Kasikornbank steps up digital finance investments

Written by Kapronasia || November 06 2023

Some incumbent banks may be slow to digitize, but apparently not the big commercial lenders in Thailand. We have been tracking the transformative digitization of Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) for several years now and are intrigued to see that another large Thai lender is adopting an aggressive digital-first strategy. Given its humble roots as Thai Farmers Bank (established in 1945 with registered capital of 5 million baht), Kasikornbank, commonly known as KBank, has come a long way. As Thailand’s second largest commercial bank today, it should be observed with great interest as it accelerates digitization efforts and invests in new segments of financial services.

KBank has made two recent moves that further clarify its digital finance strategy. The first was the September launch of a US$100 million fund focused on artificial intelligence, Web3 and fintech in general. The Kasikorn X Venture Capital (KXVC) aims to become a gateway for founders in the Asia-Pacific region, KBank said in a statement. The fund’s backers have previously worked with AI and Web3 firms such as MagicLink, Transak, Hashkey Capital and aifund.ai. The objective of this fund seems to be to develop a greater KBank digital financial ecosystem that allows the incumbent bank to cultivate startups – and their capabilities –  in some of the most important frontiers of financial services. It is hard to argue with this logic.

At the same time, KBank appears to have a confidence in cryptocurrency that SCB did not. While the latter nixed its planned US$500 million acquisition of Thai crypto exchange BitKub in August 2022, KBank said in late October that had acquired a 97% stake in local crypto exchange Satang for roughly US$102.5 million. The transaction was carried out thorough a newly formed KBank subsidiary called Unita Capital, created specifically to invest in digital asset companies. Once the deal is finalized, Satang Corporation will be rebranded as Orbix Trade Company Limited.

KBank’s confidence in crypto is intriguing. It has reportedly set a goal of holding a 20% crypto market share in Thailand by 2024. It seems to have a higher risk appetite than most banks for an asset class that remains frequently mercurial.  

Meanwhile, the Thai lender also has its eyes on safer bets in digital finance. In June 2022, it announced that it would convert its Make by KBank mobile banking app into a purely digital bank and apply for a virtual banking license from the Bank of Thailand (BoT), while in July 2022 it announced a US$2.7 billion strategic program aimed at boosting access to banking services among Thailand's unbanked and underbanked population, small businesses and the self-employed.

Given the focus of that project and the fact KBank is designated as one of the country's six domestic systemically important banks by the BoT, its digital banking bid is very likely to be successful.