In what can only be described as an immense milestone for the brand, First National Bank (FNB) celebrates its 180th anniversary in South Africa this year. The bank has carved a legacy that extends back in time to Grahamstown in 1838, where it was initially established as The Eastern Province Bank.With the discovery of gold and diamonds, mergers and name changes followed until 1987 when FNB as we know it today was born. Since then the brand has continued to create a reputation for innovative banking by being first to market with products and services that quite simply, make life easier for its customers.

FNB believes innovation is a hallmark of the brand – as Barclay’s National Bank it installed the country’s first computer centre; it was the first to offer credit cards to customers; and by 1979 it was lauded as the most highly computerised organisation in South Africa. In 1989 FNB introduced ATMs, and more recently internet and cell phone banking. FNB moved first and the banking world followed.

The list of FNB’s firsts is long, and continues into today’s digitised environment. In 2018, it was named SA’s best digital bank by Columinate South Africa’s 2018 SITEisfaction report where it was highly rated in terms of customer satisfaction metrics in both the Best Mobile Banking and Best Internet Banking categories. The bank is also ranked highest in the Consulta Consumer Satisfaction Index for South African banking products.

This focus on innovation is what provides the bank with the platform to enter into new landscapes. With innovation an integral part of the brand’s DNA, its customers have come to rely on its ability to disrupt the status quo and provide them with the best possible financial services.

There is no question that banking is facing a different – and challenging – era,as new competitors enter the landscape with digital offerings and cutting-edge technologies changing the face of traditional banking. That said, FNB does not see change as a threat – in fact the bank welcomes the disruption; maintaining that competition drives the industry to provide better solutions for customers.

In this digital age, FNB has chosen to take what it calls a ‘digi-human’ approach – in that the bank provides the most innovative digital solutions for customers, whilst recognising the ongoing importance of human interaction. For example, where customers are using digital platforms and require assistance, with the click of a button they are transferred immediately to either their banker or a call centre – creating the sense that they are not alone – even when transacting digitally. Help is never more than a click away.

While the shape and nature of physical branches is set to change in the near future, personal assistance is available to make the lives of customers easier with basic banking transactions, despite the move towards a more digital environment. Consultants will be on hand to assist customers with these transactions on their own devices, so that in future, they will not need to go into a physical branch, saving them both time and money.

That said, FNB believes the future of financial services lies in platform thinking, with customers interacting with the bank through their own channel of choice but getting a consistent experience irrespective of which channel they prefer. By seamlessly integrating customer information in a single platform, the bank can provide a superior customer experience that is aligned to the customer’s individual needs and preferences.

Ultimately, while the banking industry globally is undergoing major change, FNB’s primary focus is to be attuned to the needs of its customers – essentially to be the bank for all South Africans and to be at the forefront of change by providing the most innovative and helpful solutions.

Staying relevant to customers at this time is key, and FNB recognises this as crucial in order for the brand to remain at the heart of the customer journey. As such, a primary focus is on assisting customers to integrate new technologies into their everyday lives and the bank is determined to use every available opportunity to further this.

FNB has become synonymous with the idea of ‘help’ in the minds of its customers, a positioning the bank believes it is well able to deliver on, given its understanding of the needs of its customers and its ability to serve them with the correct information and assistance that they require at any given time. Part of remaining relevant in the lives of customers is the acknowledgement of the importance of issues such as data privacy and security, as well as personalisation.

Ultimately, today’s customer demands more engagement from brands – they no longer want to just be sold a product, whether it is on an emotional or a rational level. To satisfy this need for engagement, FNB is working hard to ensure that marketing campaigns drive two-way interaction and co-creation between the brand and its consumers; with the knowledge that customer feedback informs better communication in the future.

While the current media landscape is somewhat fragmented, in some ways complicating brand strategies, it also provides more avenues through which to reach consumers. Going forward, FNB plans to continue to use data to better understand its customers; whist recognising that individuals have unique needs and require contextual solutions that are both relevant and authentic, both to the brand and its customers.

Throughout the 180-year history of FNB, the brand has always shown resilience in the face of adversity. Slow economic growth is adding pressure to every industry in the country, but FNB’s time tested approach of managing the present by setting new strategies for future success will see it pioneering solutions well into the future. For FNB the future is all about what it does to help its customers today.