SINGAPORE: Both large and emerging banks are seeking to enhance their position in Asia by using digital tools ranging from mobile apps to biometric debit cards.

Kbank started leveraging social media to engage young consumers in Thailand in 2009, and has 267k fans on Facebook and 73k Twitter followers. It has focused on interesting content, even straying outside the financial sector, to connect with shoppers.

As an example of its activity, the firm also allowed customers to personalise the K-My Debit Card by uploading photos to Facebook, alongside hosting competitions and asking visitors to submit videos discussing the benefits of mobile banking to this site.

Tie-ups with Foursquare, the geo-location service, and Angry Birds, the app-based game, have further enhanced its status. "It was felt social media might enable us to have a friendlier interaction with customers," Art Wichienchareon, its SVP, retail banking, told IBS Intelligence.

Citigroup's mobile app, launched in 2008, has received 1.1m downloads in Asia, with more than 60,000 people being added each month. "New technologies have opened new opportunities," Jonathan Larsen, global head of retail banking at Citigroup.

Elsewhere, the Vietnam International Bank, in which the Commonwealth Bank of Australia holds a 20% stake, has seen its internet user base rise from 8,000 to 37,000 people in the last year. The company has updated its website, and is exploring mobile banking.

"The key trust still resides with the branch but this will change over the next five years," said Richard Harris, head of retail banking at VIB. Online chat, electronic bill payments are some of the potential growth areas.

OCBC, the Singaporean bank, launched an iPhone app in 2008. After modernising the app in 2012, it benefited from a 90% improvement in transaction volumes during each of the first two quarters.

"The customer wants simple things: instant information, decisions and action," said Pranav Seth, OCBC's head of e-business. "This extends beyond mobile to everything the bank does."

OCBC also launched a banner, Frank, targeting 18-28 year olds. The firm automatically provides new customers with online banking details, does not use paper statements, and leverages Facebook and Twitter.

In June, the Mekong Development Bank rolled out a biometric debit card using fingerprints, not codes, at its 33 self-service ATMs. Its current account base has since tripled, and these cards have a 73% activation rate.

"The project has been extremely successful, given that this is the first biometrics debit card in Vietnam," said Nick Chee, the firm's deputy CEO. "This new change has increased the confidence of people with the bank, and customers have even started keeping twice the amount of money in their accounts."

Data sourced from IBS Intelligence/South China Morning Post; additional content by Warc staff