The upsurge in mobile transaction services used through smartphones is at the heart of a sudden expansion of the online financial services industry in China. This is a diverse and dynamic marketplace with investment, small-lending companies, peer to peer (P2P) lending, and most recently the emergence of the first batch of online-only banks: MYbank, 30% owned by Ant Financial (founded by Alibaba), and WeBank, which is 30% owned by Tencent. These new services provide a much-needed expansion of financial access for Chinese consumers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), that have long been underserved by the state-dominated banking system. What lies ahead for China’s online banks?
To boost the economy and help small and medium enterprises get capital more easily, the Chinese government is encouraging non-government entities to invest in financial institutions, even allowing private companies to open their own banks. When the government announced its decision to grant five banking licenses for private banks earlier this year, the big three tech companies—Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu—jumped at the opportunity. Given the technological expertise of their backers, these online banks are able to leverage things like big data and cloud computing to assess credit worthiness and tailor the user experience. But can they outmaneuver traditional banks?
Mobile banking is proving to be a disruptive force for traditional branch banking. What is the future of banking as we know it—and the future of cash?