Johannesburg, the financial capital of South Africa, is home to the country's big four commercial lenders: FirstRand, Absa and Standard Bank, and Nedcor. Together they control some 80% of total banking assets.
They're in good company. Johannesburg's affluent Sandton suburbs also host the Johannesburg Securities Exchange (JSE) - the biggest exchange in Africa - and the Receiver of Revenue can be found in the city's CBD, amongst an array of private financial institutions, merchant banks, building societies, insurance companies and money-broker firms.
South Africa's financial services sector is considered world class, and is backed by a sound regulatory and legal framework. The sector boasts dozens of domestic and foreign institutions providing a full range of services - commercial, retail and merchant banking, mortgage lending, insurance and investment.
The banking sector compares favourably with those of industrialised countries, with a strong mix of foreign banks represented locally. The total assets of the industry in 2002 were R1 008-billion. Electronic banking facilities are extensive with a nationwide network of Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs). Online banking is growing rapidly, with the number of online bank accounts in South Africa up by 28% in 2003, reaching 1,04-million accounts. It's expected to grow by more than 30% during 2004.
The sector is highly sophisticated and has been quick to adopt cutting-edge technology such as electronic banking over the Internet and "smart cards". Standard Bank was the first in the world to enable the online transfer of funds from mortgage bonds, using clients' homes as collateral. The bank was also one of the first two in the world to link mainframe computers in disparate sites, allowing customers nationwide access to their cheque accounts.
United Building Society (now Absa) was the first institution in the world to use IMS Fastpath, simplifying banking transactions and processing a record number of transactions per second. Following this, Absa Bank was among the first three institutions in the world to run an IBM Sysplex using IMS Fastpath. The major financial institution groupings are banking institutions, insurers, fund managers and broking operations. The Financial Services Board is responsible for overseeing the regulation of the financial markets such as the JSE Securities Exchange and all financial institutions (insurers, brokers). This excludes banking institutions, which fall directly under the South African Reserve Bank. The three regulated exchanges are the JSE, South African Futures Exchange (Safex) and the Bond Exchange of South Africa (Besa).
Control of monetary policy rests with the Reserve Bank, which operates independently of the government. Numerous other regulatory bodies, such as the Registrar of Banks and the Competition Commission, help to regulate the financial health of the economy.