With the rapid development of Financial Technology (FinTech), the idea of virtual banking has been widely discussed and is gaining more traction among the local banking population. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) first issued the Guideline on the Authorization of Virtual Banks under the Banking Ordinance back in 2000. However, the concept remained at an inception stage until 2018 when HKMA started to receive license applications. So far, out of the 30 applications, only eight had been approved and it was not until March 2020 that the first virtual bank was launched, 20 years after the first issuance of the Guideline.
It has been a long journey for virtual banking to be officially in place in town. To explore the dynamics of virtual banking in Hong Kong, Nielsen has conducted a Personal Finance Monitor to study customer perspective towards virtual banking. This yearly syndicated study aims to provide a holistic view on consumers’ personal financial status and identifying the impact virtual banking brings to the financial industry.
INCREASED AWARENESS AND ADOPTION OF VIRTUAL BANKING
According to the Nielsen Personal Finance Monitor 2020, more banking consumers have heard of the term “virtual bank”, with the corresponding awareness level rocketing from 67% in 2018 to 93% in 2020. However, 42% of them have heard of this term but do not have a strong understanding of it and 38% of them are unable to correctly cite any virtual bank’s name.
Around 7% of the banking customers claim that they are currently using virtual banking services, which is an encouraging figure as the first virtual bank has become fully operational just three months before the survey took place. Moreover, the survey shows that there has been a spike of intention to use virtual banking services, from 20% in 2018 to 37% this year.
“While virtual banks gain popularity among the public, consumers lack a clear understanding of the services and nature. It is imperative for corresponding financial organizations to dedicate more efforts to promote the virtual banking concept and educate the public about this innovative initiative,” recommends Eddie Au, Senior Director, Financial Services, Nielsen.
MOBILE WALLET USERS ARE MORE RECEPTIVE TO VIRTUAL BANK
The study also observed the relationship between virtual bank usage intention and mobile wallet usage. Over half (51%) of active mobile wallet users who use it on a weekly basis express their intention to use virtual banking services in the future, compared with remarkably lower rates of 27% among inactive mobile wallet users and 16% among non-users. The result is not surprising as frequent mobile wallet users are more tech-savvy and have already adopted technology for financial management. In addition, the decision of using virtual banking for customers who are not active peer-to-peer (P2P) service users could be hindered by their unfamiliarity with FinTech, such as making cash deposits or withdrawals through Fast Payment System (FPS).
“Given the positive relationship between virtual bank usage intention and mobile wallet usage, partnering with various Stored Value Facility (SVF) providers could help boost virtual bank usage. Alternatively, the feasibility of facilitating SVF issuance should also be explored,” advised Eddie.
ISSUING CREDIT CARDS AS AN EFFECTIVE WAY TO LURE VIRTUAL BANKING CUSTOMERS
When it comes to popular virtual banking services, the survey reveals that around 75% of potential virtual bank customers prefer to start using virtual banks by opening a deposit account. Meanwhile, credit card services are also on demand, with over half of respondents (54%) showing interests in virtual bank credit card applications. Nonetheless, customers are less excited about virtual personal loan services, which are regarded as one of the popular market entry products for virtual banks. Only 18% of the customers claim they would consider applying for the loans in the future.
“Virtual bank has become a prominent and irreversible trend. Continuous growth is expected in virtual bank usage in the coming years along with the opening of more virtual banks. Still, facing competition from not only their peers but also traditional banks, virtual banks are recommended to fight for market share by putting their focuses on the most demanded services and offering competitive deposit interest rates to trigger trial usage,” said Eddie.
Virtual banks are expected to disrupt the financial industry by offering innovative and extraordinary products and services which are attractive and competitive, likely to force traditional banks to upgrade and improve their offerings and make better use of technology. In the end, banking customers would benefit from the competition.