Asia a key market for mobile banking

What began as a sideline is now a way to cater to people on the move, with up to 530 million worldwide expected to sign up by next year

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2012, 3:01am

Banks are becoming more serious about luring financial consumers online, especially those who are often on the move.

Market leaders in Hong Kong's retail banking business such as HSBC, Standard Chartered, and Citigroup, have launched mobile banking platforms in the past three to four years and more banks are working on their mobile banking projects.

Initially, many banks considered their mobile banking services - often delivered via special applications designed for mobile devices like Apple's iPhone, for example - would play a supporting role to their traditional offline banking business.

However, they rapidly changed their minds and began to focus more on their online users as greater numbers of their customers, particularly younger generations, quickly got used to paying bills or transferring money online.

Citigroup launched its mobile banking application, called Citi Mobile, for its retail banking customers in the Asia-Pacific region in Hong Kong in 2008.

By the end of September, the New York-based bank, the world's largest financial services provider at one time, reported it had 1.1 million active mobile banking users in the region who conducted their banking transactions online, via their mobile devices.

"New technologies have opened new opportunities … mobile banking gives us greater flexibility to serve our customers where and when they need us," Jonathan Larsen, global head of retail banking at Citigroup, said.

"Mobile banking is playing an important role in our aim to be the world's leading digital bank," he said.

He added that in the Asia-Pacific region, Citigroup was adding between 60,000 to 70,000 new mobile banking users every month.

Larsen said the bank had also seen between 12 million to13 million online and mobile log-ins every month by its customers in the region to do a variety of banking transactions.

Mobile banking adoption is expected to reach about 530 million users worldwide by next year, according to a report from research consultancy firm Juniper.

In addition to North America and Western Europe, Juniper expected China and Southeast Asia have the highest penetration in terms of users.

Following Citigroup's launch of its mobile banking services in 2008, Standard Chartered also launched its application called Breeze, and HSBC quickly added mobile banking platform to its service portfolio.

Others such as Bank of East Asia, Hong Kong's largest independent bank, also tried to catch up in this round of competition.

At their inception, mobile banking services were limited to some basic functions such as checking balances or making online payments.

But now many banks are aiming to develop their mobile banking platforms into virtual full-service branches by adding stock trading and other services to users' mobile applications.