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KBank claims first step towards future of banking

MAKE by KBank a hi-tech-based reimagining of financial services

KBank has announced the imminent launch of a new mobile-banking service that is claimed to be “the first stepping stone of Kbank’s new century”.

Called MAKE by KBank, it aims to fulfill the needs of new generation customers whose definition and needs of banking services are different to those with which banks have long been familiar. KBank heralds its development as “a reimagining of financial services”, based on an entrepreneurial “Zero to One” approach by new-generation executives and developers – a reference to the book of that name by American entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel.

According to those executives, creation of the new service began by throwing out “all of the old banking paradigms” and adopting a customer-centric approach involving “deep listening”. Customers’ lifestyles have driven the product development, and under the newly reimagined services, Kbank will no longer develop products and try to push them to customers. Rather, it will work the other way around. 

MAKE by KBank is now in a three-month trial involving more than 20,000 of the bank’s staff members. It is due to be officially launched in the fourth quarter of this year and is expected to attract about 100,000 users before the end of the year.

The President of Kasikorn Business Technology Group (KBTG), Ruangroj “Krating” Poonpol, said the new service will be an innovative addition to the bank’s Contactless, Khunthong, Data Wallet, and many other solutions, with a mission of reimagining Kbank for the Banking 5.0 era. 

KBTG’s main purpose is to support Kbank’s transition into a regional bank based on financial technology (fintech). At the start of this year, it unveiled Kasikorn Vision Information Technology, or KTech China, which has been applying China’s fintech solutions to Southeast Asia. KTech China is now close to launching its first service. 

“But we won’t stop there, as our foundation lies in deep tech and [Israeli artificial-intelligence specialist] AI Factory. We can create innovations, new AI models, and deep tech for Ambient Intelligence [electronic environments that are sensitive and responsive to the presence of people]. 

“Banks cannot stay just where we used to be,” Ruangroj said. “It is necessary that we are present everywhere, and at all times. It is time for Cognitive Banking. It is time we knew customers even better than they know themselves. As well, we must deliver open banking. We need to collaborate with partners and connect to other ecosystems.”  

He said COVID-19 has already shifted the world’s paradigms, changed consumer behavior, and altered the norms of doing business in a big way. Banks must therefore prepare for a “Banking 5.0 Revolution”. In the post-COVID-19 era, all industries will be reimagined. The automotive industry looks set to see Tesla vehicles reach Level 5 – autonomous driving – by 2030. ​Apple, meanwhile, is about to launch Apple Glasses and usher in the Age of Extended Reality. It is predicted that Southeast Asia’s internet economy will be worth US$300 billion by 2025 – nearly the size of Thailand’s gross domestic product. When the internet economy of the region gets that big, financial technology will enjoy a big boost and banks will have to seriously engage in reimagining. 

Ruangroj said this reimagining was the basis upon which MAKE by KBank was developed. All of the old banking paradigms were forgotten and there followed a customer-centric approach in which it was necessary to deeply understand customers and identify their pain points. Next, the development efforts focused on how to deliver banking products and services that solved customers’ problems and made their lives better. 

In other words, he said, priority was given to the concepts of “customer at heart” and “empathy”, rather than emphasizing the technology itself. The development then proceeded to create new products and new technologies for new experiences under the banner of MAKE by Kbank.

“KBTG would not be talking about these things if we didn’t already have the new service in hand. MAKE by Kbank is being tested by more than 20,000 Kbank and KBTG staff members. The trial is because we believe that we should try our own products. If it is satisfactory, we will launch the service to the public,” he said.

More than being simply a new service, Ruangroj said MAKE by KBank represents the first step in KBank’s reimagining of three aspects of its services, allowing customers to manage their finance “with convenience and fun”.

The first is experimental banking, with a focus on how to make banking a part of customers’ life experiences. Customers’ lifestyles are leading Kbank’s product development, and rather than developing products and trying to push them on to customers, the process is the other way around. 

The second is humanized experience. Kbank is focusing on creating financial services that match new-generation lifestyles.

The third aspect is modernizing KBank’s tech stack, or technology infrastructure. Financial services by Kbank must be enabled by modern technologies that respond well to customers’ needs. 

