NEDBANK CEO Mike Brown said last week the bank had recovered its appetite to innovate after having played second fiddle to rivals who had launched a raft of innovations and new products.

Analysts say stakes are high for the big banks as they devote resources to exploit the growing convergence of mobile and banking technology to innovate.

Speaking to corporate treasurers in Sandton, Mr Brown blamed Nedbank's problems during 2003 and 2004 for forcing management to push for growth, giving them less time to focus on innovations.

But this had since changed, he said, and the Old Mutual-owned bank was preparing its own innovations, such as a banking app that is soon to be launched.

First National Bank was the first to launch a banking app, and Standard had just launched one. Nedbank is conducting a trial run with staff before the commercial launch, probably next month.

He said Nedbank's banking app would have a suite of applications, including a facility that automatically uploaded a new app application once it was available.

Nedbank had also introduced a facility to allow customers a snap-shot of their accounts with the bank "in one place".

The bank planned to launch an e-billing facility that would allow customers to pay for utility bills electronically, he said.

Absa has a similar facility.

Mr Brown said Nedbank was not necessarily copying rivals even though it was closely watching what they were doing. "We are learning from the competition and we watch very carefully what they are doing," he said.

Mr Brown said, however, that during turbulent and uncertain times such as these, Nedbank's primary focus remained on customer retention, using such strategies as cross-selling to its transactional customers.

He said Nedbank continued to expand franchise-spanning retail, investment and corporate banking and had since 2008 spent about R3bn buying out minorities in businesses in which it did not own a controlling stake.

These included BoE Private Clients and Imperial Bank, the acquisition of which had made Nedbank the second-largest vehicle financier after FirstRand-owned Wesbank.

He said these were "remarkably good acquisitions" and represented a "fantastic" way of diversifying earnings.

A potential significant investment was an option to acquire 20% of Togo-based Ecobank, to which it extended a convertible loan of $285m last year, to fund the acquisition of Oceanic Bank in Nigeria and to conduct other corporate activities.

Nedbank had up to three years to exercise its option that would give it an interest in a group with branches and customers in more than 30 countries. In Nigeria, Nedbank would become the shareholder of the fourth-largest bank by market size.

kamhungas@bdfm.co.za