Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc. has set up a unit to research and develop new financial technologies, the first of its kind for a major Japanese bank, people with knowledge of the matter said.
The Innovation Lab division is starting with 15 employees in Tokyo and Silicon Valley and scheduled to be unveiled Jan. 8, the sources said, asking not to be identified because the information isn’t public. It will work with universities, research institutions and fintech firms and draw on resources within Mitsubishi UFJ, including its securities and trust-banking units, to develop financial products and services, the people said.
Banks including Mitsubishi UFJ are moving to counter the threat that startup ventures may pose to the financial industry as well as capture the growth potential they offer. The number of fintech companies is “exploding,” McKinsey & Co. said in its 2015 global banking review. There were more than 12,000 such firms as of August and venture capital investment tripled to $12.2 billion in 2014 from a year earlier, McKinsey said.
To ensure the division’s freedom from the existing banking business, Mitsubishi UFJ will set up offices physically separated from its main operations, according to the people. It will employ a casual dress code to help foster a startup culture and enable closer cooperation with outside ventures, the people said. Tokyo-based Mitsubishi UFJ is also considering adding a third location for the unit in a major city in Asia, they said.
Taiki Kitaura, a spokesman for Mitsubishi UFJ in Tokyo, declined comment on the initiative.
Japan’s biggest bank is seeking to complement its existing fintech activities such as using International Business Machines Corp.’s Watson to automate call centers and testing robots at some of its branches. Mitsubishi UFJ ran a fintech business competition last year that led to a tie-up with a developer for an investing app.