The toughest challenges for banks in the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) also offer the most attractive rewards for those able to unlock the opportunity. Before the Covid-19 outbreak, Asean was the world’s fastest-growing economic group. With its relatively young population and quick adoption of digital technology, Asean is the next big thing, especially as supply chains are reconfigured to get ahead of the festering US-China trade war.
But with the attractions come the challenges. It is a diverse region, with a multitude of currencies, regulations and business practices. It is not surprising then that the local banks, including the domestic transaction ones, do well. They make sure that they are as agile as the communities they serve by keeping in step with their international peers and, in some cases, making that extra effort in aiding their clients.
As well, local banks have embedded qualities – positivity, proactivity and a willingness to customize – that win praise from treasurers and chief financial officers (CFOs) and are hard for international banks to emulate, especially when the economics don’t make sense. Over the past several months, the board of editors of The Asset spent time with the clients of these banks, hearing candid views about their service providers, which ranged from being inflexible around the timing of employees’ payroll settlement to putting in that extra effort to ensure that an interface was fully integrated into a company’s enterprise resource planning system.
Two homegrown banks led the way last year in Asean in terms of this engagement and capability – DBS and UOB. DBS is a leader when it comes to encouraging firms to adopt digital. The bank, through the use of application programming interfaces (APIs), made it extremely easy for their clients, for example, in Singapore or Indonesia, to execute instant disbursements or online tax payments. As a result, DBS was named the winner of The Asset’s Triple A 2020 Award for Best in Treasury & Cash Management in Asean.
And over the past few years, UOB has started to give DBS, its Singapore rival, a run for its money by consistently showing a commitment to growing its trade finance franchise across Asean and providing services such as traditional documentary trade finance and financial supply chain solutions. During The Asset’s 2019 review period, UOB crafted pan-Asean supply chain solutions and was able to take an out-of-the-box approach to help companies, including several in Indonesia, unlock working capital. Consequently, UOB took The Asset’s Triple A Award for Best in Working Capital & Trade Finance in Asean.
Local banks in several countries, as well, continued to solidify their franchises in their home market. In Thailand, for instance, the likes of Kasikornbank (KBank) continued to be a market leader when it came to helping new economy companies with reconciliation issues. Accordingly, KBank was named as Best Service Provider: Transaction Bank, Cash Management and E-Solution Partner in Thailand.
It was a similar story in the Philippines where the likes of BPI took some of the top honours for introducing the concept of supplier financing to key clients. Thus it was named Best Service Provider: Trade Finance, Supply Chain Finance and Risk Management for 2020. BDO, who scored well for servicing the large local corporates, won the 2020 Best in Treasury and Working Capital Award.
However, local banks didn’t sweep this year’s awards as several international banks were 2020 winners. In Australia, for example, the Bank of America took the award for Best in Treasury and Working Capital for Multinational Corporations (MNCs), and ANZ took several top prizes this year in recognition of its activities in providing clients with a well-rounded approach to service. In Indonesia, Deutsche Bank was chosen Best in Treasury and Working Capital for MNCs. In Malaysia and the Philippines, BNP Paribas and Standard Chartered won recognition, while, in Vietnam, HSBC took top honours.
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