Banking Interviews

Global Fintech Interview with Manish Bhai, Founder and CEO at UNO Digital Bank

Global Fintech Interview with Manish Bhai, Founder and CEO at UNO Digital Bank

Please tell us about your fintech journey and what made you start UNO Bank.

I started my entrepreneurial pursuit around digitalization and banking innovation when I left Citigroup to establish CoantumLeap Tech Ventures in 2019.

In 2020, I co-founded UNOAsia (a Singapore-headquartered fintech company and one of the primary incorporators of UNO Digital Bank) alongside leading industry professionals with extensive experience across banking, capital markets, treasury, lending, digitalization, and technology.

We selected the Philippines as the pioneering market for UNO Digital Bank as we saw an opportunity to leverage the country’s high mobile penetration rate to reach its substantially unbanked and underbanked population. Remarkably, we are the first fintech company to obtain a digital banking license from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), with no traditional or legacy banking institution behind it.

According to Statista, the Philippines currently have around 84.67 million smartphone users this is forecasted to grow to 91.48 million in 2026. However, while there is a high mobile penetration, access to financial services—even a basic savings bank account—is still low. As of the first quarter of 2021, only 53% of Filipino adults had a basic deposit account. This means there is still much work to contribute to BSP’s goal to have 70% of the adult Filipino population have a formal financial account by 2023.

The numbers for lending are even lower with only 11% of Filipinos getting credit services from formal financial institutions. (Source: 2021 BSP Financial Inclusion Study).

Credit inclusion is one of our key objectives. Access to safe and simple credit facilities will open a world of opportunities for individuals and businesses seeking to elevate their financial stature.

Given these realities, I decided to establish UNO Digital Bank with my co-founders to help close the financial access and financial inclusion gap in the Philippines by leveraging the country’s high smartphone penetration rate. By using innovative technologies to make banking simple and accessible, UNO Digital Bank enables any Filipino with a smartphone to open a bank account, avail of credit, and use one app and one card, to transact and meet all their life’s financial needs.

Please throw some light on your recent partnership with GCash. How will it benefit your clients?

Our partnership with GCash is an example of how Open Banking can benefit the majority. We are extending the products and services of UNO to the 77M+ users of GCash by initially making our high-rate savings products in the GCash app via the GSave marketplace.

Fully verified users of GCash can open UNO savings and time deposit accounts in just a few taps in seconds. This is because there is no need for them to go through eKYC anymore since they are fully verified GCash customers. For many of them, this is the first time they will be opening a basic deposit and time deposit account, products that were previously only available in traditional banks.

The GCash-UNO Digital Bank partnership lets more people experience fast, seamless, and well-protected digital transactions. GCash customers use high-rate savings products to start their financial growth journey and achieve their goals.

Apart from GCash, we also partnered with AI fintech company Trusting Social. Our partnership with Trusting Social unlocks access to consumer lending for Filipino consumers across broad sections of society.

UNO Digital Bank leverages Trusting Social’s expertise in AI-led customer onboarding solutions, with an emphasis on credit scoring. Trusting Social’s big data scoring technology can use telco data—crucial for the Philippine market with around 157 million prepaid mobile subscribers—to provide accurate credit risk profile assessment, including unbanked customers. This addresses the barriers to one of the key reasons why a significant number of the Filipino population is unbanked—which is not having enough requirements, such as official government IDs, to be eligible to access financial services.

Our AI-first approach allows us to build and use technology much faster than legacy players in the financial services industry. As a neobank, we can react more efficiently and effectively to our customers’ needs.

Also Read: Global Fintech Interview with Peter Barcak, CEO and Co-Founder at credolab

The global Digital Banking market size is projected to reach US$ 30,750 million by 2027, from US$ 9,098.7 million in 2020, at a CAGR of 19.0% during 2021-2027. What are your comments?

