Thailand has a significant underbanked population, especially in the rural areas, and fintech has the potential to reach them in a cost-effective manner
Thai banks had finally admitted the importance of financial technology (fintech) and moved to embrace them in May 2016, according to The Bangkok Post. Leading Thai banks such as Bangkok Bank (BBL), Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) and Kasikornbank (KBank) are investing in fintech both internally and externally.
Internally, they are creating new subsidiaries that focus on developing innovative fintech solutions for their banks. Externally, these banks invest in local Thai fintech startups through their own corporate venture capital (CVC) firms. When I read this news, two thoughts came into my head. First, this would be good news for the poor and underbanked masses in Thailand.
After all, Thailand has a significant underbanked population especially in the rural areas and fintech has the potential to reach them in a cost-effective manner. This is assuming that they have good web developer and SEO consultant that can reach out to the masses.
Singapore as fintech centre of gravity for talent
Second, these Thai banks would face an uphill battle to attract the right global talent to spearhead their digital revolution. INSEAD and Adecco did a study on countries’ attractiveness to talent to form their Global Talent Competitive Index 2015-2016. Thailand is ranked #69 globally and #9 regionally.
For talents that wish to tap on the fast growing ASEAN region, they are spoilt for choices as a host of countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore are more attractive to talents than Thailand. Globally, the Philippines is ranked #56, Malaysia #30 and Singapore #2.
Thailand faces the greatest talent threat from Singapore, as Singapore banks are also stepping up on their fintech game. As early as in October 2015, Singapore’s largest bank DBS revealed that they had already tied up with 145 local startups who came up with 120 prototypes. Other major local Singaporean banks such as UOB and OCBC had followed DBS lead to create fintech centres.
This excludes foreign banks such as Standard Chartered, HSBC and Citibank and insurance companies who are keen to attract talent to grow their fintech edge. In other words, Singapore is a centre of gravity for fintech talents which can break Thailand’s attempt to brew its home grown solution. Given that Singapore is only a short 2.5-hour flight from Bangkok, Thai talents might be persuaded to relocate to Singapore and go back home on a weekly basis.
A recent McKinsey survey found out that 31 per cent of executives cited the lack of talent as the greatest barrier for their digital success. The war for talent would be especially critical in the Thai bank’s CVC startups because they lack the reputation and their talents can be easily pulled away by more established startups and banks.
Putting aside the obvious carrot of offering an attractive salary package, here are three useful tips for attracting talent in the face of growing talent threat.
1. Empowering top digital talent
Empowerment is attractive because it allows the freedom of defining success and be credited for success if the project succeeds. This is the most powerful tool for hiring the first batch of talent to go against the grain and create that innovative solution that will disrupt the industry.
First, you have to explain to them that they are counted to define a cutting-edge fintech product with measurable progress towards your defined business objective. Next, you will have to equip them with the budget and other resources such as administrative staff so that they can focus on the mission objective. The budget should be sufficient for them to hire and inspire the lower-tier fintech talents. Lastly, there should be periodic senior management followup to show that they are a valued part of the business and not a forgotten project.
2. Company identity and growth prospect
It is important to communicate the company identity to prospective talents and the desire to eventually be the most sophisticated bank in the industry. Even if you are not there yet, as people are attracted to progress.
Fintech can also result in a breakthrough for the rural poor in Thailand. Despite many years of progress, Thailand remains a land of deep inequality, according to the Asian Development Bank. Bangkok remains wealthy but the situation remains acute in the north and northeast region.
Ninety per cent of the poor in Thailand reside in rural areas which makes it hard for them to access banking services on a regular basis. The poorest 40 per cent of households have limited access to financial services and they tend to be of lower quality. The bottom 28 per cent of households are not able get the business loans that they need to lift themselves out of poverty due to the limited efficiency of the micro-finance industry.
If your bank has the grand vision of helping these poor people, this has to be communicated to the talent. Those who have a desire to make the world a better place would be attracted to your organisation even if the pay is below the global market rate.
On the other hand, if your bank has plans to grow its business aggressively with the fintech product offering, it is also time to let your talent know. Tie their incentive to the growth of the bank and you might be able to sway a few candidates.
3. Positive culture of innovation
Lastly, we focus on the process of building an successful fintech product whether in-house or externally. The rank and file should be empowered to suggest inputs during the process of creating the new fintech product. They should feel that their voice is heard because they are the talents which was specially selected in the first place.
They are involved in the day-to-day creation of the product and might be able to provide details that higher management might not be able to see. More important than hiring talent is the ability to retain talents. After all, when they leave, they carry with them a body of knowledge that would benefit your competitor.
According to the earlier McKinsey survey, the majority of corporate leaders expect digital solutions to increase both their revenue and profit margins. That is the end goal after a strong digital product has been made.
For Thai banks, a strong fintech presence might not just be good business sense but they can also transform the rural landscape and give hope to the poor. This might be one of the strongest boost to even out inequality in Thailand.
Talent can make or break the bank’s fintech goals and talents have to be won with more than just money.
The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, submit your article here.
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