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Using IT to be nimble and innovative

DBS official says the challenge lies in harnessing data to add value to customers quicker and in a seamless manner.

'We are building a culture of experimentation where we encourage staff to fail fast and learn fast, and that is yielding positive results,' says Mr Gledhill

A KEY challenge for many companies as they grow is the ability to increase their reach while keeping costs down.

David Gledhill, DBS Bank's managing director and head of group technology and operations, feels that having a holistic view of IT can help companies extend that reach without breaking the bank.

"For instance, DBS has more than two million internet banking users and one million mobile banking users. We offer over 130 services online and each day, more than one million transactions go through our online banking platform," he adds. But DBS has not stopped increasing its reach as it understands there are unmet needs in the online banking space.

So, says Mr Gledhill, last year the company introduced a mobile wallet DBS PayLah! that makes peer-to-peer payment more intuitive. "Users can also use the mobile wallet to pay bills, make purchases, donate to charities, send e-red packets and even request for money from friends who perhaps forgot about that dinner bill. More than 200,000 users are using DBS PayLah! since its launch last May."

To a question on just how important a role technology plays in DBS' day-to-day operations, Mr Gledhill says tech drives 99 per cent of the bank's customer interactions and thus plays an essential role in shaping customer experiences.

Going beyond apps

"Digital banking goes beyond creating mobile apps or enabling transactions. It is about leveraging world-class technology to create a first-class customer experience. We have been very focused on executing against our IT strategy that allows us to be more nimble and innovative in the ways we engage our customers, including changing the way people bank," he notes.

Giving an example, he notes that during the Chinese New Year, DBS introduced specially configured pop-up ATMs where customers could obtain new notes. "Out of the more than 50,000 customers who chose to obtain their new notes via the ATMs, 80 per cent made the withdrawal after banking hours. In addition to bringing greater convenience to our customers, this initiative also helped to ease branch traffic."

"We also observed that despite the popularity of online banking, many customers are still checking their balances at the ATMs," he says. "The aggregate time that our ATMs are being used to check balances amounts to 15,000 hours each month. Hence, we introduced SMS Banking last October to enable customers who are not using smartphones or internet banking to check their account balances, perform card payments and transfer funds to their own accounts using SMS. This helps to free up resources and reduce wait time at our ATMs."

As a whole, the banking industry has not been an early adopter of emerging technology as the industry balances the need to be safe and secure with leading-edge technology, Mr Gledhill observes.

"In the last couple of years, we have seen non-financials (also called fintechs) entering the banking space and they are able to move a lot faster as they do not have the same considerations as banks do and are governed by a different set of guidelines."

However, he adds, the competition (provided by fintechs) is healthy and challenges banks to rethink their IT strategy to become more nimble. This requires vast amounts of work in the back-end infrastructure, integration layers, messaging and all associated innovations you need to make your architecture nimble across the markets you operate in.

At DBS, we have also stopped thinking in terms of transactions and have adopted a holistic approach towards customer journey and interactions. This gives us an advantage as we can deliver greater value to our customers quicker and in a seamless manner, adds Mr Gledhill.

The DBS official notes that in today's well-connected world, companies need to ensure that they have the capability to provide customers with a seamless service as well as add value to their lives. Consumers have become increasingly savvy and, Mr Gledhill adds, "we talk about the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) where decisions are made even before customers approach the bank".

"Hence, it is important for us to be part of our customers' social network. For instance, in Taiwan, we launched a series of line stickers featuring DBS' mascots Xing and Jaan and within three hours, there were more than two million downloads. In India, we produced a microseries called Chilli Paneer, a story about food, love and dreams and the seamless integration of banking into our lives. The first season resulted in over 600,000 engagements and heightened brand awareness and interest in our services. We have since launched Chilli Paneer 2, which allows audiences to choose the ending they want."

For small and medium-sized business (SMB) owners, the bank has launched the DBS BusinessClass programme, which helps entrepreneurs to connect with industry experts, investors and fellow entrepreneurs. Delivered through a mobile app, entrepreneurs can participate in discussions, access news and articles, and register for exclusive networking events or seminars while on the go.

The bank also encourages its staff to become mentors to SMB owners, maintain an active presence and share insights through the DBS BusinessClass app, which now has more than 7,000 members.

Mr Gledhill notes that within the bank there are measures and processes that protect customers' confidentiality and guide staff conduct.

