Have Banks actually embraced Digital Convergence?

I have always viewed the Financial Sector’s attempts to move to the digital age in personal online banking with suspicion, feeling that they do not understand the concept of “Online”. Digital Convergence and immediacy as concepts seem to have passed them by. 

Perhaps I am doing some banks a disservice by tarring all with the same brush, but I will be delighted to be introduced to a bank that can actually demonstrate that it understands the implications of the Digital Revolution in a more fundamental way than by using millenials in their advertising and by rattling up an online banking platform and having you visit a branch before you can use it.

They seem to have interpreted Digital Convergence is a very restricted way, one that suits their purposes, while paying lip service to the needs and aspirations of their customers.  They are not in step with the digital age, where online banking means that in theory you should be able to signup for their services and immediately thereafter bank from anywhere on a variety of devices without ever putting foot in a branch. 

Capitec have failed the online test, FNB and ABSA have failed the online test, and now Standard Bank have joined the rest of the major SA Banks.  However, having said that, It’s not just SA.  My Scottish Bank required that I update my Internet profile, and POSTED, yes POSTED my new PIN to me.  No immediate access to my account. What’s the point of an online service that makes you wait days before it can be used?

They were surpassed this morning by Standard Bank.

Standard Bank have issued a new Internet Bank App to which you will be moved without the option in a little while when the old app is discontinued. They claim that your current Internet Banking profile allows you to move to the new platform using your existing credentials. Just enter your existing registered email account and password.

After trying unsuccessfully to log on, and being told the credentials I used for the old app were invalid, I was asked to reset my password. I duly entered my ATM card number and PIN as requested and was told it does not exist or was incorrect.  My ATM PIN is locked and I must now go to a branch to unlock it.  They use One-Time PIN to cellphone verification technology for other confidential transactions, so why not in this case? 

Access to the old app is also locked.  So, If I were needing to pay bills in SA and attempting to use either app from outside SA, far from a branch, I am totally screwed.

In frustration, I turned to my Windows cellphone to find that my cellphone banking app no longer connects because it has been discontinued and the replacement “UPGRADE” app is not available for Windows phones.  I call the support centre to be told that this is because the mobile security platform they use does not support Windows. Rather, it is a design decision by Standard Bank to deliberately exclude the Windows platform from the specification and development of the new cellphone app.  The usual flim-flam about “under active investigation and development” and all the rest of the corporate bulldust doesn’t cut any mustard with me.  

Perhaps it is time to consider a move to another bank. I’ve resisted for several years on the basis of better the devil you know, but this highlights the vast gulf between marketing and reality in the Financial Sector.

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Mumping and Grumping……………………..

I have been advised that in around six months time, an evil goblin will come to me in the night and suck my brains out.   The practical result being that 11.59pm I am fully employable, coherent and quite a nice chap really, but at 12.01, following the visitation of the goblin, I am a drooling idiot fit now only for the Shady Pines Home for the Terminally Bewildered.  The prospect of days of mindless pursuits like staring out of a window, daytime TV, golf and draughts, supper at 4.30pm, beddies and lights out by 7.30 thrills me skinny.   I’m sure the Damaging Director doesn’t want me skulking around the house all day every day like a bad smell around a drain.  She’ll be signing the forms double quick. 

So, as a practical effort to keep the old grey cells functioning, bring in some cash, and generally prove as according to the media, that 65 is the new 45, I started developing an online website to sell stuff.   I have a background in programming, so as Jeremy Clarkson says when presented with a Challenge, “can’t be that difficult can it”, before reaching for a large hammer.

Boy, was I wrong.

The first problem, choose a development platform.  There are many out there promising that you will have a fully functional website out there in minutes, with hordes of eager purchasers ready and willing to shovel money your way.  Unfortunately you now enter configuration hell. 

I started the installation of the most highly recommended website generator just before going to bed, thinking it would be ready for me first thing.  Nine hours later, stuck on 72%.  Great hopes for a speedy and responsive website dashed.   Enthusiasm diminishing.

