In Focus

Which banks are launching virtual branches in Asia?

JP Morgan and Citi are amongst the banks deploying virtual branches.

When J.P. Morgan launched its fourth virtual branch in mainland China early this year, it was another proof that virtual branches — part of the banking sector’s recent digital transformation — are sweeping through Asia as more people continue to look for ways and means to manage their hard-earned money and achieve financial security in a more convenient way.

“The virtual branch allows clients to upload, check, store their supporting documents electronically,” said Rani Gu, head of treasury service, China, J.P. Morgan. The service eliminates the need for customers to be physically present at traditional bank branches, reduces manual interventions, and improves turnaround times through faster and more efficient transaction processing.

The launch of the virtual bank in mainland China follows J.P. Morgan’s successful implementation of the initiative in India, Indonesia, and Thailand. Digital transformation and technology implementation is becoming a big next step for banks. J.P. Morgan, for instance, spent $9.5 billion in technology investments, $3 billion of which was earmarked towards new initiatives.

The rise and influence of technology is so widespread this day and age that people don’t even need to go out of their homes to do their finances. Currently, the name of the game — at least in personal banking and finance — is convenience and efficiency. Virtual banking, in a nutshell, allows bank clients and customers to do all the financial transactions they need either through their phones or computers, instead of going to a traditional bricks and mortar bank branch.

This is also true for Citibank, which signed an agreement with global technology company Ailleron to implement its LiveBank technology to over 16 countries where Citibank is operating, and benefitting over 100 million bank customers. Following LiveBank’s launch for Standard Chartered in 9 countries, the agreement with Citibank is now considered the first implementation of a virtual banking system on such a large scale globally.

“We are implementing the solution in 16 countries with different market regulations and IT requirements. It is a powerful base of knowledge and new ideas,” said Piotr Skrabski, Ailleron VP and General Manager, LiveBank, adding that they are currently expanding the service with online customer identity verification, which will allow for opening a bank account, taking out a loan, or signing a contract remotely, without visiting a bank branch.

Apart from OCBC Bank’s robo-advisory service in Singapore, banking sectors in emerging markets in Asia like Malaysia and the Philippines have also seen a surge in digital platforms and transactions, with banks like Bank Simpahan Nasional, Banco De Oro, and Bank of the Philippine Islands all taking steps towards digitalisation.

This will continue as more and more countries and people will transition to technology for convenience given that according to the European Financial Management Association, as many as 80% of the world’s banks will be involved in virtual branch deployments in 2018.

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