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South African bank First National Bank (FNB) rolled into a crisp and windy Cape Town last night with a challenge to entrepreneurs to embrace the opportunities presented by its new partnership with international e-commerce giant, PayPal.
It was The Silicon Cape’s, a local body formed to support and promote the web community, third networking event was hosted by FNB and included an introduction by the bank’s CEO Michael Jordaan, who painted a picture of entrepreneurs as people who are “intellectually curious and unhappy with the way things are”.
Paypal was invented by South African Elon Musk so it’s been somewhat of an irony that the world-famous service has taken so long to launch in the country he was born. Paypal’s arrival has been hindered by strict exchange-control regulations that have been the target of discontent for many local e-commerce web players — and it was down to some entrepreneurial thinking by the FNB executives to find a way to bring the service to South African shores.
Jordaan sees PayPal as a key tool for South African entrepreneurs to expand into the global marketplace, and announced that FNB are “working on a whole host of things to make using PayPal easier, including a roadmap of ten more projects we are going to roll out with PayPal”.
While the assembled executives expressed guarded satisfaction with PayPal’s rate of adoption in South Africa since its launch on 25 March, it was clear to the enthusiastic crowd that FNB expects a lot more from this flagship offering. Jordaan wondered why they are not getting more people on board “with cheaper broadband now a reality and a receptive market of 84 million PayPal clients waiting to do business.”
He also spontaneously announced a prize for an entrepreneur or organisation that successfully uses PayPal to open itself up to the rest of the world, and declared that FNB would feature that business in a television commercial during 2011.
Citing various examples of developments FNB have brought to market over recent years, including eBucks, the Million-a-Month account, SMS alerts on all bank transactions, and this year’s rollout of PayPal, Jordaan sees FNB as a bank where innovation and technology are embraced.
PayPal’s numbers are jaw-droppingly impressive. With over 184 million registered accounts in over 190 countries, and 1.2 million transactions taking place in 19 currencies on a daily basis, FNB is justifiably proud to have launched the local version earlier this year.
Incentivising the entrepreneurial community to embrace PayPal rapidly became the theme of the evening, and particular attention was paid to the emerging potential of the African market, especially with regards to mobile financial services.
Oded Zehavi, PayPal’s regional director for the Middle East and SA, outlined the Africa Middle East Partnership Programme, which is a revenue-sharing partnership between PayPal and independent vendors who make use of PayPal to accelerate its growth.
Next up in the evening was the announcement of a competition for South African developers to win an all-expenses paid trip to the PayPal Innovate Conference which takes place in San Francisco during October this year. The challenge is to “build developer awareness and adoption of the PayPal X open platform.”
PayPal X encourages independent developers to build innovative payment applications on multiple platforms and devices. While Innovate is a global competition, FNB has included a subset exclusively for South African developers who have great ideas with regard to leveraging PayPal tools in innovative ways.
The Silicon Cape audience responded enthusiastically to the various announcements, while drawing attention to a number of problems they have encountered, such as difficulties in signing up to PayPal, and the trials and tribulations of using the postal services to follow through on PayPal transactions.
Chris Savides, GM of FNB Complementary Online Services, spoke of the banks desire to add real value for South African entrepreneurs, and played down any obstacles presented by the South African Reserve Bank and exchange controls. He also announced that they are “working with PayPal to bring the SA Rand in as a currency, but needed a solution that was not too ring-fenced, and was close to the existing PayPal model”.
FNB said it has adopted a very open, inclusive posture as they roll out PayPal, admitting that there have been teething problems, but encouraging entrepreneurs to work with them in order to create a better offering for the South African public.