Bank of the Year Awards 2021

The best banks of the past 12 months from the Asia-Pacific region.


Eastern Bank 

Even during a difficult year, Eastern Bank was able to continue its growth trajectory and produce good results, increasing Tier 1 capital by 13.26% and profits by 2.35%, giving it the edge over its peers to scoop the Bank of the Year award for Bangladesh.  

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Eastern Bank moved towards boosting its digital offerings. The EBL Self Service Hub was first launched in August 2020, introducing several digital services. Among these was Insta Banking, which has allowed customers to open bank accounts without having to fill in any paperwork or make a visit to a branch. Instead, they simply needed to upload their national ID and a ‘selfie’ to prove their identity. Know-your-customer (KYC) requirements on these accounts is completed using facial recognition technology, and has reduced the time needed to open an account from a few days to a few minutes. The process has had a tangible impact on areas hit by flooding, with staff travelling by boat to affected regions to help people gain instant access to finance. 

Alongside this move towards digital banking, Eastern Bank has updated its core banking system. The bank had found keeping up to date with the latest regulatory demands was becoming difficult using redundant systems, and it was falling behind its rivals in the service offerings. Titled ‘Project Rupantor’, the bank has upgraded from Oracle’s Flexcube UBS 10.5 to Flexcube UBS 14.3, replacing outdated systems that had been in place for more than a decade. 

Ali Reza Iftekhar, managing director and CEO of Eastern Bank, says: “The year 2020 and a large part of 2021 had everything under the sway of the Covid-19 pandemic. One major strategic move during those trying times was to rein in our operating cost, [as well as] leveraging digital platforms and social media channels to remain in constant touch with customers and offering banking services through our app, which is enriched with augmented reality, a chatbot, QR payment solutions and an e-KYC-based account opening platform. In other words, we put in all our efforts into supporting customers in every possible way.”  


Bank Islam Brunei Darussalam 

Bank Islam Brunei Darussalam (BIBD) has developed several innovative products to service the Islamic finance sectors, combining the need for sharia compliance with digital technology. These efforts helped the bank clinch the Bank of the Year award for Brunei. 

The bank expanded its existing BIBD Nexgen Wallet in June 2020 to coincide with the Eid festival. The new ‘E-Duit Raya2’ system allows customers to send and receive cash digitally using a QR code, the first service of its kind to be launched in Brunei. Customers can access their personal QR code easily within the app. 

BIBD embedded its green agenda into its marketing activities with the launch of the ‘Go Green’ promotion in April 2021, encouraging customers to switch to online statements rather than receiving printed paper ones. The bank has reduced the number of printed brochures it produces and also switched to recycled paper where they are still necessary. Single-use plastic bottles have been removed from the head office and replaced with reusable glass bottles. 

A partnership with the Ministry of Religious Affairs has enabled charitable donations to mosques or charity funds to be made via the app. Since its launch in October 2020, 65 mosques have begun accepting donations. This was extended during April 2021, when zakat payments were offered through BIBD QuickPay. More than Br$52,000 ($38,400) was collected through the app in one month. 

The bank’s sharia offering was extended with the launch of two securities funds. The mutual funds, Franklin Global Sukuk Fund and the Templeton Global Equity Fund, were launched in September 2020 with Franklin Templeton Investments. 

Mubashar Khokhar, managing director and CEO at BIBD, says: “Financial institutions play a huge part in moving the sustainability agenda, through funding of sustainable initiatives and activities. BIBD, through our transformation strategy, has established and announced the group’s sus-tainability framework during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Business Investment Summit, and our target commitment of Br$2bn towards sustainability funding by 2030. The framework, which will be supporting the three pillars of promoting responsible entrepreneurship including social impact and environmental protection, will be a key part of the group’s future plans.”


ABA Bank 

ABA Bank used the past year to improve levels of financial inclusion across Cambodia, introducing digital payment methods to facilitate transactions through the Covid-19 pandemic. 

To increase financial inclusion, the bank launched the ABA Instant Account in December 2020 to allow customers to set up a bank account digitally. Customers only need to provide their ID to open an account. Account users can check their balance, receive and send funds, and make cashless payments both in-store and online. Customers also receive virtual cards but can order plastic cards, if desired. Higher transaction limits can be implemented by the customer by visiting a branch and conducting the full know-your-customer process. 

The Instant Account was introduced in tandem with an educational campaign to explain the advantages of holding a bank account. ABA Bank saw 140,000 Instant Accounts opened within the first six months of launch. 

In addition, the existing PayWay online platform was updated in 2020 with the launch of ‘Credentials on File’. This feature enables the automatic processing of recurring or future payments. PayWay was further enhanced in November 2020 with the launch of the PayWay mobile app. Businesses can accept cashless payments from the app in both US dollars and Cambodian riels by generating QR codes. Both static and dynamic QR codes can be produced, which support both rigid and flexible destination URL codes, respectively. 

In response to the challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic, the bank introduced Payment Link to PayWay Mobile, to allow sellers and service providers to facilitate instant payments. The seller can include information such as a product description, photograph and price, and share it on messaging apps and social media platforms, which is common in Cambodia. 

Askhat Azhikhanov, CEO of ABA Bank, says: “There is still a lot to be done regarding financial inclusion, as Cambodia is still an underbanked country. We believe that the trend in the industry for more focus on digital payments will continue. ABA Bank is well positioned to lead the development in this direction, offering innovative services and products to make the financial life of our customers easier.” 


Industrial Bank of China  

In the highly competitive Chinese market, Industrial Bank of China (CIB) showed strong results in 2020 and delivered on innovations to its banking operations. The bank posted strong results for the year, seeing a 13.6% increase in Tier 1 capital and 1.2% increase in net profits. CIB also saw its return on equity increase by 12.62%, while its non-performing loan ratio dropped slightly to 1.25%. 

CIB advanced its environmental efforts with the launch of the first overseas blue bond issued by a Chinese joint-stock commercial bank. The bank launched the three-year bond in October 2020 designated for the prevention of marine pollution and to support sustainable blue economic developments in China. The $450m bond was priced at 99.806% with a coupon of 1.125% and a yield of 1.191%. The bond was developed in line with the International Capital Market Association Green Bond Principles, and the bank obtained second-party support from Netherlands-based environmental, social and governance rating company, Sustainalytics. 

Additionally, during November 2020, CIB underwrote the first blue bond in the Chinese market for Qingdao Water Group, amounting to RMB300m ($47m) for three years. The bank acted as the sole underwriter and lead bookrunner on the bond, which is focused on seawater desalination projects in Qingdao. 

CIB undertook a sizeable internal overhaul as it moved its middle office platform technology to cloud-native technologies during 2020. The newly developed platform will provide ready-to-use services for the bank’s frontline research and development teams, improving the efficiency of system construction and delivery. 

A CIB spokesperson says: “As the first Equator Principles Financial Institution in China and the first bank in China to adopt the UN’s [Climate Neutral Now Initiative], CIB has been devoted to green finance for 15 years and has built a professional team with rich practical experiences to actively probe into routes and goals of carbon neutrality. By congregating its green financial resources and powers throughout the group, the bank aims at jointly tackling global climatic change and propelling forward the realisation of carbon peak and carbon neutrality.”

Hong Kong 

Bank of China (Hong Kong) 

Bank of China Hong Kong (BOCHK) has forged ahead with its sustainability plans, launching its sustainability policy in 2020 that outlines its main principles on environmental, social and governance aspects. As part of this initiative, the bank has taken bold steps in the promotion of green finance, launching a suite of options for customers. 

This was pioneered in December 2020 when the bank launched the first renminbi green deposit scheme. Developed for corporates in Hong Kong, businesses have the option of investing in environmentally friendly projects, while capturing opportunities from the increasingly internationalised renminbi. Following this, in April 2021 the bank launched the ‘e+ Green Time Deposit Scheme’, which lets customers make deposits online to support their sustainability agenda. 

The BOCHK launched the sustainable and smart living green bonds at the start of 2021, to support the carbon-neutrality goals of the mainland and Hong Kong governments. The HK$1.5bn ($192.5m) two-year bond was 3.5-times oversubscribed and priced at a record low coupon rate of 2.5%, compared with similar bonds from Chinese issuers in the market. The bond attracted interest from across Asia, Europe and North America. 

The bank also worked on improving its mobile offerings in light of the pandemic, including improving the investment platform, offering 20 investment and wealth management production options. The ‘PlanAhead’ service helps customers to plan for life goals via the wealth planning service, meanwhile ‘Smart Invest’ is a collaboration with Schroders Asset Management to enable customers to refer to portfolios comprising different asset classes in the global market. Since its launch at the start of 2021, PlanAhead has now reached 100,000 users. 

A cardless QR cash service was also introduced to the mobile app, enabling customers to withdraw funds from ATMs through a QR code and using a PIN or fingervein authentication processes. Customers wishing to open a BOCHK account for the first time can enjoy a more streamlined experience, with the use of ID card verification, facial recognition and optical character recognition technology. 



Indonesia’s OCBC NISP marked its 80th anniversary in April 2021 and used this landmark event as an opportunity to progress its digital agenda. The bank introduced the #MelajuJauh movement to encourage Indonesians to support their local communities, especially around financial literacy, supporting the development of micro and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and business sustainability. 

