Bank Zero is here

Following multiple delays and years of controlled testing, South Africa’s newest digital bank, Bank Zero, officially launched to the public on Tuesday.

Access to the app will be “throttled” initially, the bank said, to ensure that staff responsible for verifying FICA documents can keep up with the volumes.

To sign up, new clients will have to join the bank’s waiting list. Requests to join will be released in batches of a few thousand at a time.

Bank Zero was announced in January 2018 after it was evaluated by the South African Reserve Bank and granted a provisional mutual bank licence.

The app-driven bank is the brainchild of tech entrepreneur Michael Jordaan and banking innovator Yatin Narsai, two figures well known for spearheading FNB’s digital banking transformation.

Its core value proposition was offering a bank account with no monthly subscription fee and lower transaction costs than conventional banking accounts.

Bank Zero does not rely on the traditional banking structures of established banks like head offices, branches, and numerous employees.

Instead, it runs entirely on an app, intending to put digital interaction and communication front and centre.

To access cash, customers can use any ATM or cash out at major local retailers.

michael-jordaan
Michael Jordaan, Bank Zero co-founder

Initially, Jordaan said Bank Zero would “hopefully” launch in late 2018.

In October 2018, the bank announced it had integrated with SARB’s national payments system, allowing it to begin alpha testing with a small team validating its end-to-end live systems and processes.

Limited testing among its staff began in March 2019, with a soft launch date to the public planned for the second half of 2019.

This date was revised to 2020, with Narsai, the bank’s CEO, stating that the Bank Zero team did not want the additional complexity of a soft launch to interfere with the focus on the wider launch of the bank.

In November 2019, Bank Zero announced its patented debit card had gone live to undergo rigorous security and system trials through simulated card attacks and card fraud detection tests.

In May 2020, Jordaan told MyBroadband that Bank Zero was planning to launch a controlled beta to the public in the second half of 2020, which went live in September.

With its official launch coming more than three and a half years after its announcement, Bank Zero is now facing tough competition from banks who have responded with similar low-cost products.

Digital banks Discovery Tyme Zero

For example, TymeBank, which launched around a year after Bank Zero got its mutual banking licence, has its EveryDay Account with no monthly fees, account initiation fees, card issuing fees, or card usage fees.

It also provides a savings tool that lets users create 10 saving accounts and earn up to 7% interest.

FNB and Nedbank also offer zero-monthly fee accounts with their respective Easy Zero and Pay-as-you-use products.

The former allows customers to open a bank account in a few minutes via a USSD shortcode.

Capitec also lets customers create a bank account with a virtual credit card using only its app.

In addition, the other two big banks, Absa and Standard Bank, also offer pay-as-you-use type accounts for less than R5 per month.

 

While Bank Zero is a latecomer to the South African digital banking space, it remains confident that its value proposition will be good enough to convince new customers to sign up.

While it charges no monthly fees and no fees on payments, statements, or buying prepaid data, airtime, and electricity, Bank Zero co-founder Lezanne Human previously told MyBroadband that pricing would not be the bank’s “main thing”.

Human said Bank Zero’s superior functionality and its easy-to-understand offering were some of its biggest selling points.

Narsai has also listed key aspects outside of pricing that will set Bank Zero apart, including:

  • Patented card technology that offers greater security and convenience.
  • Advanced payments technology like mandates processing for businesses.
  • Integration with Xero Accounting for businesses.
  • Unique features that connect people in line with modern social trends.
  • Powerful and cost-effective QR payments which enable micropayments without the need to share account and cellular details.

In addition to these features, Bank Zero also said that it offers clients greater control over debit orders and online purchases.

Card skimming fraud is not possible because Bank Zero said it rejects any swipe transactions. If you try to swipe your card at a payment terminal, you will be prompted to tap or dip your card instead.

For online purchases, Bank Zero requires that you authorise every transaction in the app.

The bank said this combats card-not-present fraud if a criminal gets hold of your card details and tries to make online purchases with it.

To combat rogue debit orders, Bank Zero said it would alert you about new debit orders in the app and via email and allow you to reject them.

It will also warn you when a debit order is about to run, and there isn’t enough money in your account.

“You have until the next business day to fund your account. If we return your debit order as unpaid, a nuisance fee will be charged,” Bank Zero stated.

“With this feature, you never need those expensive overdrafts.”

Bank Zero’s fees are summarised in the table below.

Bank Zero pricing – “Banking should be free”
Activity Price
Monthly fee on account R0
Minimum balance in any account R0
Notifications on all banking activities R0
Open more savings or notice accounts R0
Transfer money between own accounts R0
Pay recipient at another bank R0
Pay recipient at Bank Zero R0
Pay recipient at Bank Zero using their QR code R0
Pay by debit order R0
Pay by card R0
Buy prepaid data, airtime, electricity, etc R0
Send proof of payment via email R0
Receive monthly statement via email or download R0
Request previous statements within 3 months R0
Request account confirmation letter R0
Set up new business profile R0
SendMoney to Bank Zero recipient using their cell number (up to R3,000) R0
Third-party costs are passed on to you
Activity Price
SendMoney to self (up to R3,000) — cardless cash-out at Checkers, Shoprite, Usave R8.50
SendMoney to someone not at Bank Zero (up to R3,000) — cash out at Checkers, Shoprite, Usave R8.50
Draw cash at ATM R9 per R1,000
Draw cash at Point of Sale (Pick n Pay, Spar, Checkers, Shoprite) R2
Balance enquiry at Point of Sale or ATM R2
Nuisance fees, including:

  • Insufficient funds
  • Exceeding card limits
  • Card set to lock or ATM off, or locked after 3 wrong pins
  • Using new card before activation, or using old uncancelled card
R2
Card personalisation with delivery to Pargo pickup points at Clicks stores R79
Card personalisation with delivery to a street address (main/regional) R139/R179
Send proof of payment via SMS R1.50
Value-added services are your choice
Activity Price
Open additional check account on profile R100
Request statements older than 3 months R10 per statement
Receive money via a Bank Zero QR code 0.5% of amount
Dispute or stop debit order R8
Dispute card transaction (i.e. chargeback) R30
No transactions on check account for more than 6 months R5 per month

Now read: Cheapest bank accounts in South Africa

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Bank Zero is here