March 28, 2019 / 6:06 AM / 8 months ago

UPDATE 2-South Africa's Capitec Bank cuts fees to compete with digital newcomers

* Lower transaction fees to cost at least 360 mln rand

* To hike fees for some cash withdrawals

* FY profit up 19 percent (Recasts with pricing)

By Tiisetso Motsoeneng

JOHANNESBURG, March 28 (Reuters) - Capitec Bank will take hit of at least $25 million from cutting transaction fees in 2019, its chief executive said on Thursday, as the South African lender fights to defend market share from digital newcomers.

Launched in 2001 as a specialist in small personal loans, Capitec is now positioning itself as a fully-fledged bank with no-frills savings, insurance and credit card accounts. This is to cut its reliance on unsecured loans, which rely solely on a customers’ promises to pay them back.

But the launch over the last few months of three digital banks promising fees as low as zero looks set to trigger a price war in the country, where more than 80 percent of the population already have bank accounts.

Capitec’s chief executive Gerrie Fourie told Reuters his company would stand the challenge thanks to its strong brand, product offering, extensive branch network and prices, which were reduced at the start of this month.

“We have reduced our prices from March this year, and given money back to our clients. For this year, we are going to give back 360 to 380 million rand,” Fourie said, referring to the price cuts.

Fourie, at helm sine 2014, also said Capitec would hike fees for cash withdrawals of more than 1,000 rand - in line with strategies set out by new digital banks TymeBank and Discovery Bank, both of whom have no branches or ATMs.

Fees at the main banks for deposits, withdrawals and transfers have for years largely ranged from 100 rand to 250 rand a month, but can rise as high as 450 rand - a sizeable sum in a country where the minimum wage is 20 rand per hour

Capitec reported a 19 percent increase to 4,577 cents in headline earnings per share - the main profit measure in South Africa - in the year ended February, thanks to strong growth in customer numbers.

The company attracted an average of 127,000 clients per month in the past year, bringing the total to 11.4 million.

In November, Capitec agreed a 3.2 billion rand ($219 million) deal to buy Mercantile Bank, a move that should give it a foothold in business banking if and when it is approved by competition authorities later this year.

“We believe business banking is complex, pricing is complex ... so the thinking is can we do the same in business banking as we’ve done in retail banking, by offering a simplistic and transparent product?” Fourie said.

$1 = 14.6079 rand Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier and Mark Potter

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