KBank aims to boost access for unbanked

KBank aims to boost access for unbanked

Ms Kattiya says that KBank now thinks of itself as 'Thailand's first challenger bank'.
Ms Kattiya says that KBank now thinks of itself as 'Thailand's first challenger bank'.

Kasikornbank (KBank) has announced a 100-billion-baht strategic programme aimed at boosting access to banking services among Thailand's unbanked and underbanked population, very small businesses, and the self-employed.

The programme includes accelerated investments in technology, technology-related acquisitions, commercial partnerships, organisational development, as well as adopting other technology-driven methods to boost access to banking services among a broader range of the public.

The bank's chief executive Kattiya Indaravijaya said: "We're taking a bold step, and, through technological leadership, aim to transform banking in Thailand in ways that can help more people enter the banking system and benefit from banking products and services.

"We're already a bank that has the great strengths and reliability of a traditional bank serving a wide range of customers. What we're now doing is to fuse on to that successful core the disruptive DNA of a 'challenger bank'."

Challenger banks have been a disruptive phenomenon in many countries, 'challenging' legacy banks by using new technology to make banking products more accessible. Challenger banks have also appealed to traditional bank customers by eliminating cumbersome processes and providing faster services that are easy to use, available everywhere, and always-on.

Ms Kattiya said that KBank now thinks of itself as 'Thailand's first challenger bank'.

"By fusing the DNA of a 'challenger bank', we want to be a bank that empowers a whole new generation of Thais, who are rich with ability and energy, to gain access to banking products and advice," she said.

"We want to give more loans without collateral and based on a borrower's real ability and intention to repay. We want to make it easier for everyone to apply from the privacy of their homes or offices. We want to remove processes and paperwork and to make things really simple. And we want it all to happen for the customer much, much faster.

"We have embarked on our strategic programme to fully harness emerging technologies to conduct more complete evaluations of a customer's ability and willingness to pay back a loan.

"These more sophisticated evaluations of a small customer's potential to be a responsible borrower will enable millions more individuals, the self-employed, and very small businesses to enter the banking system as well as free many from the debt trap of loan sharks who charge interest, often at over 200% a year."


During 2022 and the next two years, KBank is investing around 22 billion baht in new technology and systems, in addition to the 12.7 billion baht invested during the last two years.

KBank said it also expects to complete, in the next 12 months, between two to five acquisitions and commercial collaborations with technology-related enterprises, with total investments of up to 30 billion baht.

"These substantial investments will secure KBank significant additional capabilities to fulfil our mission to broaden access to banking, as well as firmly embed the DNA of a challenger bank in our organisation," Ms Kattiya said.


She said that KBank has already been trialling multiple new systems and processes in preparation for this strategic push.

Individuals can open new accounts online, within minutes if they are existing customers, and between 24 to 72 hours for others who need to verify their identity. An account holder can also apply for a personal loan, have it considered, and, if approved, have the funds transferred into their account, all within 30 minutes.

"Only a few years ago, such a process would have taken weeks and required a physical visit to a branch. Next, we aim to replicate this near-instant application and consideration process for even those who have no account at KBank," Ms Kattiya added.


KBank is now piloting specialised buy-now-pay-later loans for those who are self-employed or have no documents to prove their income, by evaluating their creditworthiness on alternative data.

Over the last several months, KBank has been approving an average of 1,600 loan applications each day using this method, with the loan amount usually around 1,500 baht, with some cases going up to 20,000 baht.

"We are the only bank to do this, and are very encouraged that many of these people are likely to have never been given a loan by a bank and are probably among the most vulnerable victims of loan sharks," Ms Kattiya said. "This first small loan becomes a bridge that helps them cross into the banking system. And, as they gain self-confidence in managing these loans and repay, they can gradually increase their loan size based on their performance, as well as be empowered with other, more specialised products."

KBank is also trialling ways to make obtaining loans fairer for micro-enterprises as part of its 'challenger bank' goals.

Because many of these enterprises do not have financial statements, they are almost always unable to obtain bank loans and are forced to turn to expensive, unofficial lending sources.

"We are the first bank to reach out to these groups and allow them to obtain loans without any such documentation. We are doing it based on interviews and other technology-assisted assessments, and hope to soon extend the project beyond its preliminary phase," Ms Kattiya added.

She said that another important barrier to taking out bank loans for lower-income and self-employed groups is that they do not have the time to visit a bank branch, or are not comfortable doing so.

"To make it easier for them to enter the banking system we partnered with LINE, and are the only bank offering banking services through social media in Thailand," Ms Kattiya said. "Even if an applicant has no bank account, our LINE BK app lets them apply for a loan and get a decision within 24 hours. And if they already have an account with KBank, they can complete an application and be given a decision in less than five minutes.

"The LINE BK app is also enabling people to apply for loans even if they have no supporting documents. With an applicant's consent, we can evaluate most cases by using algorithms and alternative data already available on their social media."

Based on its current user base, around one in three successful borrowers through LINE BK are getting their first-ever bank loan. Nearly half are self-employed, around half have an income lower than 15,000 baht a month, and almost 80% are outside Bangkok in the provinces.

"By the end of this year, with just the LINE BK app, we hope to bring a further 200,000 people into the banking system by giving them their first bank loan. Through this channel, we also expect to extend loans totalling 20 billion baht to over 600,000 people and small businesses, freeing many from the need to consider borrowing from expensive unofficial sources," Ms Kattiya said.


KBank is also working with a major retail group to give upcountry mom-and-pop store operators easier access to loans without collateral, as well as providing loans to the stores' customers.

"By evaluating a store's and its customers' creditworthiness in non-traditional ways, and by making the processes much simpler, in 2022 we aim to reach deep into upcountry through the partner's thousands of stores. It will put us another step closer to helping residents of small communities around Thailand gain access to banking services," Ms Kattiya said.

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