Fourth industrial banking: case studies into digitising banking models and the foreseeable effects in South Africa

Master Thesis


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This thesis is a critical, exploratory analysis of the impacts to the banking industry in South Africa, in light of the wave of technological change and emergence, termed in popular discourse as the Fourth Industrial Revolution or 4IR. The 4IR has been argued to offer the transformative potential to change and disrupt current societal organization and provide opportunities for developing countries such as South Africa to “leapfrog” into development. Many argue that as technology advances and progresses, it can be used to address socio-economic, developmental challenges and deliver services. In the banking sector, particularly in the context of developing countries, as large portions of the population remain excluded from formal financial services, digital banking methods premised on the technologies of the 4IR have emerged as potential “solutions”. What is often understated, however, that this study highlights, is that such technological advancements hold challenges. Moreover, as they are presented as solutions to the socioeconomic difficulties of developing countries, like financial exclusion, it is important that this is understood contextually, and critically and such challenges are presented. Through primarily qualitative case studies of two banks, Standard Bank and TymeBank, the study aimed to uncover the processes of digitisation occurring as well as the social processes that underlie them. Findings show that indeed, tangible examples of “4IR”/digitisation are identified at the two banks through technical application of emerging technologies, such as cloud computing and machine learning. However, more concerning are the social processes and strategic decisions that result in and out of their adoption. The 4IR in the context of this study appears to replicate ongoing social and economic inequalities, through inadequate digital infrastructures, and omni-present interests of neoliberalism presenting as digital capitalism. Additionally, carrying concern of adverse effects to the employment and labour landscape, the 4IR is deconstructed for its rhetorical meaning which contrasts with the reality. Hegemonic representations of a 4IR and its proposed ‘transformative benefits' do not correspond with actual phenomena and risk the neglecting of fundamental social challenges that are deepened by and new ones emerging out of digitisation.