SA Leader – 24 August 2012


The thing about social media is that, say what you like about it, it’s social. To be precise, it’s the pulse, conscience and graffiti wall of society. To give you an exact idea of what I’m talking about, let me give you an example.

Say you want to change your ISP. So you go on Twitter and ask: “Who is the best ISP in the Gauteng area?” Pretty soon (if you are followed by the gods of Geek) someone very influential like @shapshak or@mcleodd could respond, together with a few other geeky types, and tweet back an answer. At best they all agree. At worst you now have a shortlist to investigate. Problem solved, because all you need to do is look at the responses, intuit the level of geeky influence or social cred and choose the best answer.
Twitter, and most other social media, should be viewed as word of mouth on steroids. Because of the network effect, digital word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool in a brand champion’s arsenal, yet it’s the most difficult to control. How do you ensure that people only say nice things about you? Bearing in mind that bad news always travels faster and further and faster than good!

An excellent case in point is Capitec Bank. This unassuming and young brand (well in banking terms anyway) has built up such a solid reputation amongst its clients that it’s South Africa’s fastest growing retail bank. From a microfinance lending institution founded less than 12 years ago, it has grown to take on the “big boys”, signing up a record 877 000 new clients in the last financial year.

In 2010 it was the only African brand to be listed by Credit Suisse as one of their “Great Brands of Tomorrow” – along with Facebook, Apple, Polo, Swatch, Hyundai, Mahindra, and

From the outset, Capitec has differentiated itself from its competition in four ways: Accessibility, Affordability, Simplicity and Personal Service. For example, branches are open for longer hours than other banks (including Sunday mornings).There is a mobile banking terminal that brings the bank to the workplace, for bigger groups.

It was the first to use fingerprint biometric identification for signing in. There are tellers and managers who speak the vernacular of the area. Documents have been simplified so that they are easy to understand. Branches are located near main public transport hubs. Bank charges are kept low: comparative surveys done by MoneySmart show that Capitec beats all other banks on most fees and charges.

I could go on, but then I might sound like a PR for a particular banking company, which I’m not. But I think these are indicators of a different mind-set, especially for a bank, and the rewards are evident: people appreciate a bank that seems to care about them, and put them in control of their money. Not just empty slogans, but really making an effort to serve.

In an era when banks and their marketing are viewed by many with suspicion and mistrust, Capitec has stepped outside of the mould and provided innovation and a personal touch. This has resulted in many of their clients becoming brand ambassadors, which must account at least in part for their phenomenal growth.

It’s clear to see that Capitec is an intelligent brand. It doesn’t shout from the roof tops, it has an understated CEO, it promises small and delivers big. There’s a lot here that others could learn from, if their intelligent brands.