The 9 Best Digital Banks in Japan (Complete Guide)

digital banks japan

The banking landscape is changing drastically around the world. Digital challenger banks are cropping up every week in Europe, Latin America, the US and UK, and Southeast Asia. Japan? Not so much.

Although Japan has been at the forefront of technological innovation for decades now, it’s seriously lagging in introducing independent digital banking platforms.  

Japan has almost 200 officially licensed banking institutions (30 major, 100 regional, and 55 foreign banks). Still, the truth is that the banking market has been cornered by the big three traditional banks: MUFG Bank, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking, and Mizuho Bank.

Still, there are neo banks that are challenging the status quo, some of them for more than 20 years already, such as Rakuten Bank and Sony Bank, real digital banking pioneers. Others, like Minna Bank, are only getting started. And, then there are UK’s Wise and Revolut. 

And while Wise offers a similar service compared to its home country, Revolut offers somewhat limited features compared to its original apps in the domestic market. 

What’s unique for Japan’s digital banks is that almost all of them are backed by established companies with substantial ecosystems. The founding companies backing these digital players boast significant business experience and precious ecosystems that open vital advantages. 

This has been a significant factor of their success as they take advantage of their strong brand recognition with existing customer bases and smart data to make customer insights and customization.

Japan has been moving to a cashless society since the end of 2019 when the Japanese government started somewhat subsidizing digital payments. In the wake of the pandemic, this campaign has taken on higher importance. 

Global social distancing mandates drive cashless payments and make them more of the norm instead of the exception.

Here’s an overview of established and up-and-coming digital challenger banks in Japan. 

Jibun Bank

jibun bank

About Jibun Bank:

  • Founded: 2008
  • Founders: KDDI Corporation, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi
  • Headquarters: Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
  • Banking, savings, investing

Features:

  • Investing
  • Lottery
  • Foreign currency deposits
  • Foreign transactions
  • Card and housing loans
  • Debit cards

Jibun Bank (“my bank”) is a joint venture between Japanese communications company KDDI Corporation and The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ that was founded in 2008.

It’s one of the pioneers of mobile banking because it launched the first banking app for smartphones in Japan. 

Since its very beginning, Jibun Bank has targeted Generation Y, the main users of mobile phones. In less than ten years, the bank has managed to establish its significance in the younger market, with 29% of its customer base in their 30s, 28% in their 40s, and 20% in their 20s.

Jibun Bank offers Yen and foreign currency deposits, time deposits, stocks and trust investments, competitive housing and card loans, and more. 

Kyash

kyash bank logo

About Kyash Bank:

  • Founded: 2015
  • Founders: Shinichi Takatori
  • Headquarters: Tokyo
  • Banking, prepaid card, remittance, money management

Features:

  • Prepaid Visa card
  • Budgeting and analytics
  • Shared accounts
  • Bill splitting
  • Cashback rewards

Kyash is the fintech brainchild of Shinichi Takatori, the founder and CEO of the company. The digital bank was founded in 2015 and was built on a proprietary banking infrastructure, unlike most digital banks that use a turn-key system.

Although the company doesn’t have a banking license, it has applied for various licenses in Japan that would entail them to offer additional services.

At the moment, Kyash offers a prepaid Visa card for payments and ATM withdrawals at Seven Bank ATMs. 

Their slick mobile app has a top-notch budgeting and analytics side to give you a detailed insight into your spending.   

All in all, Kyash is a modern digital bank like the ones we can see in the West that offers easy signups, beautiful app, and additional features that we expect to see now. 

Minna Bank

minna bank

About Minna Bank:

  • Founded: 2019
  • Founders: Fukuoka Financial Group
  • Headquarters: Nishinakasu, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka
  • Personal banking and savings

Features:

  • Wallet
  • Virtual debit card 
  • Saving account 
  • Budgeting and analytics 
  • Cashback 
  • Overdraft protection 

Minna Bank, “a bank for everyone” in Japanese, only acquired its banking license recently, in December 2020. It started operating at the end of May 2021 and is on a mission to “Deliver valuable connections to everyone.”

If you thought that Minna was an independent digital bank, you’d be wrong as it’s owned by the Fukuoka Financial Group, Japan’s largest regional financial group. Minna is a part of their Digital Transformation (DX) strategy. 