This has been extended by the bank to support the start-up space through the creation of OCBC NISP Ventura, a venture capital arm. Established in 2020, the subsidiary has been working with several start-ups through providing funding and an incubator programme to help these companies to reach their full potential. 

In addition, OCBC NISP established the #TAYTB Women Warriors programme to provide support to women running SMEs. The programme helps female entrepreneurs with the skills they need, such as financial management, personal wealth management and building sustainable futures. 

Business banking customers were supported through the challenges of the pandemic following the launch of the Velocity@ocbcnisp mobile app during April 2020. The app allows users to conduct business transactions on the go, such as tracking transactions and transferring funds, payroll disbursement, and following foreign exchange rates in real time. Security is ensured with the use of hard and soft tokens, as well as a two-factor authentication matrix. Since launch, 20% of the bank’s Velocity customers have started to use the app. 

OCBC undertook an overhaul of its IT systems at the end of 2020, with the dual aims of strengthening its architecture with centralised front-end applications and a 24/7 core banking system, and building reliable processes to improve efficiency and reliability. 

Parwati Surjaudaja, CEO of OCBC NISP, says: “The early success of Indonesia in containing the Covid-19 pandemic’s effect and implementing the mass vaccination programme has led to positive outcomes. The digitalisation and ‘build back better’ policies should significantly benefit countries like Indonesia with its geographical profile and younger population. This will accelerate various economic enablers including learning, e-commerce, financial inclusion and the empowerment of SMEs. The momentum encourages us to take a more prominent role through various innovations and initiatives in financial inclusion and literacy, SMEs, and sustainable business and environment.”  


Alfa-Bank Kazakhstan 

Alfa-Bank Kazakhstan enjoyed a year of significant growth in 2020, seeing its Tier 1 capital increase by 31% and its net profits rise by a staggering 90%. Additionally, return on equity was 27.7%, while the cost-to-income ratio improved slightly, from 54.3% in 2019 to 53.9% in 2020. 

The bank has pushed forward with its digital objectives, for example launching the Alfa Business Kazakhstan mobile app. Business customers can use a range of services from the app, which provides them with access to their accounts while on the go. These include viewing transactions made in both Kazakhstani tenge and foreign currencies, making currency conversions and ordering cash. Importantly, customers can also provide feedback on any difficulties they experience while accessing the app so that the bank can continually improve it.  

During the first quarter of 2021, Alfa-Bank Kazakhstan launched Alfa Smart which allows both existing and new customers to purchase goods and services on credit or deferred terms. At the checkout, the customer can scan the Alfa Smart QR code with their smartphone to complete their purchase. 

The bank also launched online loans, removing the need for customers to visit a branch or call a representative. Instead, they can now apply via the bank’s website, with the funds credited to the Alfa Bank mobile app. Loans start at about 150,000 Kazakhstani tenge ($259.30) up to 2m tenge for up to five years. Customers can repay their loans ahead of schedule without incurring any fees. 

Impressively, the bank can now offer 85% of its services via the mobile app. 

Andrey Timchenko, CEO of Alfa-Bank Kazakhstan, says: “Alfa-Bank is striving to become a part of an open ecosystem. We incorporate our services into different ecosystems, developed in the market, in such a manner that we could ensure a seamless client experience. For example, a service that would allow our client to shop online by virtue of our instalment repayment system. Our goal is to predict the expectations and needs of our clients, and become a digital bank for everyday use.”  



DemirBank sought to expand its reach over the past year, providing customers with more opportunities to access cash and monitor their accounts on the go, clinching it the accolade of Bank of the Year for Kyrgyzstan.  

The bank undertook a programme of improving its ATM network during 2020, with the purchase and installation of 25 new model NCR SelfServ ATMs with Infinity Display, allowing customers to conduct contactless transactions. The lender plans to extend this with the purchase of a further 85 ATMs by the end of 2021. Additionally, DemirBank expanded its point-of-sale terminal network, with 500 new terminals purchased during 2020 — increasing the total number to 3600 and raising the bank’s market share by 7%. 

In November 2020, the bank launched the Card Plus instalment project, which allows customers to buy goods by credit card and repay over a six-, nine- or 12-month period. Card Plus is an innovative scheme in Kyrgyzstan, with DemirBank being the first in the country to implement the option to make non-cash payments via card. Previously, customers making payments on a purchase in instalments would need to complete additional paperwork. There are now 300 merchants across the restaurant, medical, trade and education sectors which accept Card Plus. The total volume of transactions to date has reached $250,000. 

For online banking customers, DemirBank modified its online password service in June 2021, allowing customers to change passwords remotely and removing the need to be physically present for identification and the issuance of PINs. This has meant customers are now able to connect to mobile and internet banking in just five minutes, rather than the several business days taken previously. 

DemirBank also stepped in to support customers during the Covid-19 pandemic. Considering specific customer needs, the bank implemented a review of payment schedules and made discounts for credit card usage. Between March 2020 and July 2020, the bank implemented concessions for 30 corporate, 186 small and medium-sized enterprises and 536 retail credit customers.


ICBC (Macau)

In response to the implementation of the Macau Smart City development plan, which launched in 2017, ICBC (Macau) improved its processes to take advantage of the shift towards a more digital way of operating. This saw the implementation of services including cross-border payments and developing new payment tools.

The bank has taken steps to support its corporate customers with a range of services in 2020. These include new online deposit products, providing a customised payroll card with points awarded for clients choosing payroll services, and launching virtual credit cards to provide small loans. The year also saw the launch of Payment Link, an online acquiring product enabling merchants to accept e-payment transactions, boosting purchases and supporting small and medium-sized enterprises through the pandemic. 

Electronic know-your-customer services were also launched to enable the bank to open accounts for new customers who were unable to attend a branch in person due to the restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic. The bank introduced upgrades to the ICBC Mall (Macau) e-commerce platform, which saw an increase in the number of products listed on the platform, with the total number of visitors reaching close to four million in 2020. Retail customers have been helped with the move towards online and mobile banking, enabling them to access their accounts from home. 

ICBC (Macau) saw its use of e-payments increase dramatically during 2020, to 120,000 users — a 680% increase year-on-year. The service was also made available at 7000 merchants — a 140% increase from 2019. There were close to three million transactions completed, with a value of more than $50m, representing a year-on-year growth of more than 200%. 

Jiang Yisheng, chairman of ICBC (Macau), says: “By integrating with the traditional banking model, ICBC (Macau) has embraced emerging technologies. We developed a comprehensive and well-executed IT strategy, actively adapted to the trends of fintech innovation and the integrated financial needs of our customers.”


Public Bank  

Malaysia’s Public Bank has taken a forward-thinking approach in developing its banking services, making bold steps with the development of payment options for consumers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). 

The lender has worked on developing an ecosystem to support the DuitNow QR standard, covering everything from consumer payments to onboarding both individual and corporate merchants. Use of the DuitNow QR code has been mandated by the Malaysian central bank, Bank Negara Malaysia, and the Payments Network Malaysia to accelerate the move towards cashless retail payments. Public Bank has implemented the QR code into its own mobile app, with its integration developed using agile development methods to expedite the time to market. 

In June 2021, it became the first bank in Malaysia to facilitate instant, cross-border QR payments between Malaysia and Thailand. The process was launched as a collaboration between Bank Negara Malaysia and the Bank of Thailand. Under the first phase of the linkage, users in Thailand could use their mobiles to scan DuitNow QR codes to make payments to merchants in Malaysia, including for online cross-border e-commerce transactions. There are plans to further expand the scheme to allow Malaysians to use their mobile apps to scan Thai QR codes to pay merchants in Thailand, and to make real-time fund transfers between users in both countries via mobile phone numbers. 

Public Bank supported SMEs in their journey towards cashless payments with the launch of its digital invoicing e-commerce solution. This allows SMEs to accept digital payments without requiring IT integration, enabling them to send automated customer emails, and manage and track invoices and payments. 

Teh Hong Piow, chairman emeritus and director of Public Bank, says: “Public Bank Group will continue to be steadfast in upholding its corporate philosophy, which emphasises long-term growth for all stakeholders — customers, shareholders, employees and the community it serves. This philosophy will continue to guide the group’s business directions, focusing on organic growth while proactively embracing digitalisation and incorporating innovative approaches to fulfil customers’ needs.”  


Golomt Bank  

Mongolia’s Golomt Bank used the past 12 months to focus on providing a solid banking service to the sectors of society that had previously been underserved or under-supported. 

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic spurred the bank into expanding its SocialPay app. The app is the first digital wallet to be launched in Mongolia. Customers can use it to complete a wide range of functions, ranging from paying bills to sending and receiving payments, from ordering plastic cards to enrolling in loyalty programmes. The app saw strong increases in use during 2020, with the number of users increasing by 26% and online purchases by 188%. 

Golomt Bank also looked to provide support to the underbanked in 2020, with the launch of a loan product to support female entrepreneurs and women-led companies. As 60% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Mongolia are run by women, the bank saw this as an important focus area. The loans can be used to purchase inventory and increase operating profits. 

