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Money magic: That virtual credit card popped up just when I needed it most


Shapshak is editor-in-chief of and executive director of Scrolla.Africa

I realised I’d left my wallet at home, embarrassingly, as I was about to pay for groceries at my local Spar. I took out my iPhone to send one of those FNB cashless withdrawals to myself when my phone suddenly showed the white Discovery Bank credit card. If I double-clicked on the side button, I could use this digital card to pay. I did. It was like magic.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

I really don’t mean to gush. But it was magical. I’ve been a technology journalist for 20 years now – what sociologists will tell you is a generation. There are very few “wow” moments I can recall in that generation of technology change from the rudimentary Windows 95 beige desktops to today’s utterly remarkable smartphones, with more power and a faster network connection than the Apollo computer that landed humanity on the moon.

At the time, I didn’t know what to be more embarrassed about: that I forgot my wallet or that I was so blown away by how the app popped the card up just as I needed it.

It’s my job to test new things – shiny gadgets, unnecessarily large televisions, powerful smartphones, new apps and web services, and even new business models. I’m often pleasantly surprised at how comfortably I move between laptops, smartphones, tablets and favourite apps. I have grown accustomed to trying new things, both in hardware and software. If only I could parlay this adaptability into something truly useful like trading shares…

It is also my job to highlight great innovation – and there has been a lot to write about in the past decade in banking, especially in financial services.

I’ve been a big fan of the FNB app for years. It was the reason I moved over. It was light years ahead of the competition when it launched. Likewise, I started using Standard Bank’s excellent Shyft app about six years ago. I was a long-time virtual credit card user by the time such things became mainstream in South Africa last year.

Shyft’s clever zero-rated cards (which require pre-loading with credit) are another smart innovation, as is the way FNB has integrated approvals for online credit card purchases into its app.

As you pay for a Sixty60 or Takealot purchase, these apps prompt you to approve the transaction through the FNB app. I love it. SMSing codes was a great security feature five years ago, but it’s now an easy way to compromise your security, especially for internet banking scams – which previously required such an SMS code to verify things like adding or changing a beneficiary.

Cashless withdrawals via the FNB app have saved me on numerous occasions when I have forgotten my card. Last year, I gave up using my wallet, carrying my credit card and driver’s licence loose in my pocket. I watched the constant alcohol washing destroy the poor plastic card as it fought bravely on the frontlines of Covid paranoia.

Last year I set up FitBit pay on my Versa watch, so I’ve been using a smartwatch to pay instead of a card. That seemed like magic back then, when we were paralysed with fear about contact of any kind.

So, as that Discovery Bank card popped up on my screen in the Craighall Spar, it was like magic. Of course, I know it wasn’t, because it must use whatever NFC technology tap-and-go credit cards use. But it was seamless. And it worked perfectly. That was a hidden delight in a new banking service – which saved my embarrassment for forgetting my wallet at home.

I remember when the whole concept of tap-and-go cards was announced. It was a radical idea, that you could just tap a credit card and pay with it – without needing a PIN code for a certain threshold amount. I always thought it should have been called the more accurate tap-to-pay, but the whole “and-go” part was meant to show us how we’d pay in the future. Now tap-and-go is so mainstream, you can even withdraw cash from FNB ATMs by tapping your card instead of inserting it.

Fintech, as the flourishing industry is known, is indeed flourishing – and I haven’t got to startups like Yoco, SnapScan, Zapper, Ozow, Bank Zero or TymeBank. There are many crypto wallets and services, a crypto ATM and a flourishing insurance tech industry, where Naked, Pineapple and others are also doing well. This is a very encouraging financial sector, especially the big banks’ partnering with smaller fintechs. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.


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  • John Strydom says:

    You obviously feel pretty safe around these apps. What is it that makes them so safe? I am still pretty hesitant about doing any banking transaction on my phone. Do you use some security software, like Kaspersky?
    I would appreciate an article that sets out why there is safety to be found in this new magic.

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