FFG already has the Fukuoka region cornered with its subsidiaries, The Bank of Fukuoka, The Kumamoto Bank, and The Juhachi-Shinwa Bank. With Minna Bank, they’re targeting 15-40 year-olds of the entire Japanese territory.

It will be the first Japanese bank, in general, to apply the electronic version of “know your customer” (eKYC) to enable account opening 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The customers will be able to simply scan their driver’s license or other photo IDs and then confirm their identity using video.

Minna currently offers a virtual debit card, saving account, budgeting and analytics, cashback, and overdraft protection. 

PayPay Bank

paypay bank

About PayPay Bank:

  • Founded: 2018
  • Founders: SoftBank Group and Yahoo Japan
  • Headquarters: Chiyoda, Tokyo
  • Banking, savings, loans, investing, FX

Features:

  • Easy to open online
  • Personal and business accounts
  • Cardless deposits and withdrawals
  • Visa debit card
  • Personal and business loans

PayPay Bank started out as a joint venture of Yahoo Japan and the famed SoftBank Group. In three short years, PayPay has become the biggest Japanese mobile payment app with 38+ million users. 

The many benefits of using PayPay include a new Visa card (previously there were only QR codes), low-interest card loans, mortgage loans, no deposit or withdrawal fees, foreign currency deposits, investments that start from YPJ500 as well as international remittance, and lottery.  

Sole traders and businesses can also get a PayPay account that comes with a business app, Visa debit card, business loans, free sales deposits, etc.

Sole traders can easily upload the required documents for account opening through their smartphone, while businesses will have to mail them in.   

Rakuten Bank

About Rakuten Bank:

  • Founded: 2000
  • Founders: Rakuten Group, Inc.
  • Headquarters: Minato-ku, Tokyo
  • Banking, savings, life insurance, credit cards

Features:

  • Yen and foreign currency deposits
  • Overseas remittance
  • Personal loans
  • Insurance
  • Over 11 million accounts

Rakuten recently surpassed 11 million accounts, making it the largest digital bank in Japan by number of accounts.

Fintech giant Rakuten opened its digital banking arm in 2001 and the people of Japan quickly recognized it for its 24/7 banking. Now, more than ever, people are making their Rakuten bank account, their main bank account which is why the company is offering more and better services.

Its banking app got a facelift and has integrated instant payment service from Rakuten Bank accounts. There are many other reasons for choosing the Rakuten Bank. For instance, you can deposit and withdraw cash at convenience stores, have free ATM withdrawals up to seven times per month, get cashback rewards and mortgages, and Forex trading.

The bank has received international accolades from many specialized institutions and publications. For example, Rakuten has won the “Global Finance” award for being Japan’s best internet bank for seven consecutive years.

Revolut

revolut

About Revolut:

  • Founded: 2015
  • Founders: Nikolay Storonsky (CEO) and Vlad Yatsenko
  • Headquarters: London, England
  • Personal accounts and business accounts

Features:

  • Free and Premium (¥980/m) accounts 
  • Budget and analytics
  • Money transfers
  • Group bills
  • Cashback rewards

Revolut entered the Japanese market at the end of 2020 after beta testing its offering on 10,000 users. It offers a somewhat barebones experience comparing to its accounts in Europe. 

There are only personal accounts available that include a free Standard account with a free debit card, no fees for international ATM withdrawals (up to JPY25,000/m), and other benefits. 

There’s also a Premium account that costs JPY980/m that offers some other, more or less useful features. On their website is a hint to their Metal account, which will cost JPY1,800/m once it starts to be available. With the Metal account, you basically get a metal debit card and increased limits on spending, ATM withdrawals, and free FX with no monthly limit. 

As we already mentioned, this is a somewhat limited account that’s missing a lot of features like investing, saving, early payday, Pockets, insurance, Junior accounts, etc.

Seven Bank

seven bank

About Seven Bank:

  • Founded: 2001
  • Founders: Ito-Yokado, Seven & I Holdings Co., Ltd
  • Headquarters: Marunouchi, Chiyoda, Tokyo
  • Banking, savings, loans

Features:

  • Debit card
  • Money transfers
  • Network of ATMs

Seven Bank is a unique digital bank that based its business model on its network of ATMs across 7-Eleven and Ito Yokado convenience stores. And, until 2005, the bank was called IY Bank (Ito Yokado Bank).

