Standard Chartered has unveiled its new banking as a service venture ‘nexus,’ which offers partnership opportunities and allows ecosystem players to enter financial services without having to set up a bank.
New entrants such as payments, e-commerce, ride hailing and social media companies increasingly seek to expand their offerings in financial services but face several challenges. The banking as a service (BaaS) model empowers such players and integrates banking seamlessly through a white-labelled solution. This business model is what Standard Chartered uses in its recently launched venture called nexus, which brings transformational partnerships between consumer platforms and digital banking.
“Applying for licences, committing capital, building an end-to-end technology solution and bearing the operational costs of running a financial service can be heavy and extremely painful to set up. We offer the ability to move into that space by plugging into our stack, leveraging our balance sheet and liability without having to build it from scratch. This will be far quicker and more efficient to scale,” said Kelvin Tan, venture lead at nexus.
Tan explained that nexus enables ecosystem players to offer financial services, allowing them to design and support their own value proposition while relying on the bank’s balance sheet and licence.
Incubated at its innovation unit
nexus was incubated under the umbrella of SC Ventures, the unit that drives the bank’s innovations and fintech investments.
Sharing the details, SC Ventures head Alex Manson explained, “Firstly, we have innovation labs called eXellerator, which is in the bank, for the bank and by the bank. Here, we run the fintech programs, new proofs of concept and it also has SC Ventures Fintech Bridge, a matching engine between fintech and use cases.
Secondly, we have a $100 million fund set up to invest in relatively early stage companies. We invest only in partners we work with and we help them scale.
Thirdly, we build ventures wherein the idea is to experiment with different business models, aggregating different capabilities and ways of conducting banking. These are startup companies built from the ground up, and then bring in the investment partners to help them scale. nexus is a venture – in fact, our first venture.”
Among other new business models by the bank include a joint venture with Assembly Payments to develop and deliver next-generation payment solutions. In Hong Kong, it is set to launch a standalone digital retail bank, Mox, and the bank has also built a digital open platform, Solv, to help SMEs in India.
How nexus came about
The solution originated with the thought process of understanding how the bank could gain exponential scale and drive the newer order of banking, in which banking gets integrated into the day-to-day lives of consumers and businesses.
“We considered two options: doing this through application programming interface (API) or reinventing the entire technology stack and middleware and ensuring that change management is as seamless as front-end partners like e-commerce or social media players need it to be. This firmed our view of building up nexus as a business model for the bank in terms of gaining exponential scale and also as a technology solution to other banks. We focused on how one can grow banking and balance sheet exponentially without growing proportionate costs accordingly,” Tan expanded.
Manson explained that while building the framework, the bank looked at different possible scenarios.
The first scenario is where banks become the digitised or digital banks themselves, such as those digital banks in Hong Kong or neobanks in the United Kingdom. In the second scenario, banks become platforms with an ecosystem – they have open architecture and could plug in the capabilities but not exclusively, as other people plug in as well. In the third scenario, rather than becoming platforms, banks become an engine for the platform, i.e. they plug into the ecosystem platform.
“We felt this could be a good outcome for banks to leverage the scale of consumer platforms and ecosystems and provide banking services at scale. nexus is this scenario number three,” Manson elaborated.
The venture is set up as a separate legal entity. While it works within the risk appetite of the bank, it also has separate governance, policies and processes. It comprises about 100 people based in three key markets in Asia: Singapore, India and Indonesia.
Standard Chartered has already acquired its first partner for nexus, a major e-commerce platform in Indonesia. Being a hotbed for e-commerce with one of highest adoption rates in the world, launching nexus in Indonesia will give Standard Chartered the opportunity to reach a significant unbanked population through partners. While the bank refused to share the name of the partner, it expects to co-create and launch products powered by nexus in 2021, subject to regulatory approvals.
The bank is starting nexus with the minimum viable product of retail and CASA products, with plans to add SME and corporate products later on. Future plans include rolling out the service to other promising markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
It will bring a new revenue stream for Standard Chartered, but the bank plans to take a flexible strategic approach in forming partnerships depending on each partner’s needs.
“We are looking at a revenue share model, but we are flexible with regards to how we structure the deal. So, we are open to risk and asset sharing as well. The model will be customised for each partner depending on what they bring to the table. There is no one size that fits all,” explained Manson.
‘Banking as a service’ solutions in the industry
Standard Chartered is among the few early players that have entered in this space in Asia Pacific. In a slightly different approach, Ping An Group’s One Connect offers ‘technology as a service’ to other financial institutions in Asia. Some other players exploring the BaaS model in Europe include solarisBank, Starling Bank and Fidor Bank.
Among the early innovators is Fidor Bank, which provides white-labelled cloud solutions powered by open APIs. They cater mainly to challenger banks and consumer organisations that want to tap the market quickly without regulatory compliance hassles. This provides the organisations with a full set of banking products to be deployed.
In a similar model, German bank and technology company solarisBank offers a completely digital BaaS platform connecting other businesses through APIs to offer financial services.
UK-based mobile-only challenger bank Starling enables banks, fintechs and retailers to develop and scale new, customised products quickly by picking and choosing individual features or components from Starling while taking advantage of its banking licence.
In these end-to-end and shared infrastructure models, customer ownership remains with the ecosystem partners while the bank becomes the provider of banking capabilities at the back end. This provides a win-win relationship for both the partners. It drives new revenue streams for the bank as well as allows them to leverage their banking capabilities with the scale of ecosystem partners who tend to be inherently better and more agile at customer experience. On the other hand, it provides faster products, quicker time to market to ecosystem players and allows them to circumvent regulatory compliance challenges.
Through this venture, Standard Chartered can empower platforms to bring financial services at the fingertips of millions of users. Yet, it is still at an early stage, as the first partner will go live only next year. As the BaaS model gains popularity and matures, there is likely to be greater adoption as well as competition. For long-term success, nexus will need to carve a niche path for itself, stay ahead of the curve and expand its market reach with speed through new partnerships.