From free burgers and ride-hailing services to hip-hop concerts and discounted petrol, SA banks are going all out to win customers as competition hots up. The biggest lenders are facing an onslaught of entrants for the first time in 12 years. And they are responding before the newcomers find their feet by pushing loyalty programmes, revamping digital offerings for technology-savvy millennials, targeting existing customers with extra products and services and cutting fees. The challengers — some of whose founders or senior staff cut their teeth in the banks they are now up against — could not be coming at a worse time. Most lenders are reducing costs, retrenching staff and closing branches to cope with an economy that has not expanded above 2% a year since 2013 and a move toward the increased use of digital services. Tax increases, higher utility costs and stubbornly high unemployment are squeezing consumers, who are not only looking to cut their expenses but also want more convenie...

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