By Jennigay Coetzer – Business Day, 29 July 2010

Internet and mobile phone banking is expanding its reach into non-traditional areas. For example, today anyone can transfer money to a recipient anywhere in the world by internet or mobile banking through Absa’s local agreement with Western Union, which provides cross-border payment services across 200 countries, including parts of Africa.

“A recipient in Kenya can present proof of identity and redeem the money in local currency at a Western Union office,” says Christo Vrey, managing executive for digital channels at Absa. He says Absa customers can also prepay for electricity usage, on their cell phone, by selecting an option and entering a value that is then deducted from their bank account, and are then provided with a voucher number to feed into their meter.

“We will be releasing this functionality on internet banking at a later stage,” says Vrey.
He says the banks are also fired up about providing personal financial management services in the future, for example to allow customers to access a composite view of all their assets and liabilities with the bank, categorise the transactions and create a budget.

They could also provide customers with a view of all the products they have with the bank, and allow they to track the progress of an application for a new service, such as a credit card, in real-time. “This type of functionality was previously the realm of accounting applications, but it was complex to integrate it with banking information,” says Vrey.

He says the functionality of mobile phone banking is also expanding, and an increasing number of customers are accessing internet banking from their phones. He says users of Absa’s mobile portal http://absa.mobi have tripled since February.

“There is a specific section for the youth, which includes free ring tones and music, and we had 50,000 free music downloads last month.” Vrey says internet banking users need to be vigilant in protecting their information from malicious practices such as phishing when transacting online.

He says users should ensure they enter the bank’s correct website address themselves and never try to access it from a link in an email. “The banks will never send emails to customers asking them to click on a link to access internet banking.”

Users should also ensure there is a closed padlock symbol on the internet banking site, before transacting, because bogus websites do not have this lock. Absa has introduced an added security feature whereby customers are asked to enter a phrase known only to themselves, which is then presented to them each time they log in to confirm they are on the bank’s authentic website, says Vrey.

Another tip is that users can see if an email is part of phishing scam, by moving the mouse over the website link they have been asked to click on, without clicking on it. A window will then pop up displaying the real website address the link will connect to, which is hidden underneath the bogus bank website address.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist. She also does media spokesperson training and article writing skills training.

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