FNB Connect banks on voice and data

Farren Roper, Operations Manager at FNB Connect
Farren Roper, Operations Manager at FNB Connect, a division within First National Bank that provides converged voice and data solutions to customers, talks to ITNewsAfrica.com about their FNB Connect phone application and its impact on the mobile market.

ITNewsAfrica.com: What is FNB Connect’s strategy in the telecoms space?

Farren Roper: Our goal is always to add value to our customers by creating savings on their phone and Internet bills – South Africans particularly are demanding low-cost telecommunication solutions. We are not just a bank, we believe in a convergence of banking and telecommunication solutions. As an example, we launched a service to reward FNB cheque account individual holders with up to 1GB free data bundles when they register for free with FNB Connect and offered a trial 1GB free data bundle for non-FNB customers.

ITNewsAfrica.com: What innovative services has FNB Connect introduced lately?

Farren Roper: The last months have been quite innovative for us. As part of our ConnectSurf offerings, we have introduced in November ADSL data bundles up to 50GB for as little as R12,50/GB. Selling free bandwidth capacity at a sustainable level allows our customers to benefit even more from reduced rates.
At the time when we launched (2008) we could offer ADSL data at a flat rate of R59 per GB, now we bring competitive ADSL data bundles to the market, 3G Vodacom packages and Wi-Fi vouchers. Our business model is virtual and mobile, with no fixed line infrastructure in place.
Mobility is key in South Africa and there is a strong opportunity in making voice and data convergence on mobile devices, something we have achieved with ConnectTalk’s innovative application, the Connect phone software application which is available for download on compatible cellphones supporting Symbian, Windows Mobile and most recently iPhone OS, iPod Touch and Android.

ITNewsAfrica.com: In what ways will this application fill gaps in the market?

Farren Roper: The application features a personalized 087 number, free VoIP calls, free integrated messaging, direct imported contacts, up to 100 min voice recording, fax functionality, free calls to FNB service numbers and location-based services (GPS). The application runs on Wi-Fi, 3G and ADSL networks.
We aim to bring it out to cellphones that cover the bulk of the market. BlackBerry is the next target, a difficult task since it has its own free Instant Messaging tool.

ITNewsAfrica.com: How has the application been received so far?

Farren Roper: We had almost 80, 000 downloads since the application was launched last year, which exceeded our expectations. Certainly, voice is still predominant in South Africa, where data penetration is low and VoIP is seriously taking off.
The application is not only offering free on-net calls, but also cheap off net calls. Prior to ICASA’s announcement of interconnection call rates dropping from R1,25 to 89c per minute, we had already enforced local mobile call rates of 99c/min, off-peak mobile call rates at 79c/min and SMSes at 35c, below what the market offered at the time.
We currently have a promotional strategic offer of 25c/min for both local and international calls, to end 22 January 2011.

ITNewsAfrica.com: Will this force operators to further lower their rates, in your opinion?
Farren Roper: Our call rates could very well drop further or the offer could be extended. On a similar note, the retail call rates are expected to drop further to as little as 40c by 2012, as enforced by the regulator. I believe the real challenge here is actually the customers‘ education around call rates in a price-sensitive market. We have gone this far to post a comparative rate calculator tool on our webpage. Technically, we focus on the pre paid market where consumer can understand what they are paying for.

ITNewsAfrica.com: What is next for FNB Connect?

Farren Roper: Until broadband penetration increases, the benefits are not going to filter down to the consumer and we want to address this with our customers, in particular with our FNB clients – through value-add, attraction and retention offers.
Our end-goal is to provide our application on any device and we hope that the decrease in call rates and the improvements in the smartphone penetration rate in South Africa will create better products for FNB Connect to meet its purpose.
Going forward, we aim to become a one-stop-shop for all banking and telecommunication requirements. We have exciting plans for next year, so watch this space!

By Denisa Oosthuizen