If you are a Standard Bank customer, you have no doubt heard about, or perhaps even joined, its Ucounts Rewards Programme.

At first glance, it sounds like a fabulous idea – you pay R20 per month, and you get points every time you swipe your card at certain places – Spar, Pick n Pay, Shoprite, Caltex service stations, etc, etc. When it was put to me, in a phone call from a call centre, it all sounded marvellous, so I signed up.

A couple of weeks later, I received my card.

A year or so later, I finally decided to find out what the hell one is supposed to DO with this card, in order to redeem the rewards.

Here are the ONLY ways you can redeem the rewards:

1. You can use your card to buy goods at the following stores: Clicks, Makro, Tiger Wheel & Tyre, Caltex Service Stations, Bidvest Premier Airport Lounges, or the online shop.

2. You can open a PureSave Account (another product offered by Standard Bank) and have the money transferred into that account, provided you retain a minimum of R50 in that account.

This all sounds fine and well to your average middle class suburbanite, who drives a car, has access to Makro, Clicks, and flies occasionally…..but what about South Africans who live in rural areas, or even in small towns which don’t HAVE a Clicks, or who don’t own a car, or for whom R50 in an account is a lot of money. What about THEIR rewards points, for which they are forking over R20 a month.

To make matters worse, there is a big song and dance you have to go through to transfer the money INTO your Puresave account. Either you have to go online, and do it on the site, or you have to call them on an 086 number, and they will help you.

Let me tell you : that site is NOT user friendly. I hold two degrees and I struggled to find how the hell to do the transfer. There is no easy “transfer points to puresave account” button. No, it’s hidden inside the Rewards Mall.

By this stage of my experience with Ucounts, my middle class guilt was kicking in. With data costs, call charges and the limited access to the internet in South Africa, just how the hell was your average, lower-income-earning consumer supposed to access these rewards? This was driven home to me in a discussion I had with a teller at a shop a while ago, when I inadvertently whipped out my card and said “Oh, never mind, this is useless” and she confessed that she had been a Ucounts member since it started, but had no idea what to do about it, or, indeed, how to cancel it even.

At R20 a month, if she’s been a member for a year, that’s R240 Standard Bank has taken from her….for zero return.

When I discussed this with one of the call centre agents, he conceded that the format is clumsy, that it’s not a straight-forward rewards programme. He suggested that my labelling it as “classist” because it makes the system accessible to those with the internet and who can afford the regular phone calls was “strong words”. Yes, these are strong words. They convey strong feelings.

Come on, Standard Bank! You can do better! This is how:

1 Stop using this as a way to force clients to open a Puresave account and hand over their R50s.
2 Stop making it difficult to convert points to cash.

Discovery deposits my cash rewards into my cheque account every month, without me having to do a thing. The points are simply converted into cash and the cash is deposited. Why can’t you do that? Why do people have to jump through hoops AFTER paying you R20 a month for the privilege?

This is exploitation of our most vulnerable consumers, and it must stop.

So stop it.