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Embracing the digital shift in banking and finance

15 October 2020 12 min read

Only a quarter out of nearly 400 million adults in Southeast Asia alone are fully “banked” individuals with full access to financial services, while a whopping 198 million fall on the other side of the spectrum as the “unbanked” who do not own bank accounts. 98 million adults make up the third “underbanked” category comprised of those who own bank accounts but are limited in access to credit, investment and insurance therefore rely heavily on cash. (Google eConomy report)

In large developing countries like Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines, more than half of their respective populations are unbanked. The cost and lack of physical infrastructure make it difficult for banking institutions to build adequate numbers of branches needed for large-scale financial inclusion. Tight regulations, non-standardised processes and varying levels of digital adoption also hinder innovation across the notoriously fragmented Asia region.

Pre-pandemic, the banking and finance industry had already begun recognising the benefits of digitalisation to increase access, improve convenience, lower costs and create more inclusive financial services. Aside from giving the un and underbanked populations access to financial services that are traditionally out of reach, technology-enabled business models are best positioned to address the region’s unique challenges on a much larger scale

However daunting, the shift to digital meets the needs of today’s convenience-seeking customers through unrivalled speed to market and enhanced efficiency. Incumbent banks and fintech players may be competing in terms of innovation, scalability and functionality but customer experience will always be the tie-breaker in this space.

Creating value in a technology-driven world

For Asian markets where adoption has been slow, an urgent interest in digitalisation has come to the fore. Propeled by pandemic, we’re seeing accelerated behavioural changes that businesses and societies are adopting in order to survive and create value in a technology-driven world.

Consumers expect brands to play a role and take responsibility in helping them deal with current realities. They also demand for seamless delivery and integrated tech experiences in their daily lives now more than ever. Brands must retain their essence in this quest to adapt, respond and engage, and those in the financial sector are no different.

Let’s take a look some of the trends influencing Asia:

  • The surge in online payments and digital banking in developing markets like the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia signal growth and opportunity as consumers display confidence and reliance on newfound technology.
  • As data also becomes very valuable and relevant to customers, data analytics and AI are considered “critical cornerstone-technologies” in local banks such as Unionbank of the Philippines who are investing heavily in this megatrend as part of their long-term strategy. (Unionbank PH)
  • The introduction of digital banks in Malaysia through Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) signal a new revolution that allows greater access to financial services at a lower cost through self-serve technology and automation. (Techwire)
  • Revenue from IoT smart device usage in the region has reached US$1,375M 2020 so far, indicative of the popularity of IoT connected smart devices in the region. Said to parallel this growth is an increase in digital payments and transactions through smart devices, as well as rising interest in voice-enabled transactions. (Techwire)
  • Augmented Reality (AR) integrated in banking apps can help locate bank branches and nearby ATMs as well as act as platforms for payment gateways, account management and budgeting. Potential use cases are much larger in scope — coupled with Virtual Reality (VR) some of the popular bolder predictions include hologram projections that could elevate the at-home banking experience and offer services that reduce the need for a physical visit.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine-learning (ML) algorithms will be used to analyse user data and customer spending patterns as well as personalised credit and lending products, which means more relevant user experiences.
  • Data visualisation continues to be an the way by which financial data is presented. Fintech firms may look to incorporating AR to enhance their presentations and mobile interface to provide a differentiated experience.

Future proof your digital brand

A digital-first mindset is necessary from a branding perspective. Strategy must be in place to accommodate the need for innovation across online banking channels, smart phone apps and other digital touchpoints. These require teams of developers with easy access to a comprehensive set of digital brand assets and design components.

When it comes to branding, financial institutions need to convey a sense of trustworthiness and growth. Outdated digital assets certainly convey the opposite, while good and intuitively designed touchpoints signal expertise.

Let’s explore how these brands owned their transformation journeys starting with their key digital properties:

CIC Group, Singapore

Signalling strength through a well-structured responsive website

CIC Asia Pacific is a respected global finance provider with over 30 years of established service. The brand needed to revitalise their online presence to reflect the times whilst communicating their strong heritage story.

Combining form and function, they overhauled their corporate website into an effective digital solution that helped clients validate their first impressions of the brand, as well as a second-step marketing tool to capture inbound enquiries.

Strategic text and visual content defined and articulated their web brand message. By streamlining the existing structure with new information hierarchy, CIC was able to leverage its strengths and team culture — an aspect that was not visible in the old iteration but deserved to be highlighted as an integral part of their success story. The new website serves as a trusted resource that is much more representative of CIC Asia Pacific as a whole.

Peak Re, Hong Kong

Disrupting industry convention and re-envisioning reinsurance through creative digital design

Peak Re, a Hong Kong-based, emerging market reinsurance specialist with a global portfolio, saw an opportunity to capture the growing demand for modernised reinsurance solutions in the Asia Pacific. The project entailed a complete suite of digital design and strategy that brought a visionary purpose to life.

There was a huge opportunity to launch the brand as a modernised solution and clearly communicate its unique market positioning. The brand laid a strong foundation through bold design decisions that reflected its objectives to disrupt industry conventions without sacrificing the clarity of the message.

The dynamic start-up wanted to be anything but generic and sought to avoid stereotypical reinsurance brand positioning. Creating an energetic tone of voice and a suite of brand activation applications saw the successful launch of Peak Re in January 2013.

They revisited their brand guidelines, core purpose, positioning and pillars again in 2019, illustrating how regular brand review exercises are crucial to stay fresh and relevant. By zoning in on their strategic differentation, the exercise set them up for success for the next few years as they continue supporting communites around Asia through reinsurance.

CLSA, Hong Kong

Maximising brand equity for long term growth

CLSA is a leading financial services and investment group acquired by China’s largest brokerage and investment bank CITIC Securities in 2013. Three years later, CLSA would shift away from being an agency-only institutional equities broker to a full service, integrated investment platform as part of CITIC’s global expansion plan. A rebrand was necessary to signify a major milestone in the brand’s evolution.

A unified brand strategy created a cohesive and persuasive offering, reflecting the breadth and depth of its expanded business lines, compelling new brand proposition and visual identity to signal that “new CLSA” is here to stay and ready for long-term growth.

New brand identity flowed through environments, stationery and digital applications aligned with updated brand guidelines. A refreshed website and visual direction positions CLSA as a forward-thinking, entrepreneurial business.

Leveraging the power of data

Digital technology that has transformed banking in developed markets is now sweeping through emerging markets at a more accelerated rate. As digital connectivity evolves in Southeast Asia, higher broadband access and better digital literacy will drive adoption of these technologies in the banking and fintech spaces. Brands need to remember that in times of crisis and beyond, transformation that is driven by human-centric purpose will be the most memorable and successful.

Banks and financial institutions that have embraced the 4th industrial age and prioritised the shift to digital long before it has become an urgent necessity are the clear winners today. It’s not too late for others to follow suite —enabled by technology and robust data, brands and businesses can still seize current conditions in order to turn odds in their favour.

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