5 min read 20 Jul 23
The bank of tomorrow will look different from the bank of today, and nothing like the bank of yesterday. What does the future of financial services in Asia look like? Looking at developments across the region, we can catch a glimpse of what the future of financial services holds.
Asian companies are at the forefront of redefining the concept of a bank through innovation and seizing opportunities. Singapore's DBS Bank serves as an exemplary case. It has long been a pioneer in digital banking, and its digital-only offshoot, digibank, has made remarkable strides in India and Indonesia. With features like biometric authentication, algorithm-driven customer service, and paperless account opening, digibank offers a seamless banking experience.
China's tech giants, including Alibaba and Tencent, have also become formidable players in the banking sector. For instance, Alibaba's Ant Financial, the owner of Alipay, the world's largest mobile and online payments platform, launched MYbank, a digital bank primarily catering to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Tencent's WeBank, China's first digital bank established in 2015, has experienced exponential growth since its inception.
Many Asian banks are also exploring the potential of blockchain technology for various applications. In South Korea, Kookmin Bank, the country's largest bank, plans to introduce a "Digital Asset Custody" service, focusing on the secure storage and management of cryptocurrencies.
Supportive regulatory environments are driving this digital banking revolution. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) actively promotes the digital banking sector by granting licences to a diverse range of players, including tech companies, fostering healthy competition.
In India, the Unified Payments Interface (UPI), developed by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), has revolutionized real-time payments, enabling instant money transfers between any two bank accounts through mobile platforms. UPI has significantly increased the penetration of digital payments in India, providing a safe and accessible digital payment structure for consumers.
In addressing the issue of financial inclusion, digital-only banks, or ‘neobanks’, are playing a pivotal role in Asia. Nearly 50% of adults in southeast Asia still lack access to banking services, and digital banks are poised to bridge this gap. Neobanks such as Vietnam's Timo and the Philippines' Tonik are leading the charge, providing digital-only services tailored to the needs of the unbanked and underbanked populations. With just a smartphone, individuals in remote areas can open accounts, conduct money transfers, and apply for credit.
Bangladesh's bKash offers another innovative solution, providing a mobile financial service that allows users to deposit money into their mobile accounts for payments, transfers, and even loans.
Asian banks are integrating technology not only in customer-facing services but also in backend operations. Japan's SoftBank, for example, plans to utilize applied statistics to deliver personalized financial advice, making wealth management more accessible to the masses.
Asia’s leading private sector banks not only exemplify strong businesses, but can also present attractive investment opportunities for the discerning investor. These banks, spanning across countries from India to Japan, boast solid capitalization, exhibit minimal systemic stress, and demonstrate healthy credit extension rates. What sets them apart is their prudent management approach, as they actively focus on achieving sustainable growth. This includes strategies such as optimizing cost-income ratios, expanding higher-margin revenue streams, and freeing up capital by divesting non-core holdings.
In contrast to previous decades, where growth relied heavily on mergers and acquisitions, branch expansions, and cyclical waves of hiring and layoffs, these banks have learned valuable lessons from economic cycles. They have embraced strategies that prioritize profitable growth and resilience, ensuring they are well-positioned for whatever challenges may lie ahead.
The future of banking in Asia is being shaped by remarkable innovations, financial inclusion initiatives, and promising investment opportunities. As digital transformation sweeps through the region, banks are leveraging advanced technologies to enhance customer experiences and offer tailored solutions. Neobanks are playing a crucial role in providing banking services to the unbanked and underbanked populations, while regulatory support fosters healthy competition and innovation.
Moreover, Asia’s leading private sector banks are attracting investors with their strong financial positions, prudent management strategies, and sustainable growth prospects. As these banks continue to optimize operations, unlock new revenue streams, and navigate economic cycles effectively, they present an opportunity for long-term investors to participate in the growth of Asia’s economies.
Asia’s banking sector is on an exciting trajectory, driven by transformative developments and prioritising innovation, inclusion and profitability. By embracing this wave of change, we believe investors can not only contribute to the growth of the region, but also capitalize on the vast potential offered by Asia’s evolving financial landscape.
* This article was first published, in Chinese, in the Hong Kong Economic Journal.
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