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China's biggest peer-to-peer lender readies its transformation into a wealth management company, Japan's internet banks venture into the real world and a U.S. security expert believes North Korea was behind the US$950 million heist from Bangladesh's central bank.

Lufax plans online platform as part of transformation from P2P to wealth management company

China's biggest peer-to-peer lender is planning to transform itself into a wealth management company with a new platform aimed at facilitating global asset allocation for middle-income earners in Asia. Lufax's new Singapore-based platform will be launched later this year, the South China Morning Post reported. The platform will target Chinese citizens who already have overseas accounts or who have already invested outside the country, said Lufax CEO Gregory Gibb. The platform will also cater to middle-class Asian investors in places such as India and Indonesia. The expansion is part of Lufax's strategy to transform itself into the largest wealth tech company in China. Gibb sees a number of areas to tap under fintech such as wealth, credit and insurance.

Japan's online banks go bricks-and-mortar to boost loan ops

Japan's online banks are stepping out of the virtual world and into the real one in search of new customers. Online banks are now setting up brick-and-mortar offices to cater to customers who are more comfortable discussing home loans in person, The Nikkei reported. SBI Holdings Inc. unit SBI Sumishin Net Bank opened its first physical branch in January and has processed more than 190 home loan applications, a completion rate of about twice that for online customers. The bank has consulted with around 330 prospective borrowers in its first month and a half. President Noriaki Maruyama promised to open more locations given the brisk business of the physical branch. Internet-based banks have had little choice but to chase customers as their traditional advantages over traditional banks have eroded in recent years. The central bank's negative interest rate policy has slashed lending rates, cutting into the advantages online banks have had in that market. Traditional banks have also developed their own smartphone apps and expanded their online banking offerings.

Senior NSA official suggests North Korea was behind US$951 million heist from Bangladesh's central bank

A senior official from the U.S. National Security Agency believes that North Korean hackers were behind a multimillion dollar heist that led to US$81 million stolen from Bangladesh's central bank in 2016, The Washington Post reported. NSA deputy director Rick Ledgett seemed to suggest that North Korea was the culprit behind the bank heist. Speaking at an Aspen Institute roundtable, Ledgett said private sector researchers had linked the Bangladesh heist to the 2014 hack on Sony Pictures, which the U.S. attributed to North Korea. Ledgett said if the connection is accurate, it means that a nation-state is robbing banks. Asked whether he believed there are nation-states robbing banks, Ledgett answered with a simple "I do." Computer hackers had attempted to steal US$951 million from the Bangladesh central bank but got away with only US$81 million. Some of the funds were later recovered.

How China's Bank Behemoths Make Money on the Debt War

China's biggest banks are making bank with soaring money market rates, Bloomberg News reported. As smaller lenders struggle with higher borrowing costs with some said to have defaulted, their larger counterparts are benefiting given their status as net lenders in the interbank market. Chinese policymakers have tightened conditions in money markets to clamp down on the record leverage buildup following the global financial crisis. During the week of March 20, the money-market rate rose to its highest level since 2015. Small banks were said to have failed to make debt payments in the interbank market. On the other hand, China's biggest banks are set to make a windfall. Rising rates mean that larger lenders can charge smaller banks more to borrow, leaving them with more cash to buy debt and take advantage of rising yields.

Insurance promises Asia much more than peace of mind

The insurance industry is rapidly growing in Asia as the market measured by gross written premiums grew a combined 41.9% between 2010 and 2015 to US$59.5 billion, The Nikkei reported, citing reinsurance company Swiss Re. The growth trend is expected to continue. Boston Consulting Group expects the compound annual growth rate of the life insurance market in emerging Southeast Asian countries to be around 8% to 13% through 2020. The growth can be attributed to a number of factors. The number of people who sign up for insurance tends to increase with a nation's economic growth. Rising household incomes allow people to put aside money for the future. Urbanization also plays a part as people migrating to cities have to make individual provisions for the future rather than relying on family support.