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August 3 2018

Singapore’s UOB used its first half results briefing today to unveil a new digital bank to be rolled out across five Asean markets and aiming for up to 5 million new customers. It is big on ambition, but light on timeframe specifics.

“We believe this is the right time for us to launch a digital bank,” says Dennis Khoo, head of regional digital bank and digital banking. “The difference is, this will be digital banking with a relentless focus on customer engagement.”

Khoo’s odd job title is illustrative of the strange definitions and terminology that are turning up in this sector. In his view, digital banking is something UOB has been offering for some time anyway (most obviously through its UOB Mighty, a phone-based payments system widespread in Singapore), whereas this new project is a new mobile-only digital bank, targeted in its initial stages at mobile-savvy Generation Y and Z customers.

There’s little doubt that the digital bank, once rolled out fully, will be differentiated in terms of footprint: UOB wants it to be active in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. The most obvious comparison, fellow Singaporean and long-time tech leader DBS, has rolled out its mobile-only digibank offering in India and Indonesia, but not elsewhere in southeast Asia.

But what about this point of differentiation on the grounds of engagement? Khoo believes that other digital bank offerings are so hell-bent on customer acquisition that they forgot about engagement. “In my experience in 17 years in the banking industry, looking at tech for 13 years… there is very little focus on engagement,” he says. “It’s hard to do.

“The big tech and fintech companies have gotten there, but the banks have had difficulty in making that happen because the building blocks have not been in place.”

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Chris Wright
Chris Wright
Chris is a journalist specialising in business and financial journalism across Asia, Australia and the Middle East. He is Asia editor for Euromoney magazine and has written for publications including the Financial Times, Institutional Investor, Forbes, Asiamoney, the Australian Financial Review, Discovery Channel Magazine, Qantas: The Australian Way and BRW. He is the author of No More Worlds to Conquer, published by HarperCollins.

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