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Japan's best digital bank 2020: Rakuten Bank

Rakuten Bank

Hiroyuki Nagai, Rakuten Bank.jpg
Hiroyuki Nagai, Rakuten Bank

The old adage that one should never let a good crisis go to waste sure didn’t elude Hiroyuki Nagai’s staff during these last 12 months of coronavirus chaos.

For two decades now, Japan’s premier e-commerce site had been trying to turn the cash-obsessed populace toward digital applications. In more recent years, that has meant wallets and smartphone apps of the kinds already ubiquitous in China.

Japan’s demographics present a consumer idiosyncrasy. The 30% of households already older than 65 are far more inclined to stuff piles of 10,000 yen ($97) bills under their tatami mats than give electronic payments a try. Now, though, the pandemic has made Japanese of all generations worried about touching physical cash.

If any bank is ideally positioned to harness this about-face in consumer behaviour, it’s Rakuten Bank. Nagai’s team is riding this sizable head start to broaden its ecosystem, which includes card, insurance and securities subsidiaries. The bank, of course, benefits immensely from its place in the Rakuten e-commerce orbit, making it Japan’s answer to Ant Group and Alibaba Group.