In 2019, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority granted three virtual banking licences, marking a new era in Hong Kong's banking sector. One company that was granted the license was ZhongAn Virtual Finance which is more commonly known as ZA Bank. Today, the bank has more than 500,000 customers, which equates to about 6.8% of the Hong Kong population.
According to Eddie Yue , chief executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, at the end of 2021, more than 1.2 million virtual bank accounts were opened. For retail banks, personal accounts opened via digital channels accounted for 39% of all new personal accounts opened in H1 2021. In 2019, only 17% of personal accounts were opened via digital channels, indicating the rise of popularity of these banks.
The marketing tactics used to lure users to these banks were many, and competition was hot. For ZA Bank, existing customers were able to get a total of HK$1,500 by referring three friends for account opening, and they could earn up to HK$4,000 by inviting five friends to be the customers of the bank. New joiners could also enjoy HK$120 cash rebates by spending any amount with ZA Card within 14 days.
Upping its product portfolio, ZA Bank was also the only virtual bank in the city to offer insurance products, including life, cancer, and life protection, as well as VHIS. VHIS is a policy initiative implemented by the Food and Health Bureau to regulate indemnity hospital insurance plans offered to individuals by insurance companies.
Moreover, the bank also formed a partnership with Generali Hong Kong to life insurance products on the ZA Bank App, providing protection that covers different stages of a customer's life. The first phase of the launch included five life products covering, critical illness, savings, retirement, Qualifying Deferred Annuity Policy, and life protection with the return of premium.
Given the popularity of using digital channels to access bank services, ZA Bank also has been offering new campaigns, offers and products over the past two years to strengthen its position in the city.
As virtual banking is a relatively new concept in Hong Kong, marketing played a crucial role in education of consumers. While many marketers in Hong Kong often tap on celebrities, influences, or brand ambassadors to get the name of the brand out, ZA Bank believes in word of mouth of close allies. As such, the brand relies more on creating a better user experience which would push customers to recommend the services and products offered by the bank to friends and families.
However this is not to say that influencer and celebrity partnerships are completely off the table for the bank. For example, ZA Bank also collaborated with celebrity Master 7 to introduce a cash rebate at McDonald's Hong Kong stores.
At the core of all of its initiatives, explained Calvin Ng (pictured below), alternate chief executive and co-head of retail banking at ZA Bank, the bank is set on providing its customers convenience, and enhancing their user experiences.
Previously, ZA Bank also rolled out the tagline "Be the game changer" (做壞規矩 做好銀行) . As part of the campaign, it launched the "Salary FastPass" allowing customers to enjoy getting paid up to seven days early with a seven-day interest-free period. Customers as young as 18 years old with a monthly salary of HK$8,000 or above, and held a valid Hong Kong identity card, were able to apply for the service. Ng added that the bank hopes through its many efforts and initiatives, it can turn its customers into ambassadors.
Gamification is also another method used by the bank to draw customers' attention. It launched the "PowerDraw" programme that enables customers o to win up to 200% rebate or other designated rewards. Customers can make eligible spending of not less than HK$10 with their ZA Card.
After receiving a push notification on the mobile phone, customers can go to the "PowerDraw" page to try their luck. According to the bank, a total of 2,490 spendings was awarded a 100% rebate or above from 1 to 15 May 2022. In addition to leveraging gamification and online campaigns, ZA Bank's parent company ZA International even rolled out offline events to further enhance awareness among the public.
Last December, it launched the ZA Carnival as part of its initiative to strengthen online engagement, where ZA Bank users were invited to seek help from friends to open designated capsules to unlock the corresponding awards. According to the bank, this campaign went viral on social media and online forums.
There was also a Facebook group (ZA Bank 互助及關注組) consisting of about 2,000 members who exchange information to help each other to complete tasks.
However, the carnival came to a premature end on 7 January 2022 due to the government's social distancing measures to curb the spread of the fifth wave of the pandemic.
ZA Bank was the first virtual bank to launch business officially in Hong Kong in March 2020. As of 31 December, ZA Bank had over HK$7 billion in customer deposits, while its loan balance surged to HK$2.5 billion.
Currently, ZA Bank boasts about 500,000 customers, but Ng said the bank is aiming at reaching more people as there are about four million people eligible to open bank accounts in the city, meaning that the bank still has room to grow its business. The bank hopes to engage different age groups in the future too as about 60% of its customers are aged under 40.
Ng said responding to customers quickly is crucial to the bank's success, adding that teams within the company need to formulate and execute marketing campaigns fast to engage the audience. Moreover, collaborations among teams that are, for example, responsible for product design and marketing, are common within the company as they are all integral parts of any campaign.
"At the end of the day, we hope to refine our products to offer an even better experience to our customers. Using word-of-mouth is our core strategy, while our customers are the best ambassadors. Their comments can make us viral," Ng added.
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