The second website generator, “You need to upgrade your IIS”.  Upgrade.  Then, “You need to upgrade your PHP”. Upgrade.  Then, “Your current version of Windows does not support your SSL shell.  Please Upgrade”.   Sounds of application flying out of Window.    Enthusiasm diminished. 

The third.  Some hope.  Installs.  After some permissions tweaking on various files and directories.  But – it does not support any currency other than US Dollars.   South African law does not allow you to present a foreign currency invoice to a South Africa resident, and what SA customer will buy stuff from a SA shop priced in dollars anyway.   The banks will have the soul of your first-born to pay the fees for the currency conversion.

No enthusiasm.  Cynicism firmly established.

Eventually, candidate five or six allows me to create a website.  Not quite what I wanted, but getting there.  I upload it to my domain at my service provider.

My better half said the noise following my first attempt to look at the full-on Internet version reminded her of her childhood next door to a pig farm when they were making bacon.   Message from the service provider – “Your version of PHP is incompatible.  Please change to Version squiddly-donk.  Your version of MySQL is not compatible.  Please change to version piddly-tat”.   Both several versions behind the current, and the ones I was using.

I did, and got a website that consisted of lots of lovely pages of pure white.   Still battering away to find an equitable balance between white pages and actual content.  My PHP programming and analysis skills are improving by leaps and bounds. As Blackadder says, “Needs must when the Devil vomits in your teakettle”.

Still, learning a lot about Digital Marketing.  Seems a lot like non-Digital Marketing with added electrons.   Lots of snake-oil salesmen as well.

To summarise, the adverts that say that you will be a squillionaire by Christmas using their website generator are a load of old hows-your-father.  By the time you have a workable website up and running, it will feel like the evil goblin has had a go at your cranium.   And the bailiffs will have carted off all your stuff.

Other observations.

Never let a teccie design a website.  On my rampages around the web looking for the bit of string and box of matches needed to make the ship float,  I saw many examples of the current fad for form over substance.  Great-looking websites using the most up to date whizzy software, but the most irritating to actually use to find stuff.   If it was ever there in the first place.   Fudging SEO to make sure they appear on the Google search results page even if there was no connection with your search requirement seems to be the cornerstone of Digital Marketing. 

Other grump – passwords.  You enter the password into the box, and usually repeat it into the second box.   Back comes some guff about a password needing 12 characters, one number, a capital letter, a special character and proof you know the capital of Mongolia.  Why isn’t that requirement on the password creation screen?  Guaranteed to have me making my own hand-thrown pottery. (The guy that invented reCaptcha should be covered in honey and staked out over an anthill). 

Take forms.  You start banging away at the keyboard, and it’s only when you look up that you find – nothing.  You need to move to the first field and click in it. Why isn’t the cursor put into the first box that needs filled in and entry mode activated?  Especially if there is only one field on the screen.  Bloody teccies again…………………


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Brexit Part 1–a Chat with a Leaver


We have already established that I think that Brexit is the biggest con ever perpetrated on the UK population and the likelihood of the UK trade position improving through Empire 2.0 is about as likely as my becoming pregnant. You think the opposite, and you won’t change your mind easily or at all, so let’s leave it at that.

So why do I still persist in attempting to drag the heads of the Brexiteers out of Theresa May’s ample arse to catch a real wake-up.

I could say, as does Miss World, “It’s for the children”, since it is they and their children for several generations that will bear the fruit of this act of unsurpassed lunacy. But I won’t.

I could say, as we have already discussed, that since 1945 we have enjoyed the longest period of continuous peace on the European mainland since the Pax Romana, and to have the EU, if only to stop the French and Germans fighting is a good thing, but I won’t.