We can attribute the growing demand for convenient and accessible digital financial services and the emergence of technological innovations as critical drivers for the growth of the digital banking market—both of which were influenced and expedited by the shift in consumer needs during the pandemic. The fact that digital banks can offer essential financial services using unconventional methods (for example, being able to perform credit-scoring using AI tools) that traditional banking institutions are unable to do also adds up to why consumers are seeing the value of using digital banks more and more.

At UNO Digital Bank, we believe that digital banking—with the help of various technological innovations like AI—has the potential to transform the financial services industry by making them more inclusive, accessible, and convenient for consumers.

However, we also recognize that the digital banking industry is highly competitive. Success in this market will require continuous innovation, exceptional customer service, and a deep understanding of customer needs. As such, we remain committed to investing in our platform, expanding our product offerings, and providing outstanding customer experiences to maintain our position as a pioneering player in the digital banking market.

Please explain how these function: P2P (Peer to Peer), P2M (Person to Merchant) and P2PM (for small merchants and unorganised retail sector) transactions.

P2M or Person-to-Merchant payments make it more convenient for both buyers/customers and business owners/merchants to accept digital payments. It allows customers to access their bank accounts or wallets to facilitate digital payments. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) or Central Bank has launched person-to-merchant (P2M) payments under the QR PH, this is expected to help make the country a cash-lite economy. P2M has consistently been among the key drivers for growing digital payment usage in the country.

Peer-to-peer payment or P2P, on the other hand, facilitates the transfer of funds from an individual’s bank account to another’s via digital means. This can either be done using the mobile phone or the bank’s online portal. A benefit of P2P payment is that it eliminates the need for a third party thus reducing costs and even improving security. This is especially beneficial for those with small businesses since it guarantees faster payment processing and quicker access to cash.

Gone are the days of waiting for checks to clear or having to make a trip to a bank branch to transfer money.

Thirdly, P2PM stands for Peer-to-Peer Merchant Lending, which is a form of lending that focuses on providing loans to small merchants and unorganized retail sector businesses. This type of lending typically involves a platform that connects lenders directly with borrowers, allowing merchants to secure financing without going through traditional financial institutions.

Lack of personal relationships/human connections is the biggest drawback of digital banking. What is your take on this? Do you see any opportunity in this challenge?

Establishing trust with a purely ‘digital bank’ is something that people need to get comfortable with—some people who have never used a digital service before need handholding. People want to work with people rather than a nameless, ubiquitous interface.

At UNO, we highly recognise that while we are purely a digital bank, there’s still a need for human touch. For example, people get stuck in an onboarding journey; they get nervous when they do not see “a person” to speak to. Hence, we will still need to offer person-to-person service when it comes to engagement and servicing. Although we will use sophisticated algorithms and dynamic decision-making to manage, along with automated messages and calls, we will have a contact centre and feet on the ground to complement our digital services. Our approach to digital banking is that, while on one hand, we use a tremendous amount of technology to streamline processes and facilitate service delivery, we won’t eliminate human channels, particularly for providing customer service.

While the lack of personal relationships can be a challenge in digital banking, we see it as an opportunity to innovate and create new ways of building trust and connecting with our customers.

By leveraging technology and providing exceptional customer experiences, we can establish meaningful relationships with our customers and help them achieve their financial goals.

Also Read: Global Fintech Interview with Josh Becker, Chief Financial Officer at Advertiser Perceptions

Please explain the term “financial freedom” to our readers with an example.

Financial freedom is having enough financial resources and having the ability to make financial choices without being limited by financial constraints. It means having the financial means to live the life you want, pursue your dreams and aspirations, and achieve your financial goals without worrying about money.

For example, if someone has achieved financial freedom, they might have saved enough money to start their own business, take a sabbatical to travel the world or retire early without worrying about their financial security. They have the financial resources to pursue their passions and interests without being held back by financial limitations.

At UNO Digital Bank, we believe that financial freedom is attainable for everyone, regardless of their income or background.

