Johannesburg - Cosatu has poured cold water over a proposal by the commercial banks to use Postbank’s vast infrastructure to extend financial services to poor customers.
The labour federation’s economist, Chris Malikane, said the banks were not genuine in their proposal and warned they were interested in killing a potential competitor to protect their profits.
“If the (commercial) banks were genuine, they should have come with the proposal earlier because they know that some of the (SA) Post Office’s branches in rural areas are vacant.
"They are only interested in making profits. We want a proper state-owned bank that provides services to the poor,” he said.
Postbank is in the process of applying for an operating licence from the SA Reserve Bank and will use the Post Office’s 1 600 outlets to reach clients.
Sim Tshabalala, chairperson of the Banking Association of SA (Basa), was quoted in the press this week as saying a study by the World Bank of 80 nations, titled Finance, Inequality and the Poor, showed that state-dominated banking systems produced lower levels of financial inclusion than banking sectors that contained well-regulated, vigorously competing private sector banks.
A trend around the world of privatising postal banks appears to be supporting Basa’s proposal.
In the Netherlands, its Postbank was sold to banking giant ING in 2007 and Germany sold Deutsche Postbank to Deutsche Bank in 2008.
In Brazil, commercial banks are partnering with that nation’s Post Office to provide services to the poor.
Basa, speaking on behalf of the local retail banks, is proposing the Brazil model instead of outright privatisation.
But Cosatu wants none of this and is demanding state intervention in the banking industry.
Malikane asked: “Why are the banks sitting on huge piles of cash in their vaults and not investing the money in black, working-class areas?”
A former banker, who asked not to be named, said the banks were afraid of competition.
“They want to protect the status quo. Postbank must chose its space and excel in it. Capitec has proved to everyone that if you chose the right space, you can do well.”
Another source, who also declined to be named, said Postbank might give established retail lenders stiff competition on the deposit-taking side, but it would struggle to compete when it came to granting of loans as banks had mastered this aspect of the business.