I could point out the economic schizophrenia of thinking that a rag-bag of one-off WTO trade deals with countries run by psychopaths, human right violators, war criminals and bankrupts that will take seven years to negotiate will immediately replace access to a single market of some 600Million customers a mere 22 miles away. Oh, and by the way, improve the UK trade position. But what about the Commonwealth you cry. Australia is already cosying up to Ireland, I reply. But I won’t ask why it is only the former White Commonwealth you mention.

I could point out that it will probably lead to a fundamental change in the organisation of the United Kingdom into a Former United Kingdom of England and Wales, with Scotland and Northern Ireland going their separate ways. But I won’t.

I could say that the argument that the EU commission has too big a say in local matters is a good one. I don’t deny that the EU has need a 10,000Km service for a while and some of it’s more treasured sacred cows turned into hamburger. But try to explain to a UK steel worker, if there any left, that the employment legislation, health and safety at work legislation and subsidies courtesy of the EU kept him in a job. A job which he was unlikely to lose by being killed at work because of unsafe working practices, reduced to scratching for pennies because his employer chose to pay him a slave wage, or have his foundry closed as “uneconomic” because some suit in the City said so. The only good thing about Brexit is that the City suit will find his job moving to Frankfurt. Without him, because he no longer has right of abode and employment in the EU.   I couldn’t possibly comment.

I could say, as my father did, and as you do now, that the NHS is inefficient and poorly run. That is probably at least partly true. The difference between what Dad said and the Brexiteers say is based on his youth in the 1920s and 1930s and his experience as a medic before the NHS came into being. His view was that the best thing any UK government ever did was to create the NHS so that the whole population, not just those who could afford it, had access to medical care. He spent his entire working life as a medical practitioner in the NHS. And later said that despite Thatcher and Joseph’s best efforts they failed to kill it.

Brexit means that many thousands of qualified medical staff from the EU are now leaving the NHS, and will continue to leave it. I wonder how leavers will feel when their essential medical treatment is delayed because there are no staff to provide it. Or as is mooted, they will have to pay a US Health Corporation through the nose for it. And their drugs will not be free any more. I’m not going to mention it.

There is more, but I’m not going to mention it.

Tomorrow, or the day after – another view of the calamity that is Brexit.

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Recruitment Again

In the past, I likened the run-of-the-mill recruitment agent to a well-meaning amateur. I don’t wish to lump the few who have been proactive and responsive with these electron thieves, but I’ve been at this application thang again for a few weeks now and a few recurring nightmares are starting to really burn my boat.

1. I have banged on incessantly about no response to application submissions and its evil cousin “If you don’t hear….”.

A massive cop-out and fail in my book. I usually spend some time crafting a covering letter to highlight the relevance of my skills and experience for the post, and often tailoring the cv to be submitted. To hear nothing after submission is rude and disrespectful.

On that matter “If you haven’t heard……” is the height of laziness and casual disregard for applicants.

Oh, one recruiter said that responses are not possible because of the high numbers of respondants. My answer, if there are a huge number of respondants the advert is not specific enough on the role and its requirements. You should take as much time crafting the advert as I do crafting my response, not just cut’n’paste from one you think might be similar.

2. CVs and Duplication of effort. I have refused to deal with some recruiters because of this. Placement Partner is a pet hate of mine.

Virtually all recruiter’s websites ask me to upload my cv as part of the registration process. And some then ask me to re-enter all the data I have just uploaded. Placement Partner – are you listening ?

My coffee cup usually hits the wall and I utter a blistering oath at this point. If I subsequently find that “Refer to uploaded cv” is not an acceptable entry, a second piece of hand-thrown pottery takes to the air. I have been working for 40 years, so if a full submission is required, I need to be locked into the office and pizza shoved under the door until I finish.

What relevance do my O and A level results from the 1960s have? What is the relevance of a job have that I started and finished in 1975?

I would have thought, given the rapid pace of social and technology change over the last few years that job type, industry and social awareness and particularly training and education would be of much more interest. That I have Bitcoin and DLT awareness is going to be of far greater relevance to potential employers than my being able to programme in RPG2 on a DEC PDP/11.

