Salim returns to banking to gain control of Indonesia’s digital economy

JAKARTA — Anthoni Salim, the billionaire tycoon at the helm of Indonesia’s largest conglomerate, playfully dodged journalists’ questions about the group’s return to the banking industry after nearly two decades. Still, he did not play down his purpose: to establish a foothold in the country’s rapidly growing digital economy.

“What is important is how to enter digitalization,” said the chief executive of Salim Group at the sidelines of his annual press conference on Friday. When asked how much money the group will invest in digital payments, he replied, “A lot. Trillions [of rupiah].”

Through various affiliated entities, the group recently bought at least a 51% stake in Bank Ina Perdana, a small local bank, by subscribing to new shares issued by the locally listed lender.

The acquisition is significant because it marks the group’s first return to the banking business since the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

Banking was once a pillar of Salim’s sprawling empire which, at its peak, was estimated to encompass some 600 companies. It began developing Bank Central Asia, initially a textile company, after former President Suharto, who had close ties with group founder and Anthoni’s father Sudono Salim, came to power in 1967. With the help of a banker named Mochtar Riady, founder of the Lippo Group, BCA grew rapidly under Suharto’s deregulation policies and became the country’s largest private lender. By 1996, the bank accounted for nearly a tenth of Indonesia’s banking assets.

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