Driving transformation at DBS, the ‘world’s best bank’

Lim Him Chuan, Head of Strategy, Transformation, Analytics & Research at DBS Bank, shares how the world-leading bank is driving transformation

Few banks globally can match the recent credentials of Singapore’s DBS Bank. Since 2018, the financial institution has been named Best Bank in the World 2022 (Global Finance), World’s Best Bank 2021 (Euromoney), and Global bank of the Year 2018 (The Banker) – seven times in just five years.

DBS was not just the first in Singapore but the first bank in Asia to receive such global recognition.

Founded in 1968, DBS now has more than 36,000 employees, a presence in 19 markets globally, and recently enjoyed its most profitable quarter, with net profits jumping a forecast-beating 48% to a new record high of SG$2.69 billion (US$1.99 billion). This came off the back of a breakout year (2022) for the bank, which delivered a record net profit of SG$8.19 billion. 

An early adopter of technology, DBS has also picked up numerous digital banking awards and now considers itself as a tech company offering financial services. 

As they say, ‘a different kind of world calls for a different kind of bank’.

Driving that change and digital transformation is Lim Him Chuan, Head of Group Strategy, Transformation, Analytics and Research, where he works closely with the Group CEO Piyush Gupta and the Group Management Committee.

Him Chuan most recently served as CEO of DBS Bank Taiwan, overseeing a successful period where it was named Best International Foreign Bank in Taiwan by Asiamoney.

In his new role, which he took up in April, the 22-year DBS banking veteran is now driving strategy and planning; and on top of this, his team has a mandate around transformation, data science and ecosystem partnerships. This includes end-to-end accountability, championing change and transformation and enabling excellence to achieve sustainable outcomes

Culture transformation at DBS

DBS has been on a transformation journey for more than a decade – transforming not only into a digital bank but changing the culture of the entire organisation.

While many companies swear by the oft-quoted management adage that ‘culture eats strategy’, DBS has stretched that notion in an ethos they call ‘culture by design.’

“What that means is having a very clear vision of the culture we want in the bank, then running programmes of change to shift mindsets and nudge behaviour towards that vision,” Him Chuan tells Business Chief. 

Culture does not happen by accident, it needs to be carefully shaped and nurtured, he says. 

“When we embarked on our digital transformation in 2014, we wanted to change the way we worked such that we became more nimble, more agile, more innovative – in other words, more like a startup, and less like a traditional bank.

“Our aim is to build a dynamic culture that embraces innovation, while future-proofing employees by equipping our people with digital skill-sets.”

To deliver customer service with a DBS touch and a unique brand of Asian service, the bank came up with its ‘RED’ ethos, which stands for Respectful, Easy to deal with, and Dependable.

“Our aim for RED was to have something that every employee at every level could understand and remember effortlessly, which in turn makes it easier to implement initiatives that bring this customer service ethos to life.

“Under RED, we created cross-functional teams called PIEs (process improvement events) to take the waste out of operating processes and improve customer service. We initially set out to achieve 10 million customer hours saved through PIEs, but eventually achieved about 250 million customer hours saved annually. We have since evolved this into ‘customer journey thinking’, which entails having a deep understanding of the end-to-end experience of various customer interactions with DBS and relentlessly eliminating pain points.”

Sustainability – embedded into the business

With more than two decades of banking experience across Asia, Him Chuan has certainly seen the landscape change – from the rise of Asia-focused banks as they capitalised on regional business growth, to rapid digitalisation driven in part by the rise of fintechs, to sustainability becoming top of mind.  

“We are mindful of a world emerging from the throes of Covid-19 that calls for a different kind of bank – one that is more technology and sustainability-focused,” says Him Chuan. “These are areas we know DBS can step up to the plate.”

“In recent years, sustainability has become a key theme for banks, and it has become increasingly important for the industry to work with clients to transition to net zero.”

Already, DBS has taken significant strides in sustainability, embedding environmental and social considerations into the fabric of the business.

In its Responsible Banking pillar, DBS seeks to empower its clients to be more sustainable; and in its latest sustainability report – Our Path to Net Zero: Supporting Asia’s Transition to a Low Carbon Economy – details the selection of science-informed decarbonisation pathways and further sets interim 2030 targets for a large number of sectors.

“As of today, this is one of the most comprehensive and ambitious sets of decarbonisation targets among banks globally,” he declares.

In its Responsible Business Practices pillar, which focuses on how the bank conducts itself as an organisation, DBS delivered on its commitment to be carbon neutral in its own operations by the end of 2022.

“We updated our carbon offset guide to further strengthen the governance and processes around the selection, purchase, and use of offsets as the final lever to our operational decarbonisation strategy,” says Him Chuan.

And last year, the bank opened DBS Newton Green marking Singapore’s first net-zero-energy office building by a bank.

Finally, in its Impact Beyond Banking pillar, which supports social enterprises and community causes as well as employee volunteerism, DBS launched a new Community Impact chapter under the DBS Foundation.

“This aims to equip the underserved with digital and financial literacy skills to face the future with confidence and enable communities to be more food secure and resilient.”

In August this year, DBS announced that it will commit up to SGD 1 billion over the next 10 years to improve lives and livelihoods of the low-income and underprivileged, and foster a more inclusive society. DBS will deploy SGD 100 million each year in Singapore and its other key markets with effect from 2024, augmenting existing community initiatives by the bank and DBS Foundation. The bank also committed its 36,000-strong workforce to contributing more than 1.5 million volunteer hours over the next decade to give back to society.

DBS is passionate too about helping kickstart the transformation journeys of other businesses, recently expanding its flagship Grant Programme to nurture SMEs, launching the Asia Impact First Fund with a US$10 million commitment. The fund focuses on scaling innovative and high-growth enterprises committed to tackling significant social and environmental challenges in Asia, 

Looking to the future

Moving forward, Him Chuan says DBS Bank is focused on embedding horizontal management and agile at scale to drive outcomes, taking employee experience and customer experience to the next level, and accelerating new business levers through AI and ecosystems.

In terms of long-term expansion, DBS is aiming to be more deeply embedded in one or more of its four key markets outside of Singapore and Hong Kong – namely, China, India, Indonesia and Taiwan.

“While we are relying on digital expansion in these markets, our experience has shown that a digital-only strategy has been difficult to monetise adequately, and a ‘phygital’ approach results in better customer selection and path to profitability.”

In the past three years, DBS amalgamated Lakshmi Vilas Bank in India, acquired Citigroup’s consumer banking business in Taiwan, and invested in Shenzhen Rural Commercial Bank – and all three transactions will “position DBS well for growth as we look out into the next decade”, says Him Chuen. 

“While the macroeconomic outlook is uncertain, we will remain watchful and nimble while staying ahead of the curve in harnessing emerging technologies and building a sustainable future.

“Our journey to redefine the future of banking and to deliver differentiated customer experiences continues, and our work is never done. We will remain focused on delivering strong earnings while being unwavering in our support for customers, employees and the community.”

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