Digital banking surges in sea change

Digital banking surges in sea change

KBank and SCB lead in online accounts

A consumer uses the K-Plus app to shop online. VARUTH HIRUNYATHEB
A consumer uses the K-Plus app to shop online. VARUTH HIRUNYATHEB

The pandemic has ravaged businesses and forced social distancing, spiking demand for remote and digital services as well as online banking.

Opening bank accounts online has surged after all commercial and state banks closed all branches nationwide during March 28-29 and banned account opening services for another eight days due to crowds of people inside and outside several branches one day ahead of the application period for the government's 5,000-baht monthly cash handout.

These trends are helping banks acquire new customers at an unprecedented rate as more people shift to the digital channel for banking transactions.

Kasikornbank (KBank), the country's largest lender by assets and leading digital banking service provider, recorded 30,000 new K-eSavings accounts opened during the 10 days when all banks banned opening new accounts in person, said senior executive vice-president Wirawat Panthawangkun.

The 30,000 accounts represent 25% of those who applied for K-eSavings accounts during the period.

To open an K-eSavings account, applicants are required to apply and fill in personal information through KPlus and they must verify their identity at the bank's ATMs to complete the account opening process.

The bank launched K-eSavings accounts a while ago, but growth was insignificant.

There are around 1,000-2,000 applicants every day for deposit products, but only 10-15% completed the identity authentication process through ATMs.

The bank will spend more time analysing the financial behaviour of the new depositors to gauge their potential as longer-term customers, as some may only be using the bank's accounts for government assistance.

"Technology will provide customers more convenience and control the risk of the virus spreading among both staff and clients," he said.

"The bank has been developing digital banking services in response to customers' requirements and will continue to improve the experience."

Mr Wirawat said the bank has adopted both web and app-based services to better keep pace with customer requirements, particularly in lending services that include the debt relief scheme.

Call centres and chatbots are key channels for gathering information on customers' needs for debt restructuring and other financial assistance.

The bank is developing all online channels to prepare for more jobs in line with the central bank's debt relief scheme covering small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) and retail customers.

As a result of the pandemic, K-Plus users have increased to more than 12 million from around 11 million at the end of last year, he said.

KBank targets mobile banking app users reaching 15 million by year-end, said Mr Wirawat.

The bank's mobile banking transactions have jumped exponentially for all categories, he said.

According to Bank of Thailand data, PromptPay transactions in March surged to 11 million per day, up from 5.7 million a year earlier.

Siam Commercial Bank (SCB), the country's fourth biggest lender and No.2 in mobile banking services, has also seen higher demand in online deposit account opening and digital lending.

Co-president Apiphan Charoenanusorn said more than 10,000 new bank customers opened savings accounts through mobile banking app SCB Easy and completed verification of their identities at 7-Eleven's Counter Service in the final three days of March, indicating rising awareness of the digital banking platform.

The number of bank accounts tied to PromptPay increased by 20,000 in recent days after the government announced a cash handout policy helping Thais amid the crisis.

The digital financial transaction volume for donations has also risen, with 50,000 transactions on the peak day, 10 times higher than normal.

"Our banking agent 7-Eleven is a key channel providing greater business opportunity because of convenience and high familiarity," she said.

"The bank plans to approach new depositors to use other products, particularly for digital lending, which has great potential for this segment."

There is higher demand for digital loans offered through the bank's mobile banking app SCB Easy, mainly from online merchants and especially for food delivery, which reflects a business opportunity in the crisis, said Mrs Apiphan.

Transactions via digital banking services have also increased, thanks to the government's ban on some businesses and social distancing measures.

With strong demand for online banking, the number of SCB Easy users surged by 200,000 from the end of last year to 11 million at the end of March.

She said the coronavirus outbreak has changed consumer habits, with people avoiding using banknotes and staying at home, encouraging a shift to the digital channel for financial transactions.

Digital financial transactions through SCB Easy increased from 150 million in January to 153 million in February and 165 million last month.

SCB has also opened a channel for individual customers affected by the pandemic to apply for the debt relief programme via SCB Easy, in addition to call centre channels.

The number of phone calls to SCB's call centre for financial aid requests has doubled to 60,000 per day, said Mrs Apiphan.

The bank has already offered debt relief and financial assistance to around 400,000 customers covering all segments, including retail, SME and corporate clients.

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