Picture: MARIANNE SCHWANKHART
Picture: MARIANNE SCHWANKHART

JSE-listed Net1, which is soon to be "released" from its social grants contract, says its network of branches and ATMs will soon rival SA’s biggest retail banks.

"It is with great excitement that we are counting down the days to the end of our Sassa [SA Social Security Agency] contract on September 30," Net1 CEO Herman Kotze said, referring to the company’s controversy- ridden contract with the government, which has turned unprofitable. Once the contract ends, the group will redeploy the assets that its Cash Paymaster Services unit has been using to distribute grants.

While some of its vehicles are nearly seven years old, it has enabled those that it could to be "fully interoperable with the banking system", Kotze said.

"Specifically, the technology that we’ve deployed on these vehicles in the form of the cash dispensers and biometric readers … will certainly be redeployed as part of the EasyPay Everywhere initiative."

So in terms of our mission to provide last-mile access to the population, that’s not dependent on the users of the system being Net1 customers. They can be customers from any one of the banks, so we hope to maximise the use of that infrastructure
Herman Kotz

That initiative will result in Net1’s mobile ATM and point-of-sale terminals business being able to accept cards from "all other banks".

"So in terms of our mission to provide last-mile access to the population, that’s not dependent on the users of the system being Net1 customers. They can be customers from any one of the banks, so we hope to maximise the use of that infrastructure."

Since this programme started, the number of non-Net1 customers accessing the group’s fixed ATM infrastructure increased from 124,000 in March to 310,000 at the end of June. "We believe the number of individuals utilising our infrastructure will increase meaningfully once we make our mobile ATM infrastructure interoperable," Kotze said.

The company plans to open another 11 branches over the next 12 months, taking its total network to 180 locations, while the number of fixed ATMs will grow by 50% to 1,500.

"Together with the inter-operability of our mobile ATMs, another 800-plus ATMs will become accessible to customers of any bank," Kotze said.

Net1 has also enabled associate company Finbond to become an issuer of its UEPS/ EMV cards and is awaiting final certification from major card networks.

The companies expect to start issuing cards in the second quarter of 2019.

"Finbond themselves have over 430 branches in SA … so together with Finbond, we would have over 600 branches and 2,000 ATMs, giving us a combined network that would rival any of the large retail banks in SA," Kotze said.

hedleyn@businesslive.co.za