The last five years have seen rapid development in digital banking across the world, and China is no exception as fintech companies and traditional banks don’t want to be left behind.
Digital banks have an entirely branchless digital service and the need for branches is replaced by non-stop, 24/7 customer service and automated systems. That’s the reason that in many parts of the world, challenger banks’ popularity has pushed traditional institutions to launch digital versions of their own financial products.
You may be wondering what digital banking is like in China, and how it correlates to the service that traditional banks have already established.
We have researched dozens of mobile challenger banks from Asia and worldwide, and have come up with a list of the best digital-only banks. There are four banks that stand out that already have hundreds of millions of customers combined.
These banks weren’t founded by financial service providers or startups as is the case in the West. No, in China, the founders of digital banks are huge conglomerates that own ecosystems such as WeChat, Baidu, Taobao, and Xiaomi.
These conglomerates have incorporated digital banks into their existing ecosystems and, more importantly, their existing customer base which made the expansion of digital banks seamless.
China’s state-owned banks have typically centered on state-owned enterprises and other big businesses while small and mid-sized companies and entrepreneurs and particularly residents in China’s less-developed rural areas have been left with few or no options for acquiring loans and other banking services, and financial products.
Aibank (Baixin Bank)
- Founded: 2017
- Founders: China CITIC Bank (70%) and Baidu (30%)
- Headquarters: Beijing, China
- Banking, savings, mortgages, and business loans
- Digital bank account
- Money transfers
- Personal credit loans
- Business loans
- Wealth management
- Merchant payments and wallets
Aibank, also known as Baixin bank, is a joint venture of China’s Citic Bank and search engine operator Baidu in which Citic owns 70% of Aibank and Baidu owns the rest.
It was the first state-controlled digital bank in China when it was established in 2017 and is sort of a test field for the future transformation of China’s sprawling banking space.
Aibank started by providing online lending to consumers and small businesses but has since introduced many financial products that include QuickPass card that integrates payments, credit, and wealth management.
The bank has also focused to bring financial inclusion to countries’ rural areas and farmers by offering farming loans that exceeded 100 million yuan in the first 20 days since opening the online registration.
In May 2020, Canada Pension Plan Investment was granted permission to buy 466 million shares of Aibank or 8.27% of the bank’s total equity.
The company has more than 50 million users and manages credits that surpass 300 billion yuan.
- Founded: 2015
- Founders: Ant Financial, Shanghai Fosun Industrial Technology Development Co., Wanxiang Sannong Co., and Ningbo Jinrun Asset Management
- Headquarters: Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China
- Personal loans
- Small business loans
- Online merchant loans
- Loans for Taobao sellers
Zhejiang Network Merchants Bank Co., or MYBank, was founded in 2015 and is mainly recognized as Ant Group’s, or Alibaba’s bank.
It mainly offers financial services to underbanked rural and urban customers as well as small businesses that were historically left behind.
MYBank is a true digital bank without physical branches and app-based banking. It’s also a big part of Alibaba Group’s e-commerce ecosystem, especially Taobao and Alipay.
The bank is also using big data analytics to offer and grant tailored financial services for individuals and SMEs. The algorithm uses real-time payments data and risk-management systems that analyze more than 3,000 variables.
By 2019, MYBank lent 2 trillion yuan ($290B) to almost 16 million small companies with a default rate of around 1%.
- Founded: 2014
- Founders: Tencent (30%), Baiyeyuan, Liye Group, and others
- CEO: David Ku
- Headquarters: Shenzhen, China
- Personal loans
- SME banking and loans
- Auto loans
- Wealth management
WeBank is the first digital bank in China and was founded in December 2014 by Tencent, its largest shareholder at around 30%, Liye Group, Baiyeyuan, and other companies. Although there are several companies backing WeBank, the digital bank is viewed as a Tencent company.
WeBank is a true digital-only bank with no outlets, cafes, or branches. All that there is, is a mobile app that is used for banking and applying for loans.
This Chinese digital bank is also rather unique in that it doesn’t require property guarantees but relies on big data credit ratings and face recognition technology to grant loans to personal and business customers.
WeBank is a clear leader in the digital banking space in China as it has the most assets under management, as well as the biggest net profit, most loans, and the best return on equity and non-performing loans.
About XW Bank:
- Founded: 2016
- Founders: New Hope Group holding ( 30% stake) and Xiaomi Corporation (29.5%)
- CEO: David Ku
- Headquarters: Chengdu, China
- Corporate banking
- Personal loans up to 200,000 yuan
- Up to 60 installments
- Apply by WeChat
Sichuan Xinwang Bank, known by its popular name XW Bank or Xinnet Bank, was founded in December 2016 and was only the third bank in China to acquire a license to operate as a digital-only bank.
It’s the seventh private bank in the country approved by the China Banking Regulatory Commission and the first private bank in Sichuan Province. Most of the bank’s customers are coming from rural areas and third or fourth-tier cities.
XW Bank heavily relies on WeChat as a gateway to find customers but also to receive loan applications. The company uses big data analytics to rate customers based on their historic ecosystem performance. It grants loans automatically to people and businesses that are approved by the system.
The bank also uses five different types of information for risk-modeling of micro and small businesses:
- Industry and Commerce Bureau’s records
- Business and operation information
- Tax records
- Invoice information
- Administrative and judicial information
Benefits of digital banking
Digital banks are called by many names:
- mobile banks,
- challenger banks,
- online banks
- virtual banks.
The benefits of China’s challenger banks largely originate from the fact that digital banks are trying to fix some of the problems presented in the traditional banking industry.
A major problem is inclusiveness, because banking hasn’t been available to certain types of customers, such as those with low-income, micro-businesses, farmers, or high-risk customers with no or low credit history, especially in rural areas.
Digital banks have also modified the application process, and it’s now much faster, with less or no paperwork, and can be completed fully online. The process usually involves downloading a banking app, entering your personal details, and verifying your identity by photo or video.
It’s often done through other apps in the bank’s ecosystem such as Taobao, Wechat, Baidu, or Xiaomi.
Within a couple of minutes or hours, your application can be approved, and your account open. You have to agree that this is a much smoother application process and a much more accessible and convenient method than the one offered traditionally.