Guest Column: Technology in Asia – it is the customer, not your environment, that changes your approach


It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking developing countries equals developing technology but the reality could not be any further from the truth. Spend time in rural villages in India and you are more likely to see people banking on their mobile phones or downloading payments on handheld devices at the corner shop than writing cheques.

Villagers forced into adopting technology because the banks say so? Actually it is the other way round. Many people don not have access to branches or PC based internet in India, but they do have mobile phones – even in the rural areas. So, mobile banking is a space where there has been significant investment because that is how customers prefer to manage their money. Look at the development of m-pesa in Kenya as another example.

And it is this customer focused approach which I believe should be the driving force behind any organisation’s business strategy no matter where in the world they are located. Because rather than your environment influencing your approach to technology; it should be the needs of the customer which determine your approach– and these will naturally vary depending on where you are.

People often talk about “Asia” but if you look at the countries individually you soon realise they are not at all homogeneous. Every country and every market is unique, with a unique culture, a unique way of doing things and of course unique customer needs.

When we first started out here in Australia, we were actually a telephone and mail bank rather than an internet bank, with online banking following a little while down the track. But customer behaviour, trends and requirements have evolved over time to influence the way in which we interact with our customers and, as a result, our banking technology has developed over the past 15 years to facilitate this. For example, today in Australia we see the rapid take-up of mobile banking on tablet and smartphone. 

In comparison, we are seeing the rollout and adoption of mobile banking and ATMs in India and Thailand gain traction in a much shorter timeframe and that is often what surprises people – how quickly organisations in the Asia region are executing their ideas, and how advanced they are when it comes to delivery using technology. 

The recent IPO announcement of China’s Alibaba group exemplifies to me just how a customer focused approach and agile execution forms the basis of a sustainable business strategy. If we look at Alipay, its third party payment system – and just one component of the Alibaba Group’s investments – was launched to address reduced customer confidence in the security of traditional transactions. This is not what you would necessarily call complex technology, but it delivered exactly what customers wanted and with over 300 million users it is now an integral part of the Alibaba proposition.

While technology can be a valuable enabler when it comes to helping people manage their finances, it is important to ensure that the right technology is being used to give customers the control and confidence they require. There is so much we can do with technology these days, but we have to understand first and foremost what our customers truly value and deliver on this. Whether they are based in India, Australia, China or Thailand, all technology departments must see themselves as critical and customer facing, not “back office” and administration.