3. Screening Calls. Another peeve is agency people, usually still wet behind the ears calling me to “Discuss my CV”. Not to discuss the post, or the potential client/employer’s requirements, but to ask about an apparent two month gap in late 1999 between my completing a contract and starting a new one. “Millenium celebrations in Scotland my dear”.

4. Ageism. I have always found it passing strange that someone at the age of 64 years and 365 days is a well respected member of the working community, valued for skills and retained knowledge. However, overnight on the day they turn 65, a malevolent troll erases all their worth. Skills vanish, as does retained memory, leaving the poor individual fit only for activities that require no brain power, like golf and fishing. “Out to pasture dear boy, and here’s a gold watch for your trouble”.

A pox on recruitment agencies, except of course those that find me a job.

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Brexit–The Final Frontier

My small contribution to the millions of trees and electrons that will be sacrificed on the altar of Brexit.

English Independence and EU membership. 

Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain. As did Northern Ireland. England voted to leave. Wales were a bit of both.  There is a prospect of a second Scottish Independence referendum in the near future as a result.  One which is much more likely to succeed. The problem then is continuing Scottish membership of the EU, something that the Scots voted for. 

Why not have the easy answer proposed by Alex Salmond – England leaves the UK and becomes an Independent Country.  The UK is then Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, continuing members of the EU.   England are afloat in their own boat, perhaps towing Wales, perhaps not.

Great benefits to the Scottish economy as companies trading with the EU move to Scotland to remain based in an EU member state.

This will also resolve the issue of the Northern Ireland/Ireland border. As it stands, if Northern Ireland leave the EU, they will need to rebuild the former border between the six counties and Eire. There is considerable evidence that the free flow of people between the two countries has contributed greatly to increased understanding and co-operation between the two, and reinstating the border will undo thirty years of progress, and demolish the peace treaty that currently exists.

Do we really want to see a return to the Belfast of the 1970s and 80s, with sectarian violence the norm and squaddies patrolling the streets. Never mind the economics, that is the reality.

A simplistic solution perhaps, but one well worth examining since it gives everyone what they want.

Brexit is, as often happens, an implementation of an ideal without thinking through the consequences.

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MTN and Vodacom–Value Added Service Providers.

As some of you may know, MTN are proposing to ask the Government to regulate the ability of service providers, particularly WhatsApp, to provide services over their network without a payment to the network service provider  for the use of their infrastructure. 

Vodacom have indicated their support for the move, but Cell-C are opposing the proposal.

As might be expected, this has raised a storm of protest, saying that the proposal is in effect double-dipping.  You pay a fee for post-paid or pre-paid access to the cellular network, and you should be able to use the infrastructure as you see fit without any further reference to the service provider.  Asking for a separate fee for use of a third-party service is like the electricity company charging you every time you use a toaster not supplied or approved for use by them.  

There is a lot of froth on social media about porting away from Vodacom and MTN should they persist with attempts at regulation, Cell-C the presumed beneficiary.

It’s common cause that cellular service providers are losing revenue with the shift to digital services like WhatsApp away from SMS and voice.  I think that the call for regulation is a knee-jerk reaction to the shift, and shows a lack of appreciation of a seismic change in the role cellular service providers play in the market. 

Essentially they have two faces – owning and operating an enabling digital data transmission infrastructure, completely agnostic to the type of data being transmitted, and a second face as a supplier of value-added services operating over that infrastructure, voice, structured data, video, messaging, whatever.

In the past, revenue from the second face subsidised the first face, in essence customers paid for the establishment, extension and maintenance of the physical network through their contract or prepaid subscriptions.  Other service providers were allowed to use the network free-of-charge and free-of-regulation in the expectation that they would drive more network usage, and hence more revenue.  The ball-game changed entirely when service providers began to provide services that replaced the basic voice and data services provided by the network operators, leading to losses in revenue.  Both Vodacom and MTN have disclosed substantial reductions in SMS volumes and revenue, they claim as a result of operators like WhatsApp providing messaging and voice services.

A further indicator of the future is the ability to connect to these services without being a service provider customer.  Residential homes, cafe’s, hotels, malls and a host of other operators provide WiFi access to the Internet from tablets and smartphones, and thereby access to these value-added services, bypassing the service provider entirely.   In theory it is entirely possible to make and receive calls and use data services without being a cellular service provider customer. Microsoft buying Skype and the projected Microsoft SIM card should be a clear indication of where the market is moving.  VoIP will be king.

When customers fully understand that they don’t need Vodacom or MTN or indeed Cell-C to be able to call home, I believe that companies like Vodacom and MTN will cease to exist, at least in their present form.  If they don’t they will become irrelevant. 

Rather than trying to club the customer with additional charges to replace those lost, the sensible thing for network operators to do would be to look at their business model.

Perhaps they should split their business into two separate entities, an infrastructure provider and a services provider.  Perhaps they should leave the value-added space and  concentrate on being an infrastructure provider only.  Perhaps they should merge with an ISP or morph into an ISP-like organisation partnering with other service providers to provide a basket of services.  There are a whole new army of competitors in either case, and they would be better served seeing how they meet that competition.

In ten years time it might well be the Internet Solutions Super Rugby competition.

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The Other Side of Holidays

We have a saying in Scotland: “You can’t eat scenery”.  Simply put, if you rely on tourism as the cornerstone of your local economy, you are doomed to failure. Even the Swiss have a backup with chocolate and cuckoo-clocks.  A second observation is not to upset the locals who provide your bread and butter for the weeks of the year when the tourists have gone home.

This reflection was prompted by a recent conversation I had with a tourist in Umhlanga. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with Umhlanga it is a town on the Indian Ocean coast some 20Km north of Durban, and is a popular holiday resort. Every year it is visited by around 75000 tourists over the Festive season).

He asked “Why do the locals hate the tourists “.

After some reflection, my answer was to turn the question back on him.

He was to imagine his quiet leafy suburb in Pretoria or Johannesburg. Normally he could drive about in the suburb and use the malls, restaurants, shops and other services with ease.

However, for four or six weeks the formerly quiet suburb is now overrun with strangers exhibiting the habits of invading barbarian hordes. They give the impression that they believe because they are about to spend yards of cash, that they own the place. They seem to have forgotten the laws of common courtesy, the laws of the land, and in extreme cases the laws of physics. They bellow observations and insults in a language that you can understand but don’t speak.

The streets are jammed with funereal or F1 paced out-of-town cars, there is no parking, you can’t walk on the pavement, the malls, restaurants, shops and bars are full to bursting. To the maitre’d who last week was your best buddy, and Winston who had “your usual, sir” on the bar by the time you reached it, you are now invisible. In any event you probably don’t want to go to the restaurant because the menu has shrunk, and prices gone up by a third. The noise in the pub rivals standing 10 meters behind Concorde as it takes off, and you wait 20 minutes for your refreshment of choice while Winston serves 6 brandy and cokes and 12 Jagerbombs to the loudmouth chubbies in shorts and sunburn lined up along the bar.

You are forced to shop at 8am because the supermarket shelves are emptied by 10am, after about 9am the queues at the tills would choke a horse and the 10 items or less queue is made up of illiterate innumerates who believe a full-to-bursting trolley is an item.

It’s not that we hate tourists, we just don’t like them being here.

His answer, “I didn’t look at it like that”.

To return to my primary point, the local service providers are potentially shooting themselves in the foot by treating locals like crap. I, and quite a few others won’t use some local shops and businesses at any time of the year because of the way they treat locals during the Season. I am aware that many businesses rely on a “Good Season” to shore up their cash-flow for the rest of the year. A short-sighted view in my humble opinion, reinforced by the number of businesses that start in November and fail in March. Except those that were designed to do exactly that.

If you are coming to Umhlanga for Christmas in 2016, please come as a mensch, not as a football hooligan.

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