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South Africa - Banking

South Africa’s banking system is one of the most developed in the world. However, there has been a decline in the number of financial institutions operating in South Africa in recent years. Some gave up their banking licenses while others, such has the Merchant Bank, ING Bank NV, PSG Investment Bank, BOE Bank and the Brait Bank, have had to make drastic staff cuts to minimize operating expenses. However, appetite for bank loans and mortgages remains high.

There are around six foreign-owned banks, 15 locally controlled banks, 50 registered foreign bank branches and representative offices, and two registered mutual banks operating in South Africa.

Standard Bank, Nedcor, Absa, and the First Rand Bank, are the 'big four' banks that dominate the retail market. They share 15 million customers including almost 1 million internet banking subscribers and operate over twenty-five million accounts.

Internet Banking

The South African internet banking sector is projected to increase steadily in the next few years. However, reports in the media about clients’ bank accounts being hacked have made many people in South Africa wary of internet banking.


Poor levels of customer service, over-regulation of foreign-controlled banks, and high banking charges are some of the problems associated with some South African banks. However, these problems are not unique to South Africa; they have been experienced in many other developed countries including Australia and the US. Before signing any contracts or taking out a loan, you should always shop around and compare rates to find the most suitable banking service.

Opening hours

Bank opening hours are generally from 9 am until 3.30pm from Monday to Friday and from 9 am to 11 am on weekends. However, this varies depending on the bank.


An independent body known as the Banking Adjudicator (Tel. 011-838 0035), provides a free, informal, confidential problem-solving service to people with complaints regarding banking services or specific banks. Therefore, if you have a complaint about a banking service or product or an unresolved dispute with your bank you can contact the Banking Adjudicator. The Adjudicator may require copies of all correspondence between you and the bank and your complaint reference number.

A nonprofit body established by the government known as the Micro Finance Regulatory Council was set up to protect the interest of customers and their doors are always open in case you have a problem concerning a loan.

Credit Bureaux

South Africa’s two major credit bureaux, Trans Union (Tel. 0861-482 482) and Experian (Tel. 011-799 3400), are used to check a customer's credit rating (for a small fee). They also provide advice regarding credit.

The Credit Information Ombud (Tel. 0861-662 837) is a voluntary, independent association reporting to the industry council. If South Africa’s two major credit bureaux are unable to solve your credit problem, report the matter to the Credit Information Ombud for further assistance.

How to open a bank account in South Africa

Citizens, residents, and non-residents can open bank accounts in South African. However, it is advisable to open a South African bank account in person instead of trying to open one from abroad.

You can choose to go to the bank of your choice and introduce yourself, or you can ask your friends, colleagues, or neighbors for their recommendations. The banks will require you to be at least 18 years old. You will also be required to provide other details including your address in South Africa, (or a utility bill as proof) and proof of identity, e.g. a passport.

Be sure to compare the fees charged for international money transfers because some banks charge higher fees than others. Although many banks provide details of their banking fees on their websites, many clients find it difficult to go through all the details in banks’ websites trying to find the information they need.

If you wish to open a bank account in South Africa from abroad, you will be required to obtain an application form from a branch of a South African bank (either in South Africa or your home country). You will also be required to provide a photocopy of the relevant pages of your passport and a letter of reference from your bank.

Most banks in South Africa provide their clients with debit and credit cards so that their clients can transact using the cards wherever they are. In addition, expats can use NYCE networks and CIRRUS to obtain cash from abroad. However, it is advisable to carry enough cash around because some banks’ ATM machines often run out of cash or go out of service. Some banks limit ATM card withdrawals to around R2,000 (€206) per day for security reasons.


The Rand (R) is the official currency of South Africa. The value of coins minted is in the following denominations: 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents 50 cents and R1, R2, R5. Notes are printed in denominations of R10, R20, R50, R100, and R200. The South African currency denominations have been designed to reflect the country’s diverse fauna. They have depictions of various animals including antelopes and birds.

It is advisable to exchange some of your money for South African coins and banknotes before arriving in South Africa to familiarize yourself with the currency. This will also eliminate the need for exchanging currencies at unfavorable rates on arrival at a South African airport. In addition, avoid high-value notes like R200 because they are not widely accepted in most public transport vehicles and when making small purchases. They are also easy to counterfeit. You may also pay for goods at higher rates if you pay for them using the high value notes as sellers exaggerate the prices of their goods and services to exploit you.

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