Banks

Where to manage your finances

South Africa’s banking system is not only the most sophisticated in Africa (which isn’t necessarily saying much) but also the equal of that in many western countries.

There has been a reduction rather than increase in the number of banks operating in South Africa recently. Since 2002, some banks have been taken over, some have given up their banking licence, and others have left the market, including the African Merchant Bank, BoE Bank, Brait Merchant Bank, ING Bank NV and PSG Investment Bank. Surviving banks have had to make fairly drastic staff cuts to contain operating expenses. Nevertheless, there’s a strong demand for banking services, particularly bank loans and mortgages.

According to the central banking authority, the South Africa Reserve Bank(www.reservebank.co.za ), South Africa currently has 15 locally-controlled banks, six foreign-controlled banks (which, however, operate in much the same way as South African banks), two registered mutual banks and around 50 registered foreign bank branches and representative offices. The retail market is dominated by the ‘big four’:Absa (www.absa.co.za ), FirstRand Bank (www.firstrand.co.za ), Nedcor (www.nedcor.co.za ), and Standard Bank (www.standardbank.co.za ), who between them have over 15 million customers (including almost 1 million internet customers) and 25 million accounts. As in other countries, internet banking is projected to increase rapidly, although South African customers have so far been wary of banking online, following newspaper stories of hackers stealing large amounts of money.

Despite their sophistication, South African banks are widely accused of the same ills as banks in Australasia, Europe and North America, including high charges, poor levels of customer service, over-regulation (particularly foreign-controlled banks) and generally cartel-like behaviour. As anywhere, you should therefore shop around and compare rates before signing any contracts or taking out a loan (banks must publish their conditions).

Bank opening hours vary but are generally from 9am until 3.30pm, Mondays to Fridays, and 9am until 11am on Saturdays.

Complaints

If you have an unresolved dispute with your bank or a complaint about a banking service or product, you can approach the Banking Adjudicator (Tel. 011-838 0035, www.oba.org.za ), an independent body which provides a free, informal, confidential problem-solving service. You can only refer to the Adjudicator after having first approached the bank, and the Adjudicator will want your complaint reference number and copies of all correspondence between you and the bank.

If you have a problem concerning a loan, you can approach the Micro Finance Regulatory Council (Tel. 0860-100 406, www.mfrc.co.za ), a private, non-profit body appointed by the government to regulate the micro-lending industry and protect the interests of customers.

You can check your credit rating (for a small fee) or seek advice about credit problems from either of South Africa’s two major credit bureaux: Experian (Tel. 011-799 3400, www.experian.co.za ) and Trans Union (Tel. 0861-482 482 , mytransunion.co.za). If they’re unable to solve your credit problem, you next stop is the Credit Information Ombud (Tel. 0861-662 837, www.creditombud.org.za ), a voluntary, independent association reporting to an industry council.

Further reading

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