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  • Writer's pictureRagunandhan Senthil Kumar

Customer Onboarding in Central Asia in the Time of COVID-19

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically sped up the banking industry’s shift to digital. This trend has been accelerated by the World Health Organization’s recommendation to reduce person to person contact in the hope of curbing the spread of the virus. The simple act of going to a bank branch can result in instances wherein the customer can contract COVID-19, so as long as a global pandemic is ongoing, simple tasks such as conducting transactions inside a bank branch should be limited as much as possible.

But how does one conduct transactions without going to a bank branch? More specifically, how does one become a banking customer in the first place when the pre-pandemic world required people to go to a bank to present identification documents to the bank?

This is where the FinTech industry can help because through their innovations and solutions, they can partner with the banking sector to help them serve their customers remotely amidst a global pandemic.

One region that could benefit from the shift to digital is Central Asia. A report from the World Bank has noted that mobile phone usage and internet access levels are high in the region. This statistic suggests that digital banking can easily be made accessible.

The COVID-19 pandemic bears testimony to this, as the volume of non-cash payments in the region grew and with it, the number of customers onboarded digitally. The banks are also realizing that coming out of this pandemic, the industry, and the manner in which the banks interact with their customers are also set to change and they have to be ready for it.

Customer Onboarding in Central Asia in the Time of COVID-19

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most banks in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan required customers to present an identity document and go through the process of onboarding inside a bank branch. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting lockdowns in the first few months of the outbreak, people were unable to open accounts and the banks could not acquire new customers unless the customers came to the bank branch.

For this reason, during the lockdowns, banks in Central Asia have been allowing people to apply for bank accounts online. In Kazakhstan, the banks that allowed their customer to open an account remotely include Halyk Bank and Jýsan Bank. These changes in how banking is conducted have contributed to Kazakhstan reaching KZT 12.4 trillion of non-cash transactions in the first 6 months of the year — a record volume that Kazakhstan has reached even with the effects of COVID-19.

In Uzbekistan, the central bank recommended that its citizens use banking services remotely as a precaution against COVID-19. In response to Uzbekistan’s restrictive measures in the first few months of the outbreak, about 15 banks started offering account opening online. The banks offered online customer onboarding then simply delivering the banking cards to their customers’ doorsteps.

Other countries in Central Asia have also started their digital journey as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are still in the process of fully adopting FinTech innovations. These plans for changes are still in the process amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Tajikistan’s Alif Bank has only partnered recently with Visa to develop a digital payment ecosystem in the country, while a FinTech startup has recently entered the Tajikistan market. As for Turkmenistan, plans to create the country’s first neobank, or digital bank was only announced in August 2020.

Kyrgyzstan is a traditionally cash-based society with citizens who are initially reluctant about non-cash payments. However, the Kyrgyz Republic has implemented a state program with the goal of having an equal number of cash and non-cash payments by the year 2022. With this plan, it won’t be too soon before digital onboarding becomes widely adopted in the country.

Digital onboarding is the gateway to all other digital banking services. However, it is still something that the majority of the banks in Central Asia have yet to adopt but are beginning to plan for. Although countries like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are leading in normalizing digital onboarding, especially in the time of a pandemic, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan are slowly working towards a more accessible banking sector with the help of their governments and the FinTech industry. The opportunity for banks to execute their digital plans and be market leaders in the new normal is here now.

Bank-Genie is a FinTech company that provides solutions to ensure that banking remains uninterrupted in the time of social distancing. From digital onboarding to digitization of a financial institution’s transactions and processes, Bank-Genie will ensure that financial institutions in Central Asia can provide safe and remote banking options for their customers.

About Bank-Genie

Bank-Genie Pte. Ltd. is a Singapore-based company incorporated in 2016. For banks and financial institutions who are driving towards digital transformation, Bank-Genie is a future-focused technology partner that helps enrichen the banking experience.

Bank-Genie has a proven record across markets of Asia and Africa with its Interceptive Banking Technology. Bank-Genie Pte Ltd is funded by SBI Ven Capital Pte Ltd and FMO, the Dutch Development Bank.

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