The collapse of the South African Post Office (SAPO) has led to competition between private companies interested in facilitating the payment of social grants, with the country’s big banks already having a strong foothold.
The Post Office is currently going through business rescue, with the plan from its business rescue practitioners being approved by a majority of its creditors.
This plan will see the Post Office’s branch network slashed to 600 branches and its employee headcount cut to 5,000.
As a result, its ability to pay social grants across the country will be significantly reduced, and its existing problems with payments from the Postbank will be exacerbated.
This is part of an increasing trend in the government’s inability to provide basic services and requiring the private sector to intervene.
“Whether the government likes it or not, the private sector is privatising government by stealth,” Denker Capital executive director Kokkie Kooyman said earlier this year.
Kooyman suggested that the government shop around to find the best offer from private companies for grant payments.
This would raise government revenue and give it a say in who takes over as the payments facilitator rather than the sale being forced during a liquidation process.
Social grants include state pension payments, disability grants, and the relatively new Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant.
Chair of Social Security Systems Administration and Management Studies at Wits Professor Alex van den Heever told the SABC that the payment of grants will now be shifted to a more distributed network using the country’s banks.
This will increase the efficiency and reliability of the payment system. However, there are still major questions about who the major players will be in this new system.
“A lot of the banks have been involved in the past, and a lot of beneficiaries do already receive their grants via the banks rather than the Post Office,” Van den Heever said.
“Using the banks and the banking system as your final collection point would be more useful for the beneficiaries.”
Kooyman said there is significant interest from the country’s financial service providers as grant payments are incredibly lucrative.
The failure of the SAPO has opened a gap in the market for companies that want to service South Africa’s 18 million social grant recipients.
Many companies, including Shoprite and Tyme Bank, have declared their interest in facilitating the payments.
Whoever facilitates the grant payments will be able to receive billions of rands in inflows through deposits, savings, or transactional accounts.
Shoprite has declared its interest in facilitating social grant payments, offering a free switch to its Money Market Account for grant recipients.
According to Kooyman, the retailer’s main benefit would be attracting grant recipients to their stores to receive the payment.
This would result in increased spending in Shoprite stores and through its Money Market Account, whether to pay for electricity, airtime, or Shoprite products.
However, the retailer is limited by its inability to cross-sell other financial products such as credit, loans, insurance, or investments.
Other companies, such as Tyme Bank, can offer a diverse range of financial products to grant recipients.
For instance, Tyme Bank has already launched a product allowing grant recipients to receive an advance on their payment.
An additional benefit for companies would be access to spending data for South Africa’s 18 million grant recipients.
This would allow these companies, particularly banks, to create products better suited to a large client base.