All you need is information and education on how to properly plan and work towards it.  And we are here to provide the tools to achieve it. Customers can access a range of financial products and services through our digital banking platform, such as high-yield savings accounts and, later, investment opportunities. By taking advantage of these tools and resources, our customers can move closer to achieving financial freedom and living the life they want.

Phishing is a social engineering attack to steal user data or banking credentials. How have you planned to combat this?

We have invested heavily in cybersecurity and data protection measures to ensure our customers’ data is safe and secure. Below are just some of the steps we take at UNO to ensure that our customers’ data and information are safe:

To start elevating your financial journey, UNO Digital Bank requires all its users to do go through eKYC or Electronic-Know-Your-Customer. eKYC is a digital process to identify and verify a customer’s identity. This security feature is one of the extra safety measures we implement to verify customer identity and safeguard their data.

The UNO Digital Bank platform is powered by artificial intelligence (AI) down to its very core. We use technology to apply processes and systems that enable smooth, secure customer onboarding and transaction authorizations.

To combat phishing, we strongly advise customers to be very careful in sharing their personal information. We don’t initiate calls, texts, emails, or chats asking our customers to update or verify their card details, personal information, or one-time password (OTP)—all of these are things that customers need to do on their own within the app for utmost security and data protection.

Furthermore, UNO Digital Bank adopted Amazon Web Services cloud services in its tech stack to rapidly establish a comprehensive cloud environment. AMS is a global leader when it comes to cloud services with the best security layers and years of tried and tested experience – with a specific focus on start-up enterprises

Our tech strategy is based on a “build and buy” approach. Whereas we build and own the key differentiators like customer journey and experience, hyper-personalization, and analytics, we simultaneously leverage the best off-the-shelf SaaS products to accelerate the build and leverage tried and tested secure and best-in-class software. Some of our key partners include Mambu, AWS, I-Exceed, HPS, and Oracle.

Furthermore, the approach on our tech stack is called composable banking, where we identify best-in-class solutions and compose a whole banking solution based on smaller chunks of proprietary solutions or new technology solutions.

Composable banking ensures that we build small chunks of solutions, which we can pick and replace as newer technologies and champions come into the market. This ensures that we can utilize the latest innovations in security.

Also Read: Global Fintech Interview with Brian Duncan, President at me&u

Please suggest one book for our readers.

“Who Moved My Cheese” by Dr. Spencer Johnson

It’s an easy read but very relevant whatever life stage you may be in.

Thank you, Manish! That was fun and we hope to see you back on globalfintechseries.com soon.

[To share your insights with us, please write to sghosh@martechseries.com]

Manish Bhai is the Founder and CEO of UNOAsia Pte Ltd., a Singapore based-fintech company that is the primary incorporator of UNO Digital Bank in the Philippines. UNOAsia was the first fintech company to receive a license outright to operate a digital bank under the Digital Banking License framework, and is regulated by the central bank in the Philippines, Bangko ng Sentral Pilipinas (BSP). 

Prior to UNO, Manish worked at Citigroup fow two decades before he began his entrepreneurial pursuit. He is also the Co-Founder of CoantumLeap, an operating platform focused on digital transformation in the Asia Pacific region. Manish has more than 25 years of industry expertise in financial services and banking, with C-level engagement across the Asia banking ecosystem. His extensive experience of clients, products and the regulatory landscape in Asia was derived from regional and country head roles across multiple locations in Asia. He has built and managed diverse businesses including Asia Institutional Sales, Global Markets Indonesia and Singapore, Country Treasury Indonesia and Corporate Structuring & Sales, South Asia. He is a proven innovator in the banking industry, with expertise across Investments, FX & Derivatives, Balance Sheet management, Credit, Sales & Execution.

UNO Digital Bank Logo
UNO Digital Bank is a full-spectrum credit-led digital bank licensed under the Digital Banking License framework promulgated by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) in the Philippines. With UNO Digital Bank, Filipinos can use one trusted app to save, borrow, transact, invest, and protect their money; to manage their finances with speed and ease.

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