"We also encourage staff to adopt a digital mindset through a number of initiatives. Last May, we equipped our frontline staff with iPads loaded with apps that enable them to serve customers outside of the branches.

"The apps enable straight-through processing of mortgages, insurance sales, customers' verification and financial needs analysis. Such seamless integration for a holistic suite of offerings via a smart device is a first in Singapore. Customers also find the product recommendations and e-forms much friendlier and easy to understand."

He adds that the bank also makes it easy for employees to work on projects and share information via what is known as the internal cloud. "We have a team of evangelists and 'agitators' who stimulate digital thinking and we are constantly exploring ways in which the bank can leverage technology to encourage collaboration and shape the future of work."

The need for banks such as DBS to engage with their customers online has predictably led to a deluge of information about customers and, as a result, banks have become heavy users of data centres. Mr Gledhill notes that data centres essentially serve as storage space for data from which one can quickly access vital information required to serve customers.

"They are vital infrastructure in today's connected world. The key lies in re-engineering our data centre to connect our legacy systems of records with data-in-flight such as social media data and to get the whole environment to integrate seamlessly.

"We need to decide how long do we keep the data for and how do we use both structured and unstructured data, such as customer behaviour and social norms, to better understand our customers in order to provide them with an even more tailored banking experience."

Mr Gledhill agrees that data is virtually useless without the necessary tools needed to extract actionable intelligence from it. This is where analytics comes in.

"The whole field is in a nascent stage but data analytics is one of our top priorities. We have invested in our own team of data scientists and have also partnered A*Star's Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R) to further enhance our analytics capabilities by tapping on their network of over 600 researchers and engineers.

"We are building a culture of experimentation where we encourage staff to fail fast and learn fast, and that is yielding positive results. We are now looking at ways to marry external non-structured data with our existing data," he observes.

As a bank, we have a lot of structured data including when and where is the customer performing a transaction, says Mr Gledhill. The challenge is marrying this information with unstructured data such as their interactions with the bank on social channels and transforming it into an engagement. For instance, if a customer purchases an air ticket with a credit card online, our systems should be smart enough to trigger a travel insurance offer as well as relevant travel advice from experts or peers, he says.

Tailored solution

"Today's customers have access to a wealth of information online. The challenge is sifting out what is relevant. By arming our staff with knowledge and tools that help provide relevant insights and create a tailored solution based on the customers' needs and preferences, we can add value and strengthen our relationship with the customer."

Mr Gledhill notes that there are an increasing number of tools available to perform data analytics. A platform that can recognise data availability, has the ability to make the necessary correlations and push relevant insights out to the stakeholders on multiple devices seamlessly is one that will stand out, he adds.

"For instance, we equip our frontline staff with iPads that provide them with clean, simple and detailed information of their clients while they are on-the-go. They are able to use the same iPads to present solutions to their clients in a more intuitive and more graphical manner. This also exemplifies how we apply Human-Centred Design (HCD) thinking in DBS to enhance the management, design and delivery of customer journeys. The idea is to put ourselves in the shoes of our customers, and think through the way they would prefer to interact with us from start to finish."

DBS is also currently deploying IBM's Watson system for its wealth management platform. Watson is a cloud-based application that can process enormous amounts of information from the so-called big data. It has been described by many as artificial intelligence, and became famous by defeating two world champions in the popular quiz show Jeopardy. It has the ability to answer questions asked in human language and can self-learn from past mistakes.

Mr Gledhill says that DBS, as the first bank in Asia to use cognitive computing to provide actionable insights to affluent customers, faced big engineering hurdles which had to be overcome, including how to match and manage internal structured data with external unstructured data owned by someone else and to teach Watson what banking was about.

"We are making huge progress on these fronts and I am very excited about the possibilities of the new system, which will help our relationship managers provide tailored solutions from our entire product suite that best match the customers' needs and preferences.

"On top of that, the (Watson's) ability to recognise natural language makes it possible for our end users to engage with the system directly."

He adds that in banking, the refresh rate for core systems used to be 10 to 15 years. Now we need to think in terms of two to three years and build for rapid change, he adds. "Progress made in data analytics, wearable technology, social banking such as crowdfunding and social media enabled banking sets the stage for banking to be integrated seamlessly into people's daily lives. One thing is for sure, the way people bank will continue to change."

This series is brought to you by IBM