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FINTECH

Taiwan pushes hard – and late – into digital banking

Despite being a global leader in IT and semiconductors, Taiwan has long been a digital laggard. The regulator has just issued the island’s first digital banking licences, but is it a simple case of ‘too late’ rather than ‘better late than never’?

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Taiwanese citizens are said to live in a world of extreme convenience. Shops in most major cities are open 24 hours a day, 52 weeks a year

After years of prevarication, Taiwan is finally entering the age of digital banking. On July 30, the island’s financial authorities handed its first batch of virtual banking licences to three consortia.

The first, led by local carrier Chunghwa Telecom, will be called Next Commercial Bank. The second, Line Financial Taiwan, is backed by the Japanese app developer Line Group, Standard Chartered and a trio of domestic lenders that includes CTBC Bank and Taipei Fubon Commercial Bank.

Regulators awarded the third licence to a consortium comprising Taiwan’s IBF Financial Holdings and Japan’s Rakuten International Commercial Bank, which is currently applying to open a bank in the US.

The move by the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) heartened and irritated in equal measure. Detractors said Taiwan already had too many lenders. It’s hard to disagree with that view: this is a rich, developed island of 24 million people that boasts 36 commercial lenders, many overstaffed and offering highly homogenized services.