Asia-Pacific markets leap forward in digital banking innovation and adoption

October 06, 2021 | 00:25
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As consumer use of digital banking accelerates in the Asia-Pacific, the region’s emerging markets have become the hub of banking innovation for digital business models, according to McKinsey.
Asia-Pacific markets leap forward in digital banking innovation and adoption

Consumer use of digital banking in Asia-Pacific has entered a stage of acceleration, fueled largely by innovations launched in emerging markets. Nearly nine in 10 consumers across the emerging and developed markets of the Asia-Pacific region use digital banking actively, and most of these are open to purchasing more banking services through digital channels.

These insights are based on McKinsey’s proprietary Personal Financial Services Survey. The 2021 survey covers approximately 20,000 urban banked respondents in 15 Asia-Pacific markets, including Vietnam.

According to the survey, adoption of digital banking in emerging markets has caught up with that in developed markets. Between 2017 and 2021, the share of consumers in Asia-Pacific emerging markets actively using digital banking increased sharply, rising 33 percentage points from 54 per cent in 2017 to 88 per cent in 2021. The level of digital adoption among consumers in developed Asia-Pacific markets has remained stable at approximately 90 per cent.

Consumers’ enthusiastic use of fintech tools and e-wallets in emerging markets has pushed the market penetration of these innovative solutions beyond the level of adoption in the region’s developed markets. In emerging Asia-Pacific, fintech apps and e-wallet penetration reached 54 per cent in 2021, compared with 43 per cent in developed Asia-Pacific. At the same time, more than half of respondents in most Asia-Pacific markets report that cash is used for less than 30 per cent of weekly spending.

The shift to digital banking has happened quickly and was likely accelerated by existing trends – such as increasing use of digital channels for diverse transactions, including banking, and broader use of teleconferencing/video calls in place of face-to-face meetings – that have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Survey results suggest that the high levels of digital adoption are likely to hold as the pandemic subsides.

To seize this opportunity, each bank will need to reinvent its business and delivery models by focusing on three key areas: the value of branches, customer engagement, and the bank’s overall competitive positioning.

On the other hand, Despite a marked decline in branch activity, branches still play a crucial role in an omnichannel model, not least because they have long served to reinforce trust in banks as consumers’ primary partner in managing their money. Banks can further strengthen these relationships by digitising processes to the maximum extent possible so that branch staff have time to concentrate on higher-value activities like advising on loans, insurance, or investments.

Consultations with a generalist might take place in person at the branch, and the bank can offer remote consultations with specialists via digital channels. Given the right sales model and an optimised physical footprint, branch-based revenue has the potential to exceed network costs, even as the share of transactions, including new sales handled through digital channels, increases.

To sharpen their competitive advantage against digital-only banks, incumbent banks should ensure that branch-based human interactions go beyond functional convenience to outperform on empathy and understanding.

How should banks position themselves?

Direct banks pose a potentially significant threat to traditional financial institutions: Approximately 60 per cent of consumers across Asia-Pacific say either that they would consider or that they might consider switching to a direct bank. Survey results also indicate that affluent consumers would move as much as 36 per cent of their portfolio to a digital bank.

As large ecosystem companies (including messaging platforms and digital marketplaces), fintech innovators, and consortia combining expertise from diverse industries launch digital-only banking propositions, competition for customer relationships is increasing. Competition will likely become even stronger, as regulators across the region have implemented new standards and procedures for issuing digital banking licenses, often with the aim – among other objectives – of encouraging innovation and inclusion.

To meet the challenges posed by new entrants, each bank must have a clear vision of its position in the competitive landscape and the role it aims to fulfil. In many cases, this role will be that of either a digital attacker or an omnichannel incumbent.

Whether the goal is launching a stand-alone digital bank or building the tech infrastructure and organisational capabilities required for end-to-end integration in an omnichannel environment, the investment is significant, and an organisation must go beyond convenience, speed, ease of use, and security to introduce innovative features and a compelling value proposition that distinguish the offering from the competition.

As Asia-Pacific consumers turn increasingly to digital channels to manage all aspects of their finances, incumbent banks must weigh carefully the strategic questions above and chart their course forward. To thrive in this increasingly dynamic market, each bank will need to build (or acquire) the technology, talent, and ways of working that will enable it to scale distinctive and relevant innovations quickly and at low cost.

By McKinsey

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