[Innovation Strategy] How to innovate and face market adversity?
Mark Sir: During the pandemic, most people stay home, and many companies are unable or unwilling to receive customers. How do we break the deadlock?
Akihiro Nagahara: Consumer Lending is a traditional industry and it will never be eliminated. However, it is subject to market changes and impacts. For example, the current market, impacted by the pandemic, requires flexibility in the industry changing its forms and business models in accordance with the current conditions.
“Boldness and experiments, as long as they do not make the company disappear”: this is my consistent belief to encourage my teams with.
In the 1990s, we were the first to introduce the loan products on “debts clearing in one go”, and it has evolved to the present “Debts Consolidation Loan”. They are all tailored to suit the changing needs of the market and the customers, following the lifestyle changes in the community.
Mark Sir: Have ever encountered situation in which adjustments on business and product strategy was needed during the innovation process?
Akihiro Nagahara : Yes, we did. Indeed one of the keys of success is the high flexibility to response to needed changes, such as our property loan products. UA launched the property loan products in 1997, pioneered flexible loan services on 1st mort, 2nd mort and cash out services for property owners. Then, in the subsequent years of development, with consideration of change of different factors and market need, we made flexible adjustment and enhanced the product with name of "Property Owner’s Loan", the business has improved and has returned to stability. As before and always, this is a popular loan product with flexi high loan amount for different kinds of property owners.
UA Finance is always the pioneer in the industry, closely studying market needs in great detail and taking the lead to launch innovative loan services. After the success of our many projects, industry peers have gradually followed our innovations and expanded related businesses.
There is only one purpose: to cater to the needs of customers. We closely monitor market changes and pay full attention to customer needs, and take proactive actions. We cannot innovate if worry too much; we must always try.
Mark Sir: Now that we are in the digital age, what are your strategies?
Akihiro Nagahara: As early as in 2000, UA was already the first in the market to launch Internet loan services. However, maybe due to the fact that the use of the Internet was not yet so popular at the time, the service was not fully accepted and used by the public. Thus, the values of the new services were not fully realized.
Early July of 2020, UA launched an upgraded version of the "YES UA" APP, becoming the first finance company in the industry to provide a mobile loan app that supports even the latest version of the Hong Kong smart ID card 2018 for real-time identity verification. The “Click to Loan” service embedded in the YES UA APP’ enables customers to enjoy the most convenient and efficient mobile loan experience- from loan application, real-time identity verification, approval of loan to disbursement of cash, the whole process is completed on mobile in few clicks. Since the launch, the market and the customers have responded very well, driving the overall online loan application volume to increase by more than 20%.
In 2012, UA launched another innovative loan service "NO SHOW" personal loan, and it was also a great success. Just a single phone call, 7 days a week, a designated experienced loan service officer can help complete the whole loan procedure from application ,approval of the loan to disbursement hassle-free. The number of new applications in the first half of 2020 has tripled compared with the same period last year. Whenever creative concepts and ideas arise, we will adopt a co-creation approach, in which various departments work together in the development and research process, and jointly explore the possibility and the implementation of new concepts.
In 2019, we have further committed to invest in AI development and established our "FinTech and Innovation Department", which was the first and only finance company in the market to set up this department. We were determined to continue to invest more resources to develop the most advanced technology so as to fulfill our commitment to provide customers with the most professional, considerate and flexible loan services. At the same time, because the market keeps on evolvement, which needed fast and competitive services, simultaneously we aimed to get even more well-equipped in face of the presence virtual banks. For example, the linkage with the "FPS" 24-hour service in Hong Kong makes it possible to transfer the loan amount to our customers immediately.
Mark Sir: How do you push the company forward in terms of team management?
Akihiro Nagahara: UA’s employees are experienced, and most of them have served the company for a long period of time. The management structure is streamlined and once I approve a proposal, the company will delegate authority to the team for implementation.
Over the years, we have accumulated many loyal and supportive customers. UA attaches great importance to customer relationship and when they have emergency needs, the customers always come back to us.
Most branch managers have 20 to 40 years of experience and can master the risk assessment of this industry. Compassionate and understanding the mentality of customers — most Hong Kong people are impatient – we simplify the approval process, reduce the tedious procedures of layered approval, using as much as possible the quick and convenient method of operation.
High speed and high efficiency
Mark Sir: Is “interest” the customer’s first consideration?
Akihiro Nagahara: Firstly, “Customer first”, and secondly, our loan service are open and welcome for ”Anyone in need”.
The focus of most customers is on "quickly solving their difficulties". And sometimes “interest” is not the primary comparison. Of course, some more experienced customers, such as those from financial industry, they may put more concern on interest rates.
Professionals from all walks of life, such as pilots, lawyers, civil servants, educators, financiers, blue-collar workers to general public, etc., and with different income levels, all may have sudden emergency needs; so the core value of the UA is to help as much as possible, and never reject a customer. We try to offer our loan services as far as possible with different loan amounts to help them “let go of worries”.
Expanding New Markets
Mark Sir: Have you considered the Southeast Asian markets?
Akihiro Nagahara: I started in Japan and moved to Hong Kong for development. After a steady development, UA entered the Mainland China market (*with about 150 branches at the peak) in 2007, and also had explored business in Southeast Asian markets. After all, we found that Hong Kong has the most advantages and the perfect systems, where systems and data are readily available. Hong Kong is also a blessed place which makes starting a business easy.
As the market enters the digital age, geographic barriers are broken. It is easy to collect massive data for better insights and decisions, and helps to plan and march for global development.
Mission and Vision
Mark Sir: I understand that you are also the founder and chairman of The Hong Kong S.A.R. Licensed Money Lenders Association Ltd since established.
Akihiro Nagahara: The aim of the "The Hong Kong S.A.R. Licensed Money Lenders Association Ltd." is to enhance the industry’s image because our industry is rather complex, integrity and standardization are very important.
The association’s goal is to work hard to improve, by gathering industry forces, uniting peers for idea exchanges and cooperation, self-monitoring, as well as joint promotion and development.
Indeed. it is also the goals of our company to provide professional and diversified loan services and financial solutions, to establish partnership with mutual trust and dependence, and to support customers' financial needs.
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Asia Pacific Institute for Strategy (C) 2022