It offers a simple checking account that comes with a debit card and international money transfer service as well as ordinary and time deposits and card loans. 

Sony Bank

sony bank

About Sony Bank:

  • Founded: 2001
  • Founders: Sony
  • Headquarters: Nishikichō, Tokyo
  • Banking, savings, money transfers

Features:

  • Multi-currency account 
  • Investment trusts 
  • Home loans
  • Remit up to 11 currencies
  • Yen and other deposits
  • Investing
  • Forex trading
  • Loans 

Founded more than 20 years ago, Sony Bank is one of the largest digital banks in Japan and part of Sony Financial Holdings and Sony. 

It’s easy to see why it’s one of the most popular banks in Japan, in general. It offers not only a Yen account but also a foreign currency account and banking in English to cater to the rising numbers of expats in the country. 

Apart from checking accounts, there are savings accounts in different currencies, Forex trading, investments, insurances, housing and card loans, etc. Basically, a full stack of financial services that you’d expect from a Japanese bank. 

Wise

wise

About Wise:

  • Founded: 2011
  • Founders: Kristo Käärmann (CEO) and Taavet Hinrikus (CEO)
  • Headquarters: London, England
  • Personal and business accounts, money transfer

Features:

  • Free multi-currency account
  • International bank details
  • Personal and business accounts
  • Safeguarded with leading banks
  • Spend in local currency with your card
  • Receive your salary, pension, and more
  • Pay at the real exchange rate
  • Pay online securely with real-time notifications
  • Use your card in more than 200 countries 
  • Withdraw money from 2.3 million ATMs
  • Regulated by the KLFB

Unlike Revolut, Wise (formerly TransferWise) offers most, if not all, features to people living in Japan. This includes personal and business accounts that can be easily opened online in mere minutes.  

The personal Wise Japan account lets you receive payments like a local in 10 currencies, hold and convert 54 currencies, use their debit card to spend outside Japan with no hidden fees, and transfer money cheaper and much easier. 

The business account gives you the option to receive money from abroad in currencies apart from Yen. You can also buy goods, pay invoices, or pay freelancers and others in 50+ currencies. 

Globally, Wise has more than 10 million customers and in Japan, the fintech company is Kanto Local Finance Bureau (KLFB) regulated and your money is safeguarded with established banks.

Benefits of digital banking

Digital banks are often called internet banks, smartphone banks, mobile banks, neobanks, challenger banks, online banks, and other similar names. 

The apps created by digital banks act as a convenient 24/7 center for your finances, devised to provide greater visibility across your accounts and help you save, budget, and plan. They do this by providing real-time transaction updates, regular spending reports, categorizing spending into bills, food, rent, etc. to help customers understand where they could cut down or when there is an opportunity to save.

Digital banks in Japan are very popular and offer a similar service to that of traditional banks. Plus, they are more nimble and can update their offering much more quickly.  

Challenger banks also have far more fees and are more transparent about charging them and not having hidden, surprising fees. The majority of these banks pride themselves on providing a service with no hidden fees. 

Many Japanese banks have also started offering international cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees and have free ATM withdrawals abroad. 

And, even though Japanese neobanks generally have fewer fees they can still make good money and even be profitable.

Real-time spending announcements mean that clients can stay extremely informed on their finances. At the same time, automated advice helps customers figure out what is safe to spend and what they can afford to save. These features have attracted many users to open an account, whether as their primary bank account or secondary.

The bottom line

Although the Japanese digital banking landscape mostly comprises of conglomerate-operated digital banks, some banks from abroad have penetrated the lively Japanese market. 

Revolut and Wise are two digital banks from the UK that have operated in Japan for some years now but are yet to offer the full range of services in Japan that they offer in other markets. Japan also has a number of online banks, such as Rakuten Bank and Sony Bank, that offer modern technology to their customers compared to the big three established banks.

And, although the banking market is expanding into the online space, Japanese consumers are still confronted with higher fees, troublesome processes, and the failure to access flexible services comfortably.

For example, to open a foreign currency account, especially for business clients, is often a long process that will require thorough explanations and may actually not be approved by the bank in the end.