Asia's internet firms are challenging the region's traditional banks for consumer finances, tapping their massive user networks for business and following a trail blazed in China by tech giants Alibaba and Tencent.
The push into banking by companies better known for their messaging apps, cute emojis and online holiday bookings comes as regulators across Asia open up their banking sectors to a new breed of digital players.
The shift is in its infancy but contrasts sharply with the banking markets of Europe and North America, where change is slower and such startups tend to be backed by venture capital funds and financial sector incumbents, not tech firms.
Asia's tech entrants see their advantage in the way they can seamlessly integrate banking services with their users' regular online activities and the efficiency that comes from their technology.
“If you want to open a bank account (in Hong Kong) you need to go to a branch, answer questions for an hour, and you still won't get the account opened without follow up calls,” said Wayne Xu, president of ZhongAn International, a unit of Chinese online insurer ZhongAn, setting up a virtual bank.
“However, all the information needed at the counter can already be collected on a mobile phone.”
Hong Kong's banking regulator last month issued one of four so-called virtual banking licenses to ZhongAn in what could be the biggest shake-up in years in a city dominated by HSBC and Standard Chartered. Last week, the regulator said on it was making progress on four additional applications.