Experimental banking

KBTG’s Advanced Innovation Product Manager, Kongbhop Rungdech, said mobile banking for new-generation people must be fast and fun. MAKE by KBank has taken this as its theme, and after its launch, it will make people forget the old way of banking. It will deliver reimagined services in the areas of payment, interface and saving. 

Reimagined payment will enable mobile-phone users to transfer money without the need to type in bank-account numbers or get a specific QR code. A “Pop Pay” feature, when activated, will search users’ friends within a 10-meter radius and display their faces. Users can then click on a face to transfer money to that person. After the first click, they can check the real name of the intended recipient and jot down the reason for the transfer. To confirm the transfer, they need to swipe up – the same gesture as they use to close an app on an iPhone.

Pop Pay is not just compatible with friends, but also with people who are physically right next to the user. However, there is a filter for users to identify just their friends. Pop Pay relies on Bluetooth when searching for those nearby. Money transfers do not rely on Bluetooth signals, but are done according to normal banking standards,” Kongbhop said.

Reimagined interface is a solution to pain points associated with passbooks, statements, and transaction records. The innovative interface has a “Chat Banking” feature that is as easy-to-use as a chat app. When users want to transfer money, they may be concerned about a financial relationship with a friend. If they want to check transaction records, they can click on a picture of the friend on the screen, and the Chat will pop up and let them see the history. It is also possible to send demands for repayment. 

Using the reimagined interface, users do not have to open a chat app or check photos in an online album to find transaction records. They can browse around in the same interface and check information from texts and photos, and find the amount of money involved. They can instantly create a slip to send to their friend.

Moreover, Chat Banking gives users a clearer picture of their spending. The color of slips and the homepage will reflect the type of things on which they have spent money. Green represents travel; yellow is for food; and pink represents shopping.

Reimagined saving has been developed out of an awareness that individual Thais now have more than one bank account. The development includes “Cloud Pocket”, which enables users to create several pockets in one account. When they want to move money between pockets, they can do so with a fingertip drag and drop feature. 

Cloud Pocket responds to the financial lifestyle of new-generation customers. It is expected to be MAKE by KBank’s most popular feature. Users may create as many pockets as they wish, based on the purposes for each pocket. Money can be moved easily to and from pockets. If someone is planning a trip or activity with friends, Cloud Pocket can be used to save money for it by all friends putting money in the same pocket. A financial goal can be set for the pocket. There is no longer the need to open a new bank account just for a planned trip or activity. 

A “humanized” experience

A Senior Designer at KBTG, Watcharapong Treerattanaphan, said  research to gain insights into the needs and lifestyles of new-generation users, as a basis for the MAKE by KBank development, focused on secondary, vocational and university students. 

“We have accorded importance to the new generation and stayed close to it,” he said. “We wanted to find out about their lifestyles, their relationships, their attitudes towards money sharing, and the meaning and values they associate with money. 

“To the new generation,” he revealed, “money can be shared.”  

As a result, when they have a MAKE account, they can create folders that will function like subaccounts or wallets. Overall, these folders will be their “financial cloud”, since in the Thai language, cloud is pronounced ‘MAKE’. 

“Cloud is flexible and shape-shifting. It keeps changing and represents freedom. We want everyone to have the freedom of managing their finances in their own style,” Watcharapong said.

Since real clouds in the sky change color according to the time of day, users of MAKE will see the background color of their homepage and transaction page change in response to the type of transactions they make. The color changes will let users know what they are spending more money on. 

Watcharapong said the MAKE logo features a bird and clouds in the sky. They represent dynamics, as financial transactions will no longer be just about transferring money, withdrawing cash, and making payments. 

“We have reimagined changing consumer behavior and we have striven to fulfill consumers’ changing needs. MAKE will let users make friends, make communities, make their own banking procedures, make payments, make life easier, and many other things. And it is not the end yet,” he said. 

Modernizing the tech stack

An Advanced Innovation Engineer at KBTG, Suchet Chaisiricharoenkun, said MAKE by KBank relies on reimagined technologies in a way that is going to integrate new banking services into people’s lives. Two key points were Make Fast, for which it was necessary to deploy new technologies for mobile banking, and Make Scale, for which the systems used had to be flexible and scalable, in response to customers’ needs.

