down the very concept of walled garden.

Secondly, banks don't want to share the pie (which business does I suppose).

Thirdly, if any bank that is being aggressive about the 22seven launch goes and launches their own aggregation service (like ABSA say they will above, bolded) - well then... Hello Pot. This is the Kettle. You're Black.

Keep following this story. Fascinating.


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