Artificial Intelligence, New banks

For South Africa’s first challenger bank, conversational AI isn’t just a nice-to-have

  • TymeBank has launched Max, an AI-powered digital assistant.
  • Developed by Finn AI, Max enables the challenger bank to scale.
close

Email a Friend

For South Africa’s first challenger bank, conversational AI isn’t just a nice-to-have

South Africa's TymeBank has launched Max, an AI-powered conversational assistant designed to help consumers learn about personal finance.

For South Africa's first challenger bank, conversational AI is an important piece of its product roadmap.

"Conversational AI is probably one of those things you can define as 'not urgent but very important'," said Coenraad Jonker, CEO of TymeBank. "We don't think you can grow and scale a bank in emerging markets without a conversational interface."

That's because of what Junker likes to call 'the mystery of missing information'. In the US or the UK, it's relatively straightforward to price risk on a new accountholder. There's generally enough financial information in mature markets to make a risk decision.

That's not the case in South Africa. In addition to helping new prospects learn about the digital bank, TymeBank will use Max to learn more about its new customers in order to fill out a credit profile.

"Max is a little piece of magic for us," said Jonker. "It's the missing link in our ability to scale across channels."

South Africa has high penetration of mobile messaging. WhatsApp is the most popular messaging app in South Africa (and Africa as a whole). Of the 18 million social media users in South Africa, almost half of them spend most of their time on WhatsApp. Facebook Messenger is the next most popular messaging app.

"With Max, we brought a banking experience to consumers with zero learning curve," said Jake Tyler, CEO of Finn AI, the company behind the technology that went into Max. "It's very familiar to people and we brought the conversational assistant to channels where customers already spend time." Max works in Facebook Messenger and Facebook Messenger Lite.

TymeBank Credit Score Dashboard

Max was launched as part of TymeCoach, the challenger bank's consumer education app. It teaches customers about credit and the interplay between their financial behavior and their credit scores. Tyme eventually plans to use Max to move from a conversation about financial wellbeing to recommendations about specific financial products and services.

"It looks like a version of Credit Karma," said Tyler. "Access to credit and credit scores is big issue in South Africa. This idea of having a personal banker in everyone's product looking after financial health and wellbeing lines up well."

Emerging markets have ecosystem shortfalls that mature markets don't. Onboarding is a big issue. Consumer behavior and regulation mean you essentially need to get into the physical world. 90 percent of transactions happen in cash, so creating a network to enable cash deposits is key, as well.

Since launching in February 2019, TymeBank has installed 730 automated bank kiosks in supermarkets around the country. The company has opened up over 180,000 new bank accounts via online and offline channels. The bank claims it is opening up 4000 new accounts per day.

"What's unique about Tyme as a challenger bank is that it's a hybrid of online and offline," said Finn AI's Tyler. "When someone walks into supermarket and visits a Tyme kiosk, they can walk out in five minutes with an account and debit card in their hands."

TymeBank's conversational AI is about more than acquisition and digital self service. It's also about scale for Jonker, whose business model supports no more than 200 people on staff. The company already employs 120 people. The challenger bank will need to support customers by funnelling them into a more natural channel for them to help themselves.

"We know we can't scale our costs along with our customer base." he said.

0 comments on “For South Africa’s first challenger bank, conversational AI isn’t just a nice-to-have”

Outlier OpinionsMakers

New banks

Rebundling banking services: Are fintechs trying to be more like banks?

  • Why are fintechs that have grown to a certain size continuing to pursue a banking license?
  • Luis Trujillo, CCO at Alviere sheds light on whether acquiring a license guarantees a successful banking business model for fintechs and if it constitutes a threat to banks.
Sara Khairi | January 09, 2023
Banking as a service, New banks

The Big Bank Theory Conference 2022: All session videos

  • Tearsheet's Big Bank Theory Conference brings together the most innovative players changing the face of the financial institution.
  • Here are the videos from this year's conference, held in December online.
Shabih Rao | December 21, 2022
Modern Marketing, New banks

Embracing ‘side bank’ status: 5 questions with Aaron Wollner, CMO of Quontic

  • As a community bank turned digital bank, Quontic has its own unique challenges in sticking out of the crowd.
  • In this Q&A, CMO Aaron Wollner talks about what’s new in the digital bank’s campaign work and how it’s been shifting its messaging to fit the current financial climate.
Rivka Abramson | October 19, 2022
New banks, Sponsored

Creating a winning neobank strategy through differentiation

  • There is a notable opportunity for neobanks to fill gaps that currently exist in traditional financial services, especially since they are free of the restraints of dated technology.
  • However, to be effective, they must identify a primary differentiator or central mission and then build the user experience around that north star.
Praxent | October 18, 2022
Member Exclusive, New banks

Banking Briefing: Will WFH become a thing of the past?

  • Banks are pushing to get employees back in the office – but what will that do for their efforts to attract tech talent?
  • Meanwhile, gender inequality is alive and well in the banking industry. Here’s what one bank is doing to try and solve that.
Rivka Abramson | September 12, 2022
More Articles