The bank also introduced several initiatives to support women in business, including signing a memorandum of understanding with the Women Entrepreneur Mentors Club in March 2021. This agreement will see the bank provide support through training programmes and provide loans to members of the organisation. 

Further, the bank took the steps, guided by the board of directors and management team, to establish the Gender Equality Committee in 2020. Working in collaboration with non-profit international development organisation, The Asia Foundation, the bank supported women’s financial inclusion, developed their skills in creating a profitable business, and ensures women’s voices are being heard. Training sessions have included nine classroom sessions supporting more than 270 participants, and three networking events involving more than 90 female entrepreneurs. 

Norihiko Kato, CEO of Golomt Bank, says: “We continue to be a top runner in digital transformation in Mongolia’s financial sector serving customers with the most convenient and safe services under an open banking approach. We support SME and corporate customers with comprehensive services. We integrate sustainable finance into business and contribute to sustainable and inclusive development of Mongolia.” 


NMB Bank  

NMB Bank undertook a range of important steps which saw the bank secure the award for Bank of the Year in Nepal. 

The bank acquired Kanchan Development Bank in August 2020, as it sought to expand its reach across the country. Based in the far-west province of Sudurpashchim, the region is renowned for its wide potential in hydropower, tourism and agriculture. This has strengthened NMB Bank’s domestic footprint and created future business opportunities.

In a first for Nepal, NMB Bank launched a local currency energy bond. The NRs1.5bn ($12.6m) bond has a tenure of 15 years and carries a yield rate of 4% per annum, which is much lower than the prevalent market rates. During Nepal’s national Covid-19 lockdown, the bank was able to achieve full subscription in four days. 

As Nepal’s banking system moves towards digitisation, NMB Bank has implemented digital-only banking services for its customers. Among these is the NMB Sapati personal loan. Available to existing deposit and credit customers, the small-ticket personal loan uses artificial intelligence to conduct eligibility checks and the disbursement process, without any human intervention. This was followed by the development of an automated auto loan service. 

NMB Bank supported micro, small and medium-sized enterprises through the worst impacts of the pandemic with the creation of a special fund. Established with an international non-governmental organisation called ‘One to Watch’, the fund provided loans of up to NRs2m. These loans were provided without landed collateral security, are interest-free for 18 months, and have the additional benefit of bundled non-financial services, such as financial planning and HR management. 

Sunil KC, CEO at NMB Bank, says: “Other than the constraints posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, growing concerns about climate change and its adverse effect on business have forced the banking industry to focus more on a green, inclusive and sustainable business model. Our strategy has been focusing on investment in sustainable assets to contribute to a resilient economy.” 


Allied Bank Limited 

Allied Bank Limited (ABL) enjoyed a year of strong results, as it saw its Tier 1 capital increase by 15% and its net profits rise by a very healthy 28%. Its strong fundamentals helped it to clinch the Bank of the Year Award for Pakistan.

ABL’s digital offerings have seen several updates over the past year, such as the introduction of the personal finance management feature within the myABL Digital Banking platform. This allows customers to analyse their spending and make decisions based on tracking their expenses. Additionally, the bank rolled out a digital investments platform in collaboration with ABL Asset Management, and it launched its digital lending product Payday Finance to provide short-term loans to customers with a salary account, without needing to submit any documentation. 

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, ABL expanded its e-banking facilities to enable more users to access these services. The lender waived transaction charges for transfers through digital channels and increased the daily limit for cash withdrawals from ATM machines. 

In addition, ABL launched the National Institutional Facilitation Telecommunication (NIFT) ePay gateway. Customers can make e-commerce payments directly from their bank accounts to vendors using the NIFT ePay payment option. Several branches were turned into hybrid digital branches using new technology, such as self-service kiosks to expedite transactions, reducing the need to complete paperwork and minimising customer queues.  

From an environmental, social and corporate governance perspective, ABL has been taking steps to become more responsible in its environmental impact, and choosing low-carbon options which saw electricity and fossil fuel consumption fall by 15%. The bank also embarked on a tree-planting programme that saw 1000 fruit trees planted in public locations around the country’s second largest city, Lahore. As of the end of 2020, the bank had 59 branches running on solar power. 

Aizid Razzaq Gill, CEO of ABL, says: “Over the past 18 months, digitalisation has proven to be a game changer, leading to multiple opportunities for expediting initiatives which have massively transformed the banking landscape. Allied Bank has the highest level of emphasis and focus on digital technologies, in order to provide uninterrupted financial services to its customers with added ease and convenience.”   


