South African banks find themselves amidst a storm of public discontent and suspicion, reminiscent of offering an “umbrella” on sunny days only to snatch it away when the first raindrops fall.

Despite heavy investments in branding and marketing, the fundamental question persists: are these financial giants genuinely liked by the South African public, akin to beloved fast-food spots? The resounding answer is “no.”

Allegations of money laundering, price fixing, unauthorized interest rate adjustments, collusive behavior, and racial discrimination are digging the banks into a hole. Interactions with banks, be it in person or online, often evoke dread, similar to dealings with local municipalities or government departments. A smooth experience is a pleasant surprise, not the norm.

While blaming the banks is tempting, the demanding regulatory environment they operate within necessitates probing questions and voluminous paperwork due to the inherent risks in handling others’ money. However, with cybercrime on the rise, the leaking of information erodes trust and popularity among the public.

South Africans, aware of the immense size of major banks, feel like minuscule cogs in colossal machines despite banks asserting, “You Matter.” The critical question arises: what can banks do to address this issue within their tightly regulated environment?

The *Edelman Trust Barometer 2023 reveals a significant trend: South Africans increasingly trust businesses over the state to address societal challenges. Two key strategies have emerged: enhancing customer service and rebuilding trust. Internal research indicates that 50% of customers who switched banks did so for a better client experience, while another 50% did it based on trust-related reasons. Lower banking fees and superior products played a secondary role, emphasizing the urgency for banks to focus on customer-centricity.

Amid these challenges, cybersecurity concerns loom large, with high-profile incidents putting customer information at risk. Major banks face fierce competition from agile digital-only banks that have swiftly gained credibility. Legacy players must adapt or risk losing the trust and loyalty of a new generation valuing innovation over familiarity.

The PwC Major Banks Analysis published in March 2023 concurs, highlighting intense competition driven by niche lenders with agile tech solutions. The message is clear: big banks must adapt rapidly in a changing market, where tech advances reshape the industry and younger consumers favor more agile banking brands, irrespective of old brand recognition. Banks must dig deep to find solutions to improve customer experience and trust before it’s too late.