The past year has accelerated growth in neobanks (or digital banks) inspired by several factors like an advancement of technology. The growth has also spilled over into 2021 with Asia Pacific Countries (APAC) recording a surge in customers.
According to data acquired by Finbold, the APAC region neobanks added 134.8 million customers in 2021 H1, bringing the cumulative number to 437.2 million, a growth of 44.57% from 2020’s figure of 302.4 million. In 2019, the neobanks in the region accounted for 239.3 million customers.
On new customer acquisition by APAC neobanks, 2020 and 2021 has recorded growth of 113.62% from 63.1 million to 134.8 million. The highest customer growth was recorded between 2018 and 2019 by a staggering 233 million.
Elsewhere, the region has also recorded a growth in the number of neobanks, with 2021 H1 recording 68 cumulative platforms. India accounted for the highest figure at 14, followed by Australia’s 13. In 2020, the figure was at 64. Data on the APAC neobank customers is provided by Banking Payment Context (BPC) and Fincog’s the Digital Banking in Asia Pacific report.
Drivers for growth in APAC neobank customers
Neobanks refer to direct banks that operate exclusively online without traditional physical branch networks. The APAC region has recorded interest in neobanks due to the growth of tech giants aiming to leverage the region’s technological innovations. The region is increasingly emulating other advanced markets like Europe where platforms like Revolut are dominant.
The demand for online banking services among the population has also contributed to the growth especially during the coronavirus pandemic that saw most people confined to their homes.
Besides the contribution from the pandemic, user growth can also be tied to the product offering of neobanks. They have positioned themselves to offer financial products to help people attain short-term financial goals like saving and stock trading. Interestingly, the products are provided without discussing the radius yield curves, base rates, and withdrawal rates while delivering a different, better value proposition.
Additionally, neobanks pose a significant security risk for customers and the considerable customer growth can also be attributed to an improved regulatory environment. Most authorities have a reputation for enacting strict regulations as the government expresses caution to protect consumer funds. Furthermore, the region is known to have a predominantly young population. Notably, neobanks have an appeal to younger people who are more tech-savvy.
Some of the fintech in the region have embraced the super app approach, something more appealing to consumers. Platforms offering super apps utilize unique customer data and touchpoints, which have been analyzed and leveraged to support rapid proposition development. Most consumers prefer a single platform to manage all their financial needs.
The growth in neobanks users is also inspiring traditional banks to hop on the trend. Globally, traditional banks have been making strides to shift to digital platforms, but the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the move that promoted a shift towards digital platforms.
However, traditional banks are still facing challenges like an outdated legacy of technology architecture. Typically, when new technologies evolve, they are established on top of a bank’s existing infrastructure, complicating it. Consequently, to keep a grip on the customer base, most traditional players are coming up with innovative technologies to tackle the threat from neobanks.
Challenges facing APAC neobank sector
Although neobanks are growing in users within the region, the sector still faces several limitations. Factors like lack of trust and reluctance to switch to an unknown provider instead of the incumbent influential traditional brands remain a challenge.
Furthermore, the region has an extensive rural population that is unaware of the existence of challenger banks. Additionally, some of the rural population lack knowledge on how to operate neobanks.