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Asean banks use technology to reach rural areas

Floating bank charts new course to provide banking services to remote populations

Asean banks are using technology to serve locations that are remote or have low population densities, with the latest example being a bank on a boat from PT Bank Rakyat Indonesia (BRI).

The Indonesian bank has launched a floating bank to provide services to people living on remote islands with little access to banking services.

BRI’s floating bank, Teras BRI Kapal, will first serve the Thousand Islands, and there are plans to introduce more floating banks in Ternate (north Maluku), Bau-bau (south-east Sulawesi) and Tanjung Selor (north Kalimantan).

It will provide services similar to those at a BRI bank branch, such as savings, loans and money transfers, and will have an automatic teller machine (ATM).

Initiatives to reach people without access to banks are not uncommon in the Asean region and IT underpins them. According to Ho Sui-Jon, analyst at IDC Financial Insights in Asia/Pacific, Asean banks are driven either by regulatory or business imperatives to expand their reach to remote and rural areas.

Approaches used by banks to reach these groups include mobile banking technologies, unmanned kiosks and the deployment of ground fleets equipped to provide basic branch services.

Examples of mobile banking technologies deployed range from smartphone apps to the entire technology infrastructure required to provide access to a full suite of online banking features. Ho says the next frontier for mobile banking is account origination, with accounts set up and products applied for without the need for paper and branch visits.

An example of kiosk banking is RHB’s EASY franchises in Malaysia, a collection of low-maintenance kiosks that are comparable to the traditional branch model, where technology enables clients to self-serve.

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Banks are also using staff as a roaming workforce to engage target client groups in person, for example using ATM vans. And with more and more people using mobile phones to bank, the type of services offered by these roaming staff will change to higher-value services, said Ho. 

“As virtual payment agendas, such as mobile digital wallets and P2P payments, become more ubiquitous, the services offered by these ground fleets will become more sophisticated,” he added. “CIMB’s regional Bank-in-a-Briefcase programme is a good example of how a technology-augmented direct sales force can be deployed to engage higher wealth tiers in the market.”

Ho highlighted CFG Services’ Integrated Financial Solutions for the Unbanked initiative, which delivers specialised banking and insurance services to under-served segments of Thailand's population.

CFG has deployed on-site collect staff equipped with tablets and mini-printers to track each borrower’s daily instalments and to issue receipts. For its Insurance on the Spot (IOS) service, a program run on Android tablets enables licensed agents to register customers for contracts within minutes, requiring only personal contact information, in a paperless manner.

“CFG Services’ approach is exceedingly well thought-out, ranging from how products are structured to meet customer requirements while provisioning for their different risk profiles, to how fleet management, deployment and logistics are managed to maximise market impact,” said Ho.

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