BDO Unibank  

BDO Unibank took big strides forward in the modernisation of its IT systems, as it completed the first phase of its ‘NextGen IT’ upgrade in April 2021. The bank has moved towards a model of plug-and-play operations across platforms including records, data and security. 

Making the bank more agile, and increasing resilience, scalability and security gives BDO a competitive advantage. The developments have been supported through the implementation of a hybrid cloud infrastructure, an application programming interface gateway and a cyber security platform. 

Business banking has been enhanced with the introduction of end-to-end business process re-engineering, which allows for online preprocessing using biometric and QR codes. In addition to delivering greater efficiency, the initiative has given customers faster turnaround time on transactions, as well as greater access to banking systems through an increased number of channels and touchpoints. Over-the-counter transactions can now be completed via in-branch kiosks and the bank’s microsite, removing the need for paper slips. Accounts can be opened remotely online, and cardless ATM transactions made using QR codes and biometrics. 

Its consumer banking offering advanced on the introduction of its BDO Pay mobile wallet, in March 2021. BDO Pay links together all BDO accounts, such as current and savings accounts, debit and credit cards, in one wallet. This enables users to make all peer-to-peer and consumer transactions straight from the wallet. 

BDO’s wealth management systems were extended over the past year, through bespoke products for clients cut across different segments. For ultra-high and high-net-worth individuals (with more than $1m in liquid assets) there is BDO Private Bank, while the mass affluent (with up to $1m) have BDO Trust and Investment and BDO Prime, with corporate bonds and mutual funds. The emerging affluent have support from BDO Securities, which has expanded its capabilities and products to include local and international fixed-income securities and investment funds. 

Nestor V Tan, president of BDO Unibank, says: “We will continue to broaden our market reach to improve customer access and strengthen our presence in underserved areas through BDO Network Bank’s branch expansion outside Metro Manila, complemented by our digital capabilities.” 



DBS has scooped the award for Bank of the Year Singapore again, as the bank continues to show its strength in offering cutting-edge technology alongside strong banking services. 

The bank looks to explore the opportunities that new technology offers by creating a next generation suite of banking services for its customers. The bank launched the DBS Digital Exchange (DDEx), a private exchange built on the blockchain that allows both institutional and accredited investors to easily access the ecosystem. The platform has robust governance in place for investors’ peace of mind. 

DBS also looked at bringing about the digitisation of trade finance using blockchain, in conjunction with Contour and AntChain. DBS joined Contour’s blockchain in May 2020 and completed its first letter of credit (LC) transaction within two months. Following this development, the bank was able to start offering digital LCs to customers in China, Hong Kong, Australia and Singapore. Through the partnership, DBS provides an end-to-end process that helps to reduce paperwork and settlement time, reducing the time to process an LC by up to 90%. 

Further, DBS was the first Asian bank to join AntChain’s blockchain trade platform, Trusple, for distributors and suppliers to access real-time digital trade financing services. It is hoped that the service will help to encourage greater adoption of digital trade services, especially among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which often face difficulties when attempting to complete cross-border trades. Within six months, DBS had undertaken its first trade financing transaction on Trusple, valued at $40,000, on behalf of Singaporean SME iQuartz. 

Customers of all ages were given a boost with the implementation of DSB NAV Planner. Integrated into the bank’s existing app, the service leverages big data and artificial intelligence to give customers oversight of their finances, and make informed decisions on how to make best use of their funds. Services include a simplified retirement plan and investment advisory to help people to successfully navigate the markets and minimise risk.  

South Korea 

Hana Bank  

A focus on supporting environmental projects and helping its customers to transition towards digital banking has helped Hana Bank to win the Bank of the Year award for South Korea. 

Hana Bank trained its strategic focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) projects. During the review period, it launched a green loan, the first for a bank in South Korea, valued at Won100bn ($85m). The loan, approved by Deloitte Korea, is designed to support wind power generation projects. It is also the first project finance-type green loan in South Korea. 

The bank modernised its Hana 1Q mobile app for greater convenience and accessibility for users. With a declining number of customers visiting branches, the bank developed the mobile app to better cater to their needs, wherever they are. The updated version features faster processing, with speed banking introduced to enable log-in via facial recognition. Transactions can now be sent within 10 seconds. 

Through smart cash management, customers can check all their assets at a glance, including securities, cards, insurance and pension, in addition to their bank accounts. Users can also receive product recommendations through comparing assets with peer groups, checking their scheduled and frequent expenses, and access loans. 

The bank introduced its Global Loyalty Network (GLN), a cross-border settlement platform allowing customers to conduct cross-border settlements, remittances, and ATM withdrawals. It is easily accessible through the bank’s existing Hana Members mobile wallet. Settlement can occur at home and abroad without currency exchange, and exchange rates are automatically applied in real time. The GLN introduced a tuition payment service for Chinese students studying in South Korea in February 2020, in conjunction with Alipay. 

Park Sung Ho, president and CEO of Hana Bank, says: “As big tech companies and fintech start-ups are quickly expanding their reach into the financial industry, the traditional boundaries between industry sectors are also quickly getting blurred in the retail banking business. Hana Bank believes that the human element has become more important than ever in this digital world, especially for the asset management sector. Thus, we are aiming to establish a new integrated growth model which is highly digitalised, yet retaining a human element.”   

Sri Lanka 

Bank of Ceylon  

Bank of Ceylon (BOC) undertook some ambitious projects over the past year, which have helped the bank to secure the title of Sri Lanka’s Bank of the Year 2021. 

Upmost among these was the introduction of BOC Connect, an agent banking solution to cater to rural communities. After being piloted in 2020, the project went live in 2021. Through the agent network, customers can access their banking services at the most convenient location, rather than having to travel into a city to visit a branch. Customers can access banking services such as cash deposits, bill payments and fund transfers. The bank selects business customers, who can provide banking services as agents and receive income from the service fee. The agents are supported and regulated via a designated agent management unit within the bank, and are fully aligned with the Central Bank of Sri Lanka Agent Banking Guidelines. 

The bank aims for the service to reach people who have been previously underserved, and help them access conventional banking solutions for the first time. The service came into its own during the Covid-19 pandemic, when many people were unable to access bank branches.

BOC combined 23 of its development loan products during the last quarter of 2020 to launch the BOC Divi Udana service for small and medium-sized enterprises working in sectors across agriculture, fishery, dairy, textile, manufacturing and green businesses. The rate on the loans ranges from 1.8% to 9.0%. 

Included in these is the Siriliya Saviya loan, which is dedicated to women-led businesses. Under this scheme, female entrepreneurs can borrow up to SLRs2m ($9900), with a repayment period of up to eight years. Meanwhile, the Thurunu Diviya scheme is focused on young entrepreneurs. 

Dhanapla Sumanasiri, BOC’s chief executive, says: “Escalating demand for tailored financial services delivered with utmost convenience and security via seamless channels has been the forceful driver that has reshaped our strategy over the recent past. In addition, the climate emergency which has evolved across the globe has pushed us to integrate sustainability as-pects into all our decisions, including our financing decisions.” 


CTBC Bank   

Taiwan’s CTBC Bank worked on expanding its product offerings, especially in the wealth management space, bringing digitised, domestic services to its customers. This allowed it to scoop the Bank of the Year award in a highly competitive market. 

For the bank to be able to continue offering a range of sophisticated services, CTBC Bank developed its CTBC Brain. The platform contains three research and development areas, six core kernels, and four scenarios. Additionally, systems used within the project are forming the foundation of the company’s artificial intelligence developments, which cover six platforms including design thinking and lean start-up. This system can automatically deal with up to 6000 datasets at any one time. 

During December 2020, the bank was granted approval by the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) to establish its high-net-worth wealth management services. The FSC wanted to enhance bank capability and strengthen client trust in banks through their wealth management services in Taiwan, rather than going overseas. 

After obtaining its licence, CTBC Bank launched its services in January 2021. With the approval of the FSC, the bank was able to start issuing foreign currency structured bonds, and Taiwan stock equity derivative financial products. High-net-worth customers buy and can now sell overseas structured commodities directly through the bank. The resulting overall transaction process is faster and more convenient for customers. 

Wealth management customers were further assisted with the launch of the bank’s Family Wealth Governance services in 2020, through in-house product platforms and third-party resources to provide services ranging from individual needs, family succession, business continuity and philanthropy management. During the second half of 2020, CTBC offered online family wealth planning services, with more than 250 people participating. More than 30% of these went on to request a business and family inheritance plan. 

James Chen, president of CTBC Bank, says: “The rising of remote servicing and advisory needs from both individual and corporate clients, together with a lower-for-longer interest rate environment, has been the main driver changing how we serve our clients. CTBC Bank continues to pursue a digital end-to-end, banking everywhere strategy, creating differentiated customer value through end-to-end product-and-service journey redesign and delivering for client demand for liquidity and needs for yield enhancement.”  


Krungthai Bank

Krungthai Bank has taken the award for Bank of the Year Thailand, thanks to its continuing innovation in digital banking services. 

The upgraded Krungthai Next mobile app is built from cloud-native technology, and allows several transactions to be completed simultaneously. Using artificial intelligence, the app recognises users’ behaviour and, over time, will suggest shortcuts to frequently used features. Following updates, the app now runs as an open platform allowing other entities to connect and create digital wallets, providing services like gold and bitcoin trading. Other diverse services available through the app range from buying lottery tickets to foreign exchange services. 

As a state-owned bank, Krungthai is at the forefront of innovating to adapt to government services. The development of the e-Filing System has allowed Thailand to upgrade to a Digital Court service, allowing court documents to be shared digitally, which has helped the country to improve its Ease of Doing Business ranking. 

The bank has also launched an e-wallet for the purchase of the government savings bonds after development in conjunction with the Public Debt Management Office. This service allows everyone over the age of 15 to invest in bonds from just Bt100 ($3.06), encouraging greater levels of investment among young people. 

The bank also launched the Pao Tang app, an open platform that has now become the country’s financial services infrastructure. The app has been used by the government to provide financial aid to residents throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, including to non-Krungthai customers. It has also helped familiarise people with making and receiving digital payments, as the country moves towards becoming cashless. The app goes beyond banking with a Health Wallet section, which allows users to make appointments and check their medical history.  

Payong Srivanich, CEO of Krungthai Bank, says: “To outrun disruption and [competition], we are not only digitising banking services, but also building Thailand’s open digital platform which synergises with ecosystems and services. With this, we can offer Thai people easily accessible financial services that will empower better lives in the digital era.”


Asia Alliance Bank  

Asia Alliance Bank (AAB) has won Bank of the Year for Uzbekistan after showing significant progress in the implementation of modern banking processes. 

The bank had a strong year financially in 2020: its Tier 1 capital increased by 25.4%, while net profits rose by 37.8%. Further, the bank also recorded a decline in its non-performing loans, halving from 7% in 2019 to 3.6% in 2020. 

The bank introduced contactless payment technology last year — a significant innovation to drive the use of non-cash payments in Uzbekistan. AAB has also increased the size of its network of automatic deposit machines to 25, which enables retail and business customers to deposit cash into bank accounts and to replenish cards. In addition, the bank is working on the launch of an online money transfer system, developed in co-operation with Russia’s Sberbank. 

In May 2021, AAB introduced its new mobile app, Alliance, through which customers can access their bank accounts, make deposits and transfer funds through their mobile devices. Customers can also make peer-to-peer payments, receive money transfers made by international money transfer systems, such as Unistream and Asia Express, and pay utility bills using the ‘At Home’ service. It is also possible to set up auto-payments to ensure bills are paid on time. 

Internally, the bank underwent a significant restructuring as it updated its business processes. The reporting process has now been automated and based on Oracle Business Intelligence. To improve retail activities, AAB sought to increase the volume of lending and increase its product line. This resulted in the retail business representing 35.5% of the total amount of income at the end of 2020, and the retail loan portfolio reaching 25% of the total loan portfolio of the bank.

Additionally, the bank introduced Islamic finance products with the implementation of an Islamic banking window. Customer service was improved with the creation of a modern call centre, the introduction of biometrics and an improved queue management system.  


Southeast Asia Commercial Joint Stock Bank  

Southeast Asia Commercial Joint Stock Bank (SeABank) reported a very successful 2020 in its financials, as Tier 1 capital rose by 27% and its net profits increased by an impressive 123.9%. The bank also saw its non-performing loans ratio fall to 1.6%. 

SeABank pushed forward with its digital banking plans in 2020 with the successful implementation of its Core AI 2020 Project, which applies artificial intelligence (AI) across its business operations, products and services. The aim was to use AI to improve the quality of its banking services and customer service. 

A new service that has emerged from this is SeAMobile, an application that uses the virtual person financial assistant feature to give the user a full overview of their finances. Following this launch came the release of the SeATeller system to improve experience and reduce transaction time. AI and electronic know-your-customer technologies will assist tellers in authenticating customer transactions at the counter. The Core AI system will support post-document control, disbursement control and credit drafting. In combination, these services will help to reduce costs and increase efficiency for the bank. 

In the past year, the bank’s customer service was improved through the implementation of a virtual assistant. Created in conjunction with FPT Smart Cloud, the assistant can manage hundreds of tasks simultaneously. The average call time is less than two minutes and the bank reports a 98% success rate.

The virtual assistant tool has been used to create a ‘financial health assistant’. Giving customers a complete overview of their finances, the assistant will monitor and analyse transactions filtered through six transaction types, namely education, enjoyment, financial freedom, helping others, long-term savings and necessities. Clients can set reminders about spending and suggestions for saving, and create their own financial goals. 

A batch transaction sending feature has also been introduced to allow customers to send money gifts to multiple recipients easily. These can be sent across geographies, to ensure that monetary gifts are sent and received on time for special occasions.


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