Ecobank Ghana has disengaged 181 outsourced staff as it continues to expand on its digital agenda which seeks to place banking in the hands of its clients.
With effect from yesterday, 4th September, 2017, the staffs, including front and back office branch executives and other departments spread across the country were asked to go home. The move will culminate in the reduction of its branches across the country from 77 to 67 to “ensure efficiency is high, and serve customers better.”
In an interview with Reverend Patricia Sappor, Head of Corporate Communications at Ecobank, Ghana and Anglophone West Africa (AWA), she explained that all permanent staff of the bank are still at work.
“We have disengaged some of our outsourced staff due to most of clients moving onto our digital platforms. We have our Masterpass QR which makes prompt payment possible, POS, ATMs, the Ecobank App and internet banking,” she said.
She added that the bank is seeing a reduction in the face to face interactions. “We are downsizing because of our digital channels.”
She explained that branches that are close to each other will be merged as a result of the digital drive. “Some areas have branches just about 200 metres away from each other. It is prudent for the bank to merge.”
The bank recently noted that its hope of becoming the most digitally advanced bank has chalked a major milestone with over 70 percent of its client’s transactions taking place on its digital channels instead of walking into a branch.
With the launch of its mobile banking application barely a year ago, the bank noted that the application now has close to 120,000 clients and offers several services including cross border and country transactions and purchasing Treasury Bills, which is unique to The Ecobank mobile banking application. The recently launched Masterpas QR, in partnership with MasterCard, seeks to boost safe and secure digital payment via the mobile phone for both the banked and the unbanked.
Currently, it allows Ecobank account holders who have the Ecobank Mobile Banking App on their smartphones to make payments of up to GH¢5,000 in one transaction and up to GH¢20,000 at various sales points by just scanning the Ecobank QR at a merchant's place. Those with feature phones can access the service via *770#.
In that sense, therefore, the service enables merchants like shops, restaurants, bars, food sellers, taxi/trotro drivers among others to accept payment from mobile phones, cards etc without having to use a point of sale (POS) device.
On-demand air taxis just got one step closer to becoming a reality. Lilium, the German startup whose flying taxis can go from vertical takeoff to horizontal flight, has announced $90m (£69.59m) in funding, a big leap from the $10m it had already raised from London VC Atomico and Freigeist. The latest round of funding was raised by Tencent, LGT, Atomico and Obvious Ventures.
Lilium remains tight-lipped on timelines for the commercial launch of its flying taxi, but chief operating officer Remo Gerber says the money will let the firm focus all its “time and efforts on a five-seater version of the jet and build a prototype for the certification process”.
The company was founded two years ago. What seemed like a fantastical idea at the time – launching a fleet of on-demand, 300km/h, zero-emission flying cabs into the skies – now feels almost realistic.
Lilium has already been working with regulators to ease the path for aviation certification. “We’re not waiting for the very last day to find out if we passed or failed,” Gerber says. “Regulators work with you very closely,” he adds, explaining that many elements of the novel jet taxi design might speed up regulatory approval. For instance, the electric, carbon fibre vehicle has fewer parts than an ordinary aircraft, so there are fewer parts to certify.
“If you look at the aircraft, there is no tail rudder,” Gerber says. This is thanks to its three electric engines, which in turn have just one moving part each. There are also 12 identical flaps that are used to exact direction and stability. “You are not looking at a variety of different flaps on parts of a wing; you have several components that are repeated,” Gerber says. Of course, he adds, there are no shortcuts in aviation. “It’s a strict process, and rightly so.”
Earlier this year the company completed a two-seater test-launch, confounding those who feel its flying taxi dreams remain some way off. “This is a hardcore engineering effort and we need the very best engineers out there," Gerber says. "There are still some very interesting engineering challenges to be solved; on the other hand, once you have a proof of concept the rest takes off from a physics perspective. We have already shown it is possible. The challenges where physics is involved don’t change as such – they just get bigger.”
Those challenges, though significant, would deliver something impressive: a zero emission, 300km/h vehicle (a 19km trip from Manhattan to JFK Airport could take five minutes, the company claims) that cuts out congestion and plugs frustrating holes in regional and national infrastructure – for the cost of land travel. Lilium plans to keep the cost down through ride sharing and fuel efficiency. Thanks to a lack of air traffic, Lilium claims it would also be able to complete four or five journeys in the same time it would take a regular cab to complete one.
The issue of space and charging infrastructure also isn’t insurmountable, according to Gerber. “It could land on a shopping mall, such as Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush or east London; or the top deck of a car park could become a landing deck. The space you need isn’t actually that huge so it’s entirely possible.”
Gerber envisions a distributed network of London ports. One located at City Airport or the Isle of Dogs would allow people to pick up on the many connections in those areas to continue their journey. Lilium doesn’t see itself as competing with hubs such as City, but complementing them. It could, for instance, help plug gaps in infrastructure left by HS2, which is only connecting major hubs.
Before any of that, Lilium will have to convince the public to hop aboard its eerily quiet, affordable urban jets. “It’s too early to have that conversation,” Gerber says. “At this point there are two types of people. Those that say, ‘Mmm... that’s interesting, but I’d like a few people to do it before me’. And others that jump on it. It will have to go through commercial aircraft certification – that’s the same regulator that tells you it’s safe to fly with British Airways. From our side, there’s a lot more work to be done."