By Simon Lee, General Manager, Digital Personal Banking, iFAST Global Bank
iFAST (iGB) Global Bank’s launch of a new digital personal banking platform offering multi-currency accounts with no charges potentially posed some big challenges. It is not something that can be easily done overnight.
There are many processes and solutions that make smart banking smarter such as mobile banking, digital wallet, target marketing, chatbots, borderless payment, and so on. But the smartest bank is the one that is dedicated to continuing to invest in digital capabilities and customer experience, and which has developed new products and services that are changing the way banking is done.
Banks need to find a way to respond to how consumers want to make purchases in the new digital economy
Banks need to react swiftly to digitalisation of their banking services, or face having them taken over by non-banks or big tech companies. The significant challenge that traditional banks face in the long run is the potential obsolescence of their past services, such as ATM machines, as the world moves towards a cashless future.
Consumers are used to an ‘always on’, one-click purchase, economy. With their outdated, siloed systems, traditional banks are caught in a vicious cycle of maintaining these siloed, multiple, legacy systems while the new challenger banks can fail to put in place robust systems (such as the mandatory Know-Your-Customer compliance) in their rush to get to market, and gaps in IT security can also make these systems vulnerable to phishing and scamming or ransomware attacks.
As a Fintech-first operation, we set out to disrupt the traditional banking industry by offering both retail customers, and corporates and other partners, a new financial ecosystem that would extend all the way from a current bank account through to having access to a wealth management system.
Our view was, ‘Why should overseas consumers be denied the opportunity to open a bank account in the UK with the same level of convenience as local residents?’ Our new Digital Personal Banking platform enables both local and overseas customers to easily open bank account online, access various savings products via one multi-currency account, and seamlessly connect with our wealth management platform.
As part of a publicly listed company, there is always the thought, ‘Is this a good time to be launching a new product given global economic and political volatility?’ iFAST Corp. acquired a local UK-based bank nearly two years ago, at the height of the pandemic. The first phase, which was launched two years later in April 2023, offers a multi-currency account all in one place, all paying interest as customers save, spend and invest.
We focused on promoting our key message of “The UK digital bank that bridges you to the world”
With an existing customer base of nearly 800,000 customers, our objective was to provide global banking services that cater to the entire world’s population of 8 billion people. This would give us volume and scale. As a wealth management platform with S$19.00 bn assets under management, we were in a strong and profitable position to divert funds naturally to support our new venture.
The key benefit was there was ‘No minimum. No maximum. Instant access. For everyone.’
Our marketing strategy was based around the fact that every bank should have its own financial ecosystem strategy (pic. below). We believe this is a customer benefit that no other bank, fintech or non-bank can currently compete with.
A recent report from the Boston Consulting Group backed up our thinking. The report highlighted that if banks do not evolve and extend their financial ecosystems, they risk being totally overtaken by challenger banks and non-banks (such as Apple with its one-click product and partnership with Goldman Sachs).
Migrants and international students often face challenges when trying to open a UK bank account, which can make it difficult for them to secure accommodation and access funds for living expenses. On the other hand, global investors, who typically possess significant assets but lack a UK presence, are seeking opportunities to maximise returns on their savings while diversify and safeguarding their assets, in a financially and politically stable jurisdiction like the UK. Merely fulfilling consumer demand by developing products and services that provide them with a profitable investment return is insufficient.
Our solution to meet the future requirements of our global clientele involves offering a comprehensive digital global bank account, along with a wealth management platform to facilitate diversification.
For the launch of our Digital Personal Banking platform, we focused on the core messaging of “Ten Reasons to Open an iGB account” namely, do you:
• Work and live in the UK
• Study in UK e.g. student
• Generate rental income from UK property
• Take payments within UK and also send to other countries
• Want access to multi-currencies all in one place (including GBP, USD, EUR, HKD, SGD and CNY)
• Have savings
• Want better interest rates
• Want an offshore account, with a safekeep asset in countries like the UK
• Seek a Deposit guarantee
• Want to hold currencies in USD instead of your local currencies
As iFAST continues to execute its vision, we will look to build on our Digital Personal Banking system, offering personal banking services to global customers providing solutions for deposits, savings and seamless movement of money, with other services consumers are asking for, such as payment card issuance and e-wallet functionality.
Having an over-arching vision and having the patience to look at the long term investment, backed by a strong CEO and team, was critical to our success. The launch generated 120 millroll outs/audience reach and we are now continuing to roll-out other key marketing elements aimed at direct sign-ups outside of enquiries from our core customer base. Our target is one million customers within the next three years. Working with partners, creative promotional campaigns, attendance and sponsorship at key shows in London and easy availability of a downloadable app form the foundation stones to achieve our objectives.
About the author
Mr. Simon Tsang Ming Lee, the General Manager of iFAST Global Bank’s Digital Personal Banking division, was also the Responsible Officer for the Wealth Management department in Hong Kong. During his tenure with the company, he was part of the Business Development team and played a key role in developing the iFAST HK B2B platform. Since 2017, he has been instrumental in the successful launch of the iFAST Global Markets HK platform and the integration of the Insurance Brokerage department post-acquisition. Having joined the company in 2011, Mr. Lee holds a Bachelor of Sciences degree from the University of Hong Kong, which he earned in 2009.