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Goldman to debut online consumer banking in Japan

Plans to launch Marcus service mark entry into a market Citi and HSBC left

Goldman Sachs entered consumer banking in 2016 as years of low interest rates weighed on earnings from its mainstay trading operations.    © Getty Images

TOKYO -- Goldman Sachs plans to bring its fledgling retail banking business to Japan, using a low-overhead digital model cultivated in the U.S. to break into what it sees as a growth market for financial technology.

"We're considering expanding our Marcus consumer business into Japan," Goldman Sachs Japan President Masanori Mochida said at a Thursday symposium on financial innovation co-hosted by Nikkei and the economics faculty of Japan's Keio University.

Marcus, Goldman's first foray into retail banking, launched in the U.S. in 2016 and expanded into the U.K. this past September. The online banking service, which offers loans and high-interest savings accounts to consumers, now has 2 million customers and $30 billion in deposits.

The American financial giant is weighing whether it can replicate this success in Japan. Its compatriot Citigroup bowed out of Japanese retail banking in 2015, while U.K.-based HSBC Holdings and Standard Chartered announced their exits in 2012.

Goldman plans to enter into talks with the Financial Services Agency on obtaining the necessary licenses.

Goldman Sachs Japan President Masanori Mochida speaks in Tokyo on Oct. 25 at a financial innovation symposium co-hosted by Nikkei and the economics faculty of Keio University. (Photo by Karina Noka)

Financial companies have been searching for new growth drivers to pick up the slack from trading desks that have struggled amid years of ultralow interest rates. Goldman sees fintech as one such engine.

"The digitalization taking place in the finance sector is good for us," Mochida said, adding that relatively low "legacy costs" -- such as bank branches -- give the company an edge.

Goldman in April acquired the startup behind personal finance app Clarity Money, which uses artificial intelligence to analyze financial transactions and credit card information. Clarity is being integrated with Marcus to improve the service.

With low interest rates weighing on earnings after the financial crisis, Goldman began considering a foray into consumer lending around 2014. The sector's rapid technological progress in recent years convinced the company that it could expand its customer base beyond its traditional clientele of big businesses and wealthy investors to regular consumers.

Goldman's lack of experience in consumer banking has spurred it to pick up talent from such nontraditional sources as credit card companies and Facebook to acquire know-how. It is also teaming up with Apple to launch an Apple Pay-branded credit card.

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