A Singapore-based financial technology startup, led by banking veteran Manish Bhai, wants to transform banking in the Philippines and serve the unbanked population through digital solutions such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.
“The use of AI and machine learning will allow us to apply evolved processes and systems that enable smooth, yet secured customer onboarding, transaction authorizations, alternate data-based credit scoring, product and interface personalization with advanced security, risk, and privacy management patterns,” says Manish Bhai, founder and chief executive of UNO Digital Bank.
Bhai is a co-founder of Singapore-headquartered financial technology company UNOAsia Pte. Ltd., one of the incorporators of UNO Digital Bank.
The digital bank offers one mobile app and one card that enables customers to save, borrow, transact, invest and protect their finances with speed and ease.
Bhai, who has 27 years of industry expertise in financial services, banking, and technology with C-level engagement across the Asia banking ecosystem, describes UNO Digital Bank as a full-spectrum credit-led digital bank licensed by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
“We will provide one simple user interface to enable our customers save, borrow, transact, invest, among others, providing a way to manage finances with speed and ease. Our customers will be able to access and enjoy the products and services we offer using only a smart phone and internet access. They can avail of all the services we have wherever they are, whenever they want,” says Bhai, who worked at Citigroup for two decades before embarking on his entrepreneurial pursuit.
Uno Digital Bank is expected to be launched in the second quarter. Previously known as UNObank, it adopted a new name and visual identity and refreshed its color palette to signify the aspects of financial needs, which are to manage, grow, leverage and secure money.
“We are a credit-led digital bank that is pioneering an elevated approach to banking: one that makes meeting life’s financial needs simple and accessible for the customer, while also fueling growth and innovation in the industry. These are the attributes that we have mirrored in the new brand,” says Bhai.
Bhai says the bank’s key market is the unbanked and the underserved population. “Some of the reasons that people remain unbanked are lack of documentary requirements, the associated costs in opening and maintaining an account, and limited awareness and knowledge of financial products and services. We took all these into consideration in creating our products. Account opening will be easy and convenient and education will be a major pillar in our marketing programs,” he says.
“We will also target consumers who are tired of the traditional way of doing things. The ones who are looking for a bank that is technology-driven while at the same time will be welcoming, inclusive and grow with them as they transition through different stages in their lives,” says Bhai.
He says UNO Digital Bank will be launched towards the end of the second quarter this year, and things are progressing in that direction.
“We are grateful for the support from many in the industry. We have signed up partnerships with local and international companies to bring the best possible product to our consumers upon launch,” he says.
UNO Digital Bank teamed up with Mastercard to launch Mastercard Debit Card—a transaction cum savings account. “Then, we will roll out more products over the course of the rest of the year,” says Bhai.
“As a credit-led bank, loan products are a high priority with a launch planned in third quarter. We are also creating partnerships to build a robust ecosystem, and these too will be announced in due course,” he says.
UNO obtained a digital bank license under the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ Digital Banking License framework in June 2021. “Since then, we built a team to create the UNO Digital Bank, which we rebranded from UNObank earlier this year,” says Bhai.
UNO Digita Bank rapidly built its senior management team in a record time to build relationships with the banking and financial services as well as the business community at large in the Philippines.
“Our management team is composed of people with more than 300 years of combined experience in the banking and fintech industry. They are subject matter experts and seasoned industry practitioners with knowledge of both local and regional markets. The experience was most needed to quickly put in place robust policies and process covering every aspect of security and controls,” says Bhai.
Bhai says the strategy behind UNO Digital Bank is called composable banking, “where we identify best-in-class solutions and compose a whole banking solution based on smaller chunks of proprietary solutions or new technology solutions. We created a champion challenger strategy to ascertain what solution works best and in consideration that we should be able to replace it.”
“Composable banking ensures that we build small chunks of solutions, which we can pick and replace as the newer technologies, newer champions come into the market. Development time for these solutions is shorter allowing us to bring to market products faster,” he says.
Bhai says they make sure that safety and security are of paramount importance in their thought process. “It is not an afterthought. When our technology team discusses any feature, any IT development, any business processes, we look at it from a security angle first and foremost,” he says.
“From a technology perspective, we have built in multiple layers of security architecture, each associated with a security policy, and we have tools and mechanisms for us to monitor, control and identify possible breaches to security. We are structured so that we can always stay updated on new technologies, especially from a security perspective, with a composable banking approach,” he says.
Bhai says the plan is to continuously expand the Philippine team. “We have rounded out our senior management team, and now they are building their own respective teams. We have hired approximately 50 people in the Philippines since October 2021,” he says.