Westpac Banking Corporation is looking to enter Asian markets such as Hong Kong and Singapore with a digital commercial bank.
Any such move will need to be built gradually over the next few years, says Michael Correa, Singapore-based general manager.
The bank has noticed challenger banks in Australia trying to win a piece of market share. “I can bring that model to Singapore or Hong Kong,” Correa said.
The bank’s potential target would be small- and medium-sized enterprises. It is not a retail player in Asia, and would not wish to disrupt its existing corporate banking relationships in the region.
This would put it squarely in competition with newly licensed virtual digital banks in Hong Kong. Singapore’s banks are also releasing digital-only solutions for SMEs, although not necessarily in Singapore itself.
But the bank’s stakeholders are pushing it to become more aggressive digitally, not least Anita Fung, the former CEO of HSBC’s Hong Kong business, who now sits on Westpac’s board of directors.
Some fintech assembly required
Correa says Westpac has an Australia-based fintech accelerator that is feeding it plenty of proof-of-concept tests.
He says Australia boasts plenty of good fintech companies, including ones focused on regtech, that would benefit from a patron like Westpac to expand into Asian markets.
“By embedding corporate VC portfolio companies [from Australia] in Hong Kong and Singapore, we give them access to capital, and to a network,” Correa said.
Meanwhile by assembling a digital-only bank using third-party fintechs, Westpac might be able to build a viable SME-focused franchise in Asia that it could not afford if it relied on brick and mortar.
It’s too early to tell exactly what kind of digital-only bank Westpac could create, or what kind of return on investment it will receive from its fintech portfolio.
Citing established challenger banks in Europe, Correa said, “They have a large valuation and a lot of customers, but we don’t know what that means. What can you get out of their client base: what kind of data, and what can you do with it?”
The PoCs will be vital to finding answers.
“I’m all about test and learn,” Correa said.