Ecobank Direct is a new bank branch concept launched in Accra, Ghana by Africa’s leading pan-African banking group. Stephen Williams reports.
The old idea of a bank branch, with counters and tellers – and if not hand- written ledgers, slow and creaky computer systems to access account information – would appear to be about to be made redundant if a new model, as launched by Ecobank, takes hold.
What is termed Ecobank Direct is demonstrating a new way of conducting banking. The first of its kind within the Ecobank network was launched earlier this year.
Any Ecobank customer, from any of the 36 African countries where the pan-African group has operations, can enter the branch to use touch-screen monitors to check their accounts, make payments, use the latest generation of ATMs to bank or withdraw cash, buy airtime for a mobile phone, pay bills or print an account statement.
Customer services at Ecobank Direct are administered by a team of Ecobankers, readily on hand to offer assistance and advice – and specialist external Ecobank advisors can be reached on video links from special booths inside the bank. Information on all the bank’s products is also relayed on giant screens. It’s futuristic and smart, a flagship branch that is the pride of the Ecobank group.
Abena Larbi-Yeboa is Ecobank Direct’s centre manager. Speaking to New African Markets, she explained the rationale behind the decision taken by Ecobank to locate the centre at Labone, an upmarket suburb of Ghana’s capital Accra.
“Initially, it was to target the embassies and non-government organisations that are based around here. We also have some very big offices and corporations with headquarters in the vicinity, many of whom are our corporate clients and whose employees have Ecobank accounts. Everybody was very happy to see us open and to use our services, and we were able to target many middle to high income clients that either work or reside in the area.”
Nevertheless, the centre is open for any Ecobank account holder and, as Larbi-Yeboa points out, the non-customer can also use the ATMs, if they hold debit or credit cards.
“If I was not an Ecobank account holder but wanted to pay into an Ecobank account, I could also do that here,” she added.
But why did Larbi-Yeboa think that Ecobank thought it necessary to open a digital centre when, presumably, most middle income or high income account holders, or even corporate account holders, would have access to digital technology anyway, in their office or at home?
“The services we offer go beyond retail banking to also include a financial advisory service, so our customers can ask about investment, ask about loans, ask about mortgages, ask about pension plans – the full range of our bank’s services.
“That’s why we have the videoconference facilities where customers can have a one-on-one consultation with our experts.” Larbi-Yeboa says that any customer can come into the digital centre and discuss any aspect of the bank’s services.
“We are customer-centric,” she emphasises. “But we probably attract those sorts of customers who are less dependent on bricks and mortar branches. We are seeing a growth in non-cash transactions, and we attract customers who are comfortable with the technology space, who are happy to make payments online, for example.”