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Asia’s best digital bank 2021: DBS

DBS’s digital capability was tested to the core by Covid, and it not only stepped up but turned the situation to its advantage. From consumer to institutional, DBS used the opportunity to convert clients to digital channels, benefiting from improved economics as it did so. Before long the government was counting on the bank to disburse emergency payments to those under stress.

Amid all this, DBS still found the time to do striking new things. The most impressive was the launch of the DBS Digital Exchange, the first instance worldwide of a major bank creating a new platform on this scale.

While the headlines go to the fact that a big bank is allowing accredited investors to trade crypto – and offering them proper digital custody services when they do – in the long run the greater significance of the new exchange will be as a vehicle for trading digital tokens. In due course this should translate into investment in unlisted companies, Series B or C funding rounds, bonds and private equity funds. It should be an extremely useful area to have a first-mover advantage.

DBS CEO Piyush Gupta speaks during a Reuters Newsmaker event in Singapore
Piyush Gupta
Photo: Edgar Su/Reuters

Although outside our review period, DBS also launched a carbon exchange with Standard Chartered, Temasek and SGX. If it works as planned, this could revitalize the whole idea of carbon markets.

Returning to what happened during the review year, three other developments stand out. DBS completed the first fully digital end-to-end secured letter of credit (LC) transaction via the Contour Beta Network in May 2020; by the start of 2021 it had moved streamlined digital LC transactions to the production network for customers in Australia, China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

DBS became the first Asian bank on AntChain’s blockchain trade platform, Trusple, in September 2020 and has already closed its first trade financing transaction on the platform for a Singapore SME called iQuartz. And with JPMorgan and Temasek, DBS announced a new open industry platform called Partior in order to transform cross-border payments.

DBS also needed to deliver digitally in the here and now, to prove that its tech savvy could translate into positive practical outcomes at a time