TOKYO: Japan’s banking sector is being reshaped by a combination of a shrinking population and the switch to online banking, with the sector cutting branch numbers and staff while investing heavily in financial technology.

The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, for example, has seen the number of visitors to its branches fall 40% over the past decade, Japan Today reported.

Meanwhile, the past five years has seen a 40% increase in the number of retail customers using the bank’s services via a mobile device or computer.

Accordingly, it plans to turn around one fifth of its branches into heavily automated and lightly staffed locations. Routine tasks such as checking mortgage documents will no longer be done by humans.

Three months ago the bank’s parent, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, launched a financial technologies unit in collaboration with 32 regional banks nationwide.

It put ¥3bn in capital into Japan Digital Design Inc, which, in addition to promoting the automation of operations through artificial intelligence, is expected to develop new services such as cashless settlements using smartphones at small shops; it will also explore the use of blockchain technology, The Japan Times said.

Other banks are following a similar path: Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group is cutting brand numbers and plans to invest ¥20bn in fintech over the next three years.

There is an urgent need for financial institutions across Asia to adapt to meet a wave of disruption fintech upstarts, according to Drew Graham, Director of Fintech Strategy for Standard Chartered Bank.

“They’ve got to go from minus 10 to 0 because they’ve been asleep for 30 years," he told a recent webinar (for more details, read WARC’s report: How financial brands can tackle the fintech disruption).

He advised that focusing on the customer experience is key – as customers evaluate their interactions or experiences with banks or insurance providers by best-in-class leaders, regardless of the category.

It is also essential that any mandate for change is coming from the top, which requires a focus on educating senior personnel in digital literacy and ensuring a company-wide approach to digital transformation.

Sourced from Japan Today, The Japan Times; additional content by WARC staff