Innovation in Asian banking

The 30-minute smart card

[Article published in The Review (Feb. 2010)]

An instant card issuance pilot in Singapore is just one example of the culture of innovation that exists in Asian banking

NFC ticketing takes offWhen it comes to the technology used in banking, a culture of innovation and a relative lack of legacy systems have enabled Asia to leapfrog the West in some areas. As early as 2003, the Immigration Department in Hong Kong began issuing next-generation multi-application smart identity cards, and in 2007, Hong Kong launched the Octopus card. The contactless smart card system is now used by 95% of the population to pay for train fares, parking, fast food and groceries.

The same technology is also deployed in Japan in electronic cash cards, and in the EZ-Link Card in Singapore. And the innovation doesn’t stop with the cards. In 2007, a national standard for smart card identification was launched in Singapore to ensure that a single device could read multiple cards. The Singapore Standard for Smart Card ID has put in place the infrastructure for next generation payments technology.

It was for this reason that financial services specialist Citibank Group chose Singapore to pilot its new faster card issuance program, working with the island’s metro system to get access to 1.1 million potential customers. By capturing the customer’s details digitally, Citi is able to bring a new level of speed to the market, producing cards in just 30 minutes.

In order to achieve this in such a short timeframe, additional training was needed and some changes were required to the bank’s credit and underwriting policies. But Mukesh Bubna, Regional Director, Cards Global Consumer Group (Asia Pacific) at Citi, says the biggest change needed was actually to the mindset of the management team: “It has to be a high priority of the leaders in the organisation.” By issuing cards in the time that a typical customer spends travelling to work on the Mass Rapid Transport network, Citi saw an increase of 20-25% in card applications. The instant card programme is now being rolled out in Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia and Thailand.

Bubna says: “Our customers have given us great feedback on these new ‘instant’ services. This is testimony that our approach is working and helps us to invest further in our strategy of ‘Instantaneity through innovation’.”

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