A brand-new mobile bank branch in Hong Kong will be launched this Thursday. Similar to the concept of the HKMA ‘coin carts’, it is a bank branch on the wheels, parking in various districts to provide banking services to the neighbourhoods.
You may recall that in 2013, the HKMA initiated the Treat Customers Fairly Charter, to which all retail banks in Hong Kong signed up, so as to foster a customer-centric culture. While this principle applies to all trades, it has special meanings for banks. Depositors entrust most of their savings and cash to banks, which earn a profit by channelling the money to borrowers and other uses. The kind of trust customers place in banks is unseen in other trades. That is why I emphasise time and again that banks must not lose sight of the security of deposits and customers’ interests while pursuing their own commercial gains.
Over the past few years, the HKMA has made solid progress in implementing the Treat Customers Fairly Charter. Apart from abolishment of dormant account fees by banks, a lot of work has been done in enhancing consumer protection, promoting banking consumer and investor education, and enhancing the business conduct of banking practitioners. Recently, the HKMA has also been working on the boardrooms, championing a top-down approach to initiate a change in the culture from within the banking industry to put even more emphasis on customers’ interests.
In line with the Charter, we expect banks, particularly the note-issuing banks and large retail banks, to do more in fostering financial inclusion.
Banks operating in this international financial centre here in Hong Kong are akin to supermarkets of financial products with extensive branch network to provide customers with diverse and high-quality services. Like me, many people working in Central or central business districts take convenient banking services for granted as bank branches are literally just around the corner. And, with the advance in technology, banking services are now just one click away as mobile phones and e-banking become more and more popular and convenient.
However, is such convenience enjoyed by all members of our community? Do people living in remote areas, seniors or grassroots who are less IT savvy have ready access to basic banking services? The HKMA has conducted an analysis on this matter, including sending colleagues to public housing estates to gather information on the ground. The result shows that while basic banking services are generally adequate in most areas, there is room for improvement in some remote areas and public housing estates with relatively few banking facilities.
The HKMA fully appreciates that retail banks have to take into account manpower, costs and other commercial considerations in developing their business and banking network. But let’s not forget the spirits of customer-centrism and financial inclusion – banks should bear in mind the needs of customers living in areas not adequately covered by branches and the underprivileged. In this regard, the three note-issuing banks in Hong Kong have a particularly important role to play. While enjoying the status as note-issuing banks, they are expected to positively address the needs for basic banking services by the grassroots. The HKMA has been engaging the note-issuing banks and has asked them to roll out concrete measures in phases to fulfil these needs.
Innovative technology is giving banks a leg up in extending coverage of banking services. I am pleased to know that a bank is launching a brand-new mobile bank branch in Hong Kong to serve residents in areas not adequately covered by branches. Furthermore, some banks in Hong Kong are also introducing automatic teller machines operated through video-conferencing.
I hope that the banking industry can put the spirits of customer-centrism and financial inclusion into practice and strike a balance acceptable to customers and society under the overarching principles of commercial operation.
Hong Kong Monetary Authority
23 November 2015
Financial inclusion series - first article