In fact, Larbi-Yeboa told me, those customers who primarily deal in cash are usually encouraged to open an account at a traditional Ecobank branch.
“I had a market woman who wanted an account and was trying to deposit quite large sums of cash each day. Then she would want to make large cash withdrawals to buy her stock. But this is not the nature of the service we provide here, so I advised her to go to another branch.”
Ecobank Direct is both a flagship and something of a proving ground for the services that Ecobank wants to introduce across the continent. By the end of the year, Larbi-Yeboa says, she is hopeful that ATM services will be launched at her branch that will allow customers to, for example, pay their satellite television subscription bill, or send money via Western Union. Eventually, these quite sophisticated services will be rolled out across Africa.
And does she see more digital branches being built by Ecobank in other high-income districts? “Yes, Ecobank has plans to roll out the Ecobank Direct brand, but they probably won’t be as large as this branch, they will be smaller service centres and probably built in carefully selected locations. That does not mean that Ecobank will only focus on higher income districts because Ecobank Direct was always envisaged as a product for any customer.”
In fact, Ecobank Direct’s manager says that the bank has already identified university students as being ideal clients for its services, so locating an Ecobank Direct service centre near a campus makes a lot of sense.
“Ecobank Direct is actually supposed to be a useful bank, so it’s targeted to anybody who is digitally savvy. And that’s not just the young – in fact when we first opened we had an 81-year-old man, an Ecobank customer, who came into the branch to use our consultancy services.
“We want to be the go-to banking service for anyone who feels comfortable using digital technology.”
But Larbi-Yarboa has not lost sight of the fact that for many Africans, a bricks and mortar bank branch has its attractions in the social sense. People look forward to visiting their branch and talking to the staff, perhaps even meeting their friends.
“It’s true. In this world everybody wants to have some sort of human interaction. And that is why we have client services officers. That’s why we have customer relationship officers.
“When people walk in here, we ask them, ‘do you need any help?’ And if they do, then we are on hand. If they don’t, that is fine too. They are most welcome to take care of their own business without our intervention if that is what they prefer.”