Virgin Money South Africa plans bank account, expansion for fintech app

JOHANNESBURG, June 19 (Reuters) - Virgin Money South Africa will launch a zero monthly fee bank account and cheap cross-border payments on its financial technology app, and could eventually roll this out in other developing markets, its CEO told Reuters.

The latest iteration of the app, Spot, which currently allows users to make payments to other individuals or merchants, is expected to launch with the new features in the final quarter of the year, Andre Hugo, Virgin Money SA CEO, said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

“We’re quite bullish,” he said, explaining that Spot and the company’s personal loans and credit card businesses collectively had over 500,000 customers. Spot alone acquired more than 285,000 users in six days after its October launch, he added.

“Our magic number is 2 million customers in the next 18 months. We’re the fastest growing Virgin company as a result the group is looking at us and saying: ‘Well, how can we replicate this in other areas?’”

There were discussions ongoing about entering other countries already, Hugo said. He declined to specify where except for that the focus was on other developing economies.

Spot was launched at a time when fintech companies are shaking up financial services industries from Europe to Asia, threatening to displace banks on everything from payments to foreign exchange.

Hugo compared Spot to fast-growing British digital banks like Monzo and Revolut. Such companies adopt an “open banking” model, whereby customers can access a variety of services from different providers in one place, currently being taken up across Britain, the European Union, Australia and Singapore.

Virgin Money SA, which does not have a banking licence but can offer bank-like services via partnerships with lenders, will make some money from fees, including on cross-border payments.

However these will be substantially lower than those charged by banks for international transactions, Hugo said, with fees sitting at around 5-6% as opposed to 13-20%.

It had secured partnerships that will allow Spot users to send money to over 200 million wallets in Africa, with transactions clearing that same day, he continued.

Virgin Money South Africa was launched in 2006, initially offering more traditional products like a credit card and insurance. However after market changes prompted it to ditch its insurance unit, it decided to switch to a model focused heavily on digital requiring minimal physical infrastructure.

Reporting by Emma Rumney Editing by Mark Heinrich