Japan's best digital bank 2017: Mizuho
Japan has been slow to embrace financial technology. While services like Alipay and Paytm have spread throughout Asia, Japan remains a largely cash-based society. Some of the country’s biggest banks are making efforts to change that.
MUFG has certainly attempted to push the country in the right direction, preparing the launch of MUFG Coin, the latest Bitcoin imitator in a global financial landscape now blotted with obscure cryptocurrencies. But Mizuho’s own efforts, with the impending launch of J-Coin, appear better placed to get widespread use.
For one thing, Mizuho has convinced a consortium of banks and financial institutions to come along for the ride. Japan Post Bank is the biggest name, but a plethora of regional banks are also expected to participate. Between them, these banks will create a yen-pegged digital currency that consumers can spend with their smartphones.
This is far from the only impressive move Mizuho has made in the digital world. The company teamed up with Japanese tech conglomerate Softbank in late 2016 to launch J-Score, a lending company that relies on an artificial intelligence programme to make its decisions.
Mizuho has also created a subsidiary that will encourage the development of new fintech companies. Incubation PT, launched in July 2015, was renamed the Digital Innovation Department earlier this year. Mizuho marked the change by appointing a chief digital innovation officer, Daisuke Yamada.
These are only the latest steps for a bank that has been making strides into digital over the last few years. Mizuho created apps for wearable devices and made efforts to incorporate blockchain in its verification process for international bank transfers.
The push towards technological solutions could soon make a big difference to its cost structure, too: the company is planning a big reduction of its workforce by relying more on automation, according to local press reports.
Japan still has a long way to go before it matches the digital innovation seen in China and elsewhere, but banks cannot be expected to do all the lifting. Startups are the natural sources of much of this innovation. By pledging to invest in them while at the same time adapting its own business, Mizuho is covering all the bases.