Bank while you chat on WhatsApp with South Africa's Absa

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s Absa Group on Wednesday officially launched Whatsapp banking, in its latest push to become a digitally-led African bank, with more than 10,000 customers already registered to date since early July.

The service faces competition from WeChat, China’s biggest Internet-based mobile messaging platform which launched in Africa in 2013 and offers an array of services including money transfers, prepaid electricity and airtime purchases.

Absa Chief Executive Maria Ramos has drawn up an ambitious growth strategy to regain market share in retail banking at home and double sales across the continent from 6 percent to 12 percent after the bank’s separation from Barclays PLC.

To achieve this, the group is adapting to changes in customer behavior that requires banking to be available anytime, anywhere and accessible wherever the customer is.

“As technology advances and more customers become connected, bringing banking to where our customers are is important to us, especially as we continue our journey to become a digitally-led business driven by innovation,” Chief Executive of Absa retail and business banking Arrie Rautenbach said in a statement.

Live on July 11, Absa ChatBanking on Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp allows Absa account holders to perform simple banking such as checking their balance, buy airtime and make payment to an existing beneficiary using conversational languages and short commands.

Speaking at the official launch event on Wednesday, Chief Information Officer, virtual channels for Absa retail and banking Jacques Barkhuizen said apart from Facebook, the bank has also partnered with mobile messaging firm Clickatell.

ChatBanking on WhatsApp follows the momentum created by the launch of Absa ChatBanking on Facebook Messenger and Twitter in 2016.

Separately, Societe Generale is in talks with Absa about selling its local unit as the French bank prepares to pull out of Africa’s most industrialized economy, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise