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Digital-savvy customers pushing Thai banks to embrace fintech: S&P

MAJOR banks in Thailand will likely increase their already substantial investments in technology and innovation over the next few years in a bid to remain competitive, said a report published by S&P Global Ratings on Wednesday.

S&P Global Ratings analyst, Deepali Chhabria, said: "Thai banks' accelerating transition to a digital economy is being propelled by the evolving preferences of an increasingly more digital-savvy customer."

With tech giants and tech startups entering global financial services, competition is no longer coming from just other banks, S&P said, adding that the race will intensify as innovations yield simpler, faster and lower-cost client solutions.

S&P said that about 60 per cent of Thailand's population is between 15 and 55 years old, and becoming more digital savvy. "The good mobile Internet and increasing smartphone penetration in Thailand supports banks' digital transformation. This creates significant demand for digital financial operations," it said.

In addition, the Thai government and the Bank of Thailand have been instrumental in creating favourable conditions for digital banking. As a result, the top-tier banks have already started to upgrade their technological infrastructure and are "well positioned" to compete with new players from the niche and fragmented fintech sector, the report said.

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Added Ms Chhabria: "In our view, Thai banks that delay investing in fintech could lose market share to those that do so continuously."

Moreover, S&P believes that the impacts of Covid-19 have supported the case for digital banking services in Thailand, with a record number of digital banking transactions taking place during the pandemic, pointing to a strong acceleration in fintech adoption.

As more transactions go online, the ratings agency expect the brick-and-mortar presence of Thai banks to continue to shrink.

That said, S&P noted that Asian customers still prefer face-to-face interactions, unlike their European counterparts. Therefore, it believes that the number of bank branches in Thailand will not fall to Nordic lows, though the form and utility of these banks will evolve over the next few years.

At this point, S&P does not consider fintech to be a "game changer" for its ratings on Thai banks. However, it will increasingly start becoming a greater differentiator, it added.

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