One of the rationales for the licensing of digital banks in Singapore was that they would accelerate financial inclusion by serving those segments of the population and business community that are not served adequately by traditional banks, such as new entrants into the workforce, gig economy workers and micro-businesses. But there is a risk that some segments of the population may remain underserved. For example, The Straits Times ran an article recently which highlighted the experience of a retired banker and entrepreneur who did not qualify for a credit card from Trust Bank, a digital bank that has been launched by Standard Chartered Bank and the FairPrice group. Unable to reach the bank's customer care team, he was informed of his rejected application by a chatbot, without reasons being given. As the bank also has no physical branches, he was unable to appeal in person.
This might reflect teething problems in processing applications or be an isolated case. But even so, there is a real risk that people such as retirees may be among those excluded from accessing certain services by at least some digital banks - which would be a problem given that the proportion of retirees is set to rise to around 25 per cent of the population by 2030, from just over 14 per cent in 2019. Digital banks' use of user-friendly automated processes to on-board customers may yield the benefit of rapid customer acquisition, but it may also result in some qualified applicants falling between the cracks.