Designing a new bank to stand out in Hong Kong’s competitive fintech landscape

WeLab, a major fintech leader in Hong Kong, commissioned 11:FS to help them create a digital bank (known as ‘virtual bank’ locally) with the aim of delivering a world-class customer experience tailored to the local market.

A crowded marketplace

Our client wanted to build a digital bank to stand out from what’s currently available in the Hong Kong and the wider Asia market. As one of the most successful fintechs in East Asia already with presence in Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Indonesia, WeLab was well placed to branch out from its digital lending business and into banking. But with 155 traditional banks and 7 other freshly licensed virtual/digital banks already competing for customers in the region, launching in such a saturated market required a compelling and user-centric business model.

The real challenge lay in creating an experience that was culturally relevant to the people of Hong Kong. Growing a strong customer base is difficult for any startup, but given the low levels of switching when it comes to bank providers (especially in the region) it’s even more taxing for new entrants to financial services.

WeLab were determined not to simply ‘lift and shift’ the successful challenger bank models from the West - they wanted to create a user experience specifically for the local Hong Kong people.

What we did

In just 7 weeks, we designed a product for WeLab to take to the Hong Kong market.

We began by studying Hong Kong’s rich cultural backdrop, paying particular attention to the belief systems that influence the behaviour of local people. This cultural insight helped us to understand how we could add value to customers’ lives through digital banking.

Working with the WeLab team, we dissected what it means to be a ‘good bank’ in a constantly evolving industry. What some of the world’s most successful challenger banks have in common is their undying focus on customer Jobs to be Done (JTBD) - over and above product features - and we were keen to replicate this. Using Pulse, our comprehensive database of the best fintech user journeys from around the world, we compared other businesses' user flows and brand propositions for inspiration.

We defined the Jobs to be Done (JTBD) for people in Hong Kong. We identified the customer’s struggling moment and the push and pull forces that move them from one financial product to another. Identifying the most desirable customer outcomes allowed us to prioritise which features and what kind of experiences would have the biggest impact on peoples’ financial management.

Armed with this research, we moved into a design sprint. With a small team from WeLab, we ran some design activities to help us extract the best ideas from around the room. Having a range of job titles and levels of seniority in the room enabled us to design something relevant to the everyday customers and differentiated in the market. Plus, we were able to transfer our knowledge and experience to the WeLab team to help them in their journey to get this product to market.

After the design sprint, we created the first draft of the Minimum Lovable Product, as well as offering recommendations on roadmap features and user journeys.

Creating a differentiated digital banking proposition

Our strategic insight and advisory support set the client on a strong trajectory, backed with in-depth research, an upskilled team and a culture that fosters continuous growth and innovation.

One of the key recommendations we made was a community savings feature. Early on in the process, we identified a cultural preference for community-based finances in the East. Given that savings rates were relatively low in Hong Kong, there was scope to boost this rate by offering pots for tight-knit groups to combine and grow their money at a higher savings rate.

It’s worth noting that, since our work ended, the challenges WeLab have faced go way beyond most other new ventures. Working through the region’s civil unrest and then the COVID pandemic shows how strong the team is to launch a bank so quickly, and how proud we are to have worked with them.

Despite these obstacles, WeLab has seen impressive uptake and growth of its banking platform. They reportedly acquired over 10,000 customers within just 10 days of launching. Going forward, whether they can continue to attract high volumes of customer deposits will be a good measure of the digital bank’s success.

We’re proud not only to have helped WeLab add real value in creating a differentiated digital banking proposition in an increasingly competitive market, but also to have upskilled the team and prepared them to take the next steps in the growth of their business.

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