First National Bank (FNB), one of South Africa’s “Big Four” commercial banks, has launched the country’s first ever mobile banking unit in a bid to extend banking services to unbanked rural communities.

The mobile unit, which was unveiled in Johannesburg Tuesday, is a transformed shipping container which has been equipped with state-of-the-art banking infrastructure such as an ATM, ADT (automated deposit terminal) and teller services.

Lee-Ann van Zyl, the chief executive of FNB Points of Presence, said the Phumlani Mall in Tembisa, a township some 40 kilometres northeast of here, would be the first stop for the mobile unit as it would be temporarily parked in the area to help residents there access banking services following a natural disaster last week.

Van Zyl said the mobile unit was initially intended to make its first stop at the community of Mutale in Limpopo province.

“South Africa still has a large section of the population that has limited access to banking facilities and we want to turn this around,” Van Zyl said. “The first step for us was to think about an innovative way of delivering a full suite of banking facilities to rural communities in a convenient fashion.”

Van Zyl said FNB decided to introduce a fully quipped mobile banking unit that catered for transactional banking, teller services, an ATM and an ADT, to enable customers to deposit cheques, prepaid purchases, opening savings and investment accounts and the option to apply for a loan.

“Innovation is a big part of FNB’s ethos and as a business we encourage everyone to play a role in coming up with ideas that not only challenge convention, but address customer needs and increase efficiency,” Van Zyl said.

As FNB’s mobile banking units are movable, van Zyl said if it was no longer responsive to the banking needs of a particular area it could simply be moved to another location.

She said the new mobile banking unit was a result of the bank’s internal innovation which encouraged employees to solve real-life problems. “We are consistently looking at ways of making banking accessible to all South Africans,” Van Zyl said.

“This is evident in our constant review of our footprint and through electronic channels that provide for easy access to banking without having to walk into a branch.”