Standard Bank and online programming recruitment platform OfferZen have unveiled a first for South Africa: the programmable credit card, Root. The announcement appeared to come out of nowhere, with almost no rumbling about it within the local financial technology (fintech) space.
What is a programmable credit card?
In simple terms, Root is a credit card than can be programmed by developers without the need for access to the banking world. This opens up unlimited possibilities for credit cards and fintech.
Programmers are able to create their apps using the cloud-based RootCode application programming interface (API).
“Root is like a 24/7/365 hackathon that allows any developer to build ‘life enabling’ apps or solutions. Instead of relying only on people who work for Standard Bank, we are giving any developer the power to create opportunities or solve everyday problems they experience,” says head of Standard Bank EDGE John Campbell.
What can be done with Root?
With a programmable credit card, users would be able to use apps to send their transaction info to a Google spreadsheet in real-time, allowing for easier budgeting, limit which days they can purchase fast food, or even manage a separate budget for Uber rides.
“Developers are able to create solutions to problems in almost any industry, but are severely limited in the fintech space by massive starting costs and barriers to entry. Root is our experiment to change that Fundamentally,” says the co-founder of OfferZen Malan Joubert.
Apps created with Root are pushed out to other developers, while apps with high potential can be launched to all Standard Bank customers.
Is it available to the public?
No, not yet. Right now, Root is only available to a closed group of beta testers. It will soon be open to the general developer community, though a pricing system or business model for the system has yet to be announced.
In order to show how committed Root is to developers, the example credit card on the product’s website contains several tech references. The credit card number is composed of multiple instances of 1337, which is leetspeak for elite, and the owner of the card is Erlich Bachman, a fictional character on the TV show Silicon Valley.
Other fintech products available with banks
Besides the fintech club, AlphaCode, and Standard Bank’s startup incubator, this isn’t the first time a financial solution has partnered with a bank.
After winning the MTN App of the Year Award in 2014, mobile payments system SnapScan soon partnered with Standard Bank to broaden the startup’s horizons. Since then, the QR-coded-based payment method has expanded to over 30 000 merchants across South Africa and expanded its offerings, such as testing an online solution with Superbalist.
In 2013, financial budgeting tool 22seven was purchased by Nedbank for an undisclosed amount of money. At the time, 22seven stated that the purchase by an international brand would help it to grow, with the promise of supporting international currencies as well. Since the buyout, the app has expanded its offerings to include non-banking accounts, such as Spur, Pick n Pay, and Clicks Clubs cards. Recently, 22seven’s founder and core staff announced a split from Nedbank, citing different grow visions, such as global financial currencies, as a factor.