Banks look to capitalise on agent services
Move to help expand reach and cut costs
Banks are keen to apply for banking agent licences, allowing them to expand financial services at lower cost as more traditional branches close.
The country's big players -- Bangkok Bank (BBL), Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) and Kasikornbank (KBank) -- are studying the new business model, while smaller bank CIMB Thai (CIMBT) has also expressed interest in providing services through agents.
The Bank of Thailand this quarter is due to announce regulations governing banking agent licences, which let banks more cheaply access people in remote areas. Financial institutions could appoint agents to offer financial transaction services such as money deposits, transfers, withdrawals and payments, but lending is not permitted.
The agents could include Thailand Post, Village Funds, convenience stores or small merchants.
Adisorn Sermchaiwong, senior executive vice-president at CIMBT, said agent licensing would ease the bank's expansion through 7-Eleven convenience stores.
The bank is waiting for official regulations concerning the agent model.
CIMBT has teamed up with Thailand's largest convenience store network, 7-Eleven, to open two mini-banking branches that offer a range of services, including account openings, cash deposits, foreign currency exchange, money transfers and acceptance of applications for personal loans, credit cards and leasing. The mini-branches' services exclude cash withdrawal.
The bank recently opened its third mini-branch at a Spar convenience store, located at a Bangchak petrol station. CIMBT plans to convert some of its full-service branches into mini-branches to reduce operating costs and respond to customer demand amid shifting consumer lifestyles.
Prassanee Ouiyamaphan, executive vice-president at BBL, said the bank is working to qualify agents because the scheme fits well with the bank's business strategy. BBL wants agents whose infrastructure systems can connect with the bank's.
In light of the required qualifications, convenience store chains and telecom companies would match well with the bank's business strategies, Mrs Prassanee said. Service quality, process efficiency and the reputation of agents will also be part of the banks' focus.
"Even though the bank has continued to open more branches over the past several years, bucking its industry peers, the number of new outlets will be smaller this year," Mrs Prassanee said. "We plan to relocate, merge and shutter some branch networks as well. Overall, the bank will maintain its branch numbers this year."
BBL, the country's largest bank by assets, has seen the proportion of financial transactions through its mobile banking channel surge to 40%. ATMs account for 50%, while transactions via brick-and-mortar branches fell to 10%.
The bank has managed to increase the number of customers by 10-15% annually in recent years through both the digital channel and traditional branches.
Separately, Sarut Ruttanaporn, SCB's head of retail and branch networks and senior executive vice-president, said banking agents should employ Know Your Customer procedures to uphold the bank's reputation.
He said the agent model would give greater convenience to SCB customers in remote areas. Mr Sarut said the bank may subsequently close down bank branches in those areas being served by agents as a cost-saving measure.
Patchara Samalapa, senior executive vice-president at KBank, said agents would help boost the bank's customer base.