Japan's best digital bank 2018: Rakuten Bank
Rakuten Bank is the big Japanese bank you may not have heard of. That may be because Rakuten – Japanese for ‘optimism’ – is better known as an e-commerce play, a 20-year-old site widely regarded as Japan’s equivalent of Amazon. But unlike Rakuten’s Hiroshi Mikitani, Jeff Bezos doesn’t (yet) own a bank.
Still, Bezos might accelerate such plans when he sees what returns the branchless Rakuten Bank has been making.
Mikitani founded Rakuten in 2000, three years after launching his main site, which now owns big tech names such as buy.com and the chat app Viber. But it’s the bank that has taken off in recent times, and its chirpy – and ubiquitous – ‘Happy Program’ promotion is hard to miss.
In the year to March 31, 2018, Rakuten reported income of ¥79.7 billion ($707 million), almost 13% higher than the previous year. Profit came in at ¥23.6 billion, a healthy 23.9% increase. The bank says its deposit balance is more than ¥2 trillion, and it now boasts ¥2.35 trillion ($20.8 billion) in assets.
Rakuten’s chef executive, Hiroyuki Nagai, says his bank has kept capital adequacy at a healthy 11.03%.
In a market where transformative fintechs have been relatively absent compared with neighbouring countries, Rakuten is a tech standout. It’s the first Japanese internet-based bank in Japan to have more than six million accounts, and more than three million Japanese have downloaded the bank’s easy-to-navigate app. All this has helped Mikitani lift his reported wealth to beyond $7 billion. A happy programme indeed.