Make Fast was seen as an answer to customers’ fast-changing lifestyles. In a bid to ensure that MAKE by KBank would constantly keep such a pace, Flutter UI SDK was chosen because it was compatible with both iOS and Android. This double compatibility meant that the MAKE by KBank team needed to write only one set of codes. This big benefit cut development time by half. Better still, the result was as good as an app developed on a native basis.

“Mobile banking usage has been growing by more than 70 per cent a year, and at the end of each month, there are usually many financial transactions for people to handle,” Suchet said. “To accommodate growing demand, MAKE by KBank was focused on scalability from Day One. We embraced the Golang programming language. It may be common, but it is very efficient. Thanks to Golang, the backend service of MAKE by KBank is scalable. It can grow according to consumers’ demands.” 

By their very nature, mobile-banking systems are sophisticated. Yet, MAKE by KBank makes it great, flexible and scalable, and this has been achieved by designing backend services as microservices. 

Suchet said it was going to be difficult to develop a big, sophisticated, complete system because many problems would arise along the way. It was decided that overall development would be much easier if services such as money-transfer, withdrawal, and notification were prepared as microservices. Together, these microservices can now form a great complete system.

Microservice-based development also gave greater freedom for service design, since the steps involved were less complicated. Each type of service can now be scaled up with greater ease. For example, when there is greater demand for money-transfer services than there is for withdrawal services, they can be scaled up. 

“The microservices approach allowed us to develop backend services to address difficult-to-handle pain points in the most efficient manner, and to properly accommodate demand for each function,” Suchet said.

MAKE by KBank’s backend services use the Google Cloud Platform – one of the world’s most reliable and efficient infrastructures – to guarantee maximum efficiency. As a result, MAKE by KBank, is truly scalable. Demand for some services peak only on some days of each month and the platform works best in responding to such demand. Moreover, the Google Cloud Platform is highly stable and delivers great cost efficiency. 

Suchet pointed out that World-class firms like Google and Facebook update their back-office system dozens of times each day. If a “bug” occurs, the ramifications can be huge, because “bugs” are not easy to detect and manage. But despite frequent updates, these firms have everything under control because of a technique called canary deployment. Simply put, deployments for backend services are automatic. Testing is done in every aspect, with comparisons made between old and new versions. When the test proves satisfactory, updates roll out to each group of users 10 per cent at a time, until all users are covered. 

MAKE by KBank has adopted this approach for updates of its backend services in order to minimize the risks of adverse impacts from an update.

“We didn’t intend to develop MAKE by KBank as just another mobile-banking app. Today, tech solutions must come with a caring understanding of the new generation. We hope our tech-enabled services will best respond to the lifestyles of customers. Technologies need to come hand in hand with empathy. MAKE wants to be a part of people’s spending and lifestyles,” Suchet said.

Finally, KBTG President Ruangroj disclosed that MAKE by KBank shares a back-office synergy. With a strong emphasis on the needs of customers, some features of MAKE can also be used with KBank’s existing solutions K PLUS and Khunthong.

A MAKE account will give users several wallets with a feature that allows users to copy and paste account numbers. Although the app will presently rely on K PLUS for identity verification, it will be able to function independently in the future. Users will be able to create new bank accounts on MAKE. 

Serving like a treasurer, Khunthong handles lightweight financial transactions with an emphasis on speed and fun. Meanwhile, the LINE BK app is the first banking app to be integrated in a chat application platform. Users will feel like KBank has opened a new branch on LINE. For its part, MAKE by KBank is a separate mobile-banking app that targets new-generation users and is not integrated into a chat app platform.

The key infrastructure of MAKE is on cloud. K PLUS was created to offer solutions to everyone. Boasting a variety of features, it has now prepared a hybrid multi-cloud and has begun to develop infra-as-code – the process of managing and provisioning computer data centers through machine-readable definition files, rather than by physical hardware configuration or interactive configuration tools. It can deploy codes rapidly, so anything of an experimental nature on MAKE will also be available on K PLUS. From now on, K PLUS will be learning new things from China and various other countries, with a learning-cycle content 10 times bigger than before. 

“What I would like to emphasize is that the future of the world and the financial sector is by no means in the hands of my generation,” Ruangroj said. “We can only rebuild the foundation for the new generation. The future of banking is in the hands of millennials and Gen Z. If you see members of my team – the product managers, designers, and tech leaders – you will see the face of the future.” 

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