VRL’s successful Innovations conference in Singapore on 6-8
October. The focus of the event was on innovation in cards and
payments and, more widely, consumer banking, with presentations
from a large number of institutions – though much of the debate
centred around the global credit crunch.
The financial chaos unfolding
in the US and the UK, and the consequence for the Asia-Pacific
market, was the main topic of conversation outside the conference
hall at the recent Innovations event in Singapore run by Retail
Banker International and its sister publication, Cards
International (see http://www.retailbankinginnovations.com/).
The knock-on slowdown for the region was seen as inevitable; only
the depth of the impact was debated.
Inside the conference hall, the focus from the 40-plus speakers
was on innovation and the need for banks in all markets to adapt to
changing economic, social and technological circumstances. Keeping
consumer banking products competitive and fresh, keeping them
targeted at the right customers through strong segmentation, and
making sure they are easily accessible either at the branch, online
or, increasingly, via mobiles, were the over-arching themes. The
rise of contactless payments functionality was a huge issue, as was
the rise of person-to-person (P2P) payments online and, again, via
The integration of social media, Web 2.0 and other modern online
tools was touched on by a number of speakers (see also ANZ’s
link-up with SmartyPig). Jon Wolf, innovation and product
excellence executive at Bank of America, as well as Edwin van
Raalte, senior manager of international direct banking at Rabobank,
both highlighted the great lengths their banks have gone to embrace
cutting edge internet services such as blogs, forums, product
reviews, customer questionnaires, podcasts, vidcasts and so on, to
engage with customers.
Van Raalte, for instance, said in his presentation: “Mass
one-way marketing as a communication strategy is becoming less
effective and more expensive. In the US, conversion rates have
dropped to less than 1.5 percent and only 7 percent of consumers
believe companies tell the truth in ads. It is therefore of
strategic importance for companies to find ways in which they can
establish trust… So for an online bank there is merit in using
social computing based on Web 2.0 as a strategy.”
Christophe Langlois, a social media banking analyst and founder
of Visible-Banking.com, stressed that Web 2.0 and similar
integrated online personal financial management services were very
much the way forward for consumer banks in the brave new world of
the omniscient internet. He cited Bank of America, Wells Fargo,
HSBC and PayPal as examples of financial services groups
benefitting from this new way of interacting with customers.
Mobile! Mobile! Mobile!
Mobile phones were another area of strong interest, both as a
payment tool and a banking channel. Sunil Balagopal, regional
vice-president, Southeast Asia, at Western Union, said mobiles will
naturally become a significant remittance tool as money flows grow
significantly over the next decade. Jarkko Sevanto, senior manager,
NFC business development, at Nokia, and Sergio Cozzolino,
vice-president in the mobile ICT department of Telecom Italia, both
discussed the growing use of mobiles as convenient payment devices
to buy low-value goods.
And Steven Kietz, an executive vice-president at Citigroup and
CEO of Citi’s Mobile Money Ventures joint venture with SK Telecom,
said mobile phones and similar devices such as Blackberrys will
play a significant part in financial services distribution,
particularly in Asia. Citi has recently changed its strategy on
mobile banking in the US, dropping its proprietary system and
moving to one akin to Bank of America’s incredibly successful open
platform (see RBI 594).
“Banks should utilise mobile banking to reach customers and
deliver new services. M-banking improves customer loyalty, helps
reach underbanked segments [ie, consumers under 25], and it enables
timely, relevant, and actionable outreach that will ignite customer
engagement unlike any other channel,” said Kietz.