It took Discovery Ltd. 1.5 million man hours over four years to build a bank. When the startup opens to the public Monday it will challenge South African lenders with histories going back to 1838, and they’re ready for battle.


The insurer prides itself on its Vitality offering, a rewards program that gives its 1.9 million customers discounts for exercising or buying healthy food; a concept also being applied to banking clients who keep their finances in order. But, while Discovery Bank was getting off the ground, the likes of FirstRand Ltd.’s First National Bank and Capitec Bank Holdings Ltd. had a head start to bolster their own services and begin a price war.

Despite the complexities of linking more than 120 systems spanning Discovery’s life, health, short-term insurance and money management businesses, banking customers will see a single interface where they can do most transactions in just three clicks, Discovery Chief Executive Officer Adrian Gore said in an interview in Johannesburg.


Not all of what’s on offer is completely new. Customers can open an account with a selfie, something already available through FNB, and be fully subscribed within five minutes, about the time it will take to open a TymeBank account.


The company will also transfer 2.1 billion Discovery miles held by existing customers to the bank, which can be converted to e-money or spent at partner stores. FNB’s eBucks loyalty program allows customers to buy goods online or get fuel discounts, although these accrue monthly, while Discovery e-money’s is instant. Other banks have also sharpened their loyalty programs.


This isn’t 55-year-old Gore’s first rodeo since he founded Discovery in 1992 as a health-insurance administrator, and building it into the country’s biggest. He has also used partnerships to export Vitality to 18 other countries, including the U.S., China, Europe, Singapore and Australia.


“This is a bank, it’s a highly complex animal,” he said. “We haven’t felt the need to rush it.”