For most people, WhatsApp is a cool tool for fun. So are Telegram, Signal, WeChat, Discord, iMessage, Messages, Viber, Facebook Message, Botim etc. However, WhatsApp with over a two billion users is undoubtedly the most popular of these.
The widespread use and acceptance of WhatsApp as a messaging tool has many service providers aiming to make their services available on that platform in order to reach their numerous clients. In 2018 South Africa's Absa Bank pioneered the concept of mobile banking. Since then, banks in recognition of the power of WhatsApp are offering a wide range of services on that platform, leading to optimal efficiency as customer requests are processed in real-time.
Generally, there are three types of graduated applications of WhatsApp in the banking industry; first as a primary contact center tool where clients can interact with customer care and ask questions or verify information related to banking, eliciting automated responses such as "we will get back to you in due course"; second as a more interactive platform where clients have limited access to some banking services and in its ultimate form, as a platform which offers complete banking services.
The use of WhatsApp means faster, convenient, and secure platforms that manage banking services in real-time, and provide access to services anywhere and at any time. Customers can access information such as, checking bank balances, retrieving mini statements, obtaining information on various banking offers, interest rates, and charges, locating the nearest branch/ATM, and finding customer care details to make a complaint. Users can also perform transactions such as buying airtime and data bundles, purchase electricity, transfer cash from one account to the other, make cheque book requests and block debit cards, etc.
How does it work?
The service is driven by WhatsApp Business API, a tool to enable developers connect third-party systems with WhatsApp. API facilitates the linkage between WhatsApp and banking systems and by use of artificial intelligence decodes and processes conversations with customers. A bank’s customers can access services by initiating a chat on the bank's advertised WhatsApp number, which they are required to save to their phone contacts. As a precaution, users need to double-check if their bank's WhatsApp number is verified by checking for a verification mark close to the said bank's WhatsApp number. Having done this, the user can start consuming banking services by sending a message, for instance “hi”, after which a welcome message appears automatically. The customer must go through an authentication process by providing a passcode. After the verification process, the customer is served a series of numbered menu items; for example, select 1 to check your balance, select 2 to request a bank statement etc, the customer selects a suitable option to consume the service. The system processes the requests and delivers the requisite service to the customer.
Non-Bank customers can also access the service. The only difference being that they do not need to go through an authentication process, although they may be required to register through SMS or the bank's website and to agree to terms and conditions before utilizing the service.
The main advantage of WhatsApp banking is its ease of use, simplicity, and accessibility. It provides the opportunity for numerous persons to undertake banking services and interact with their bank using a very familiar tool. It offers more functionality than SMS and more capabilities in holding conversations with clients more seamlessly. Although WhatsApp banking runs on the WhatsApp platform, which is end-to-end encrypted and secured, there is no guarantee that sensitive financial information cannot be compromised. Since information falling into the wrong hands can lead to substantial financial loss to a bank’s customer, there is a need for clients to be security-conscious and exercise great caution in using the service. At the same time, the bank as the service provider must ensure that this service is secured and confidential.
Beyond banks and other financial institutions leveraging WhatsApp to deliver their services, Meta itself, the owners of WhatsApp, is working to offer their platform as a payment mechanism, known as WhatsApp Pay https://www.whatsapp.com/payments/in on a pilot basis in India, and it will be interesting to see how this will evolve.
In conclusion, WhatsApp is becoming a crucial tool with the potential of disrupting the bank space due to its widespread use and availability. Banks must invest in secure, innovative services powered by WhatsApp since it appears to be a preferred communication tool for their customers, and contributes to improving user experience and client’s relationships with the bank.
Written by Kwami Ahiabenu, II (Ph.D.) is a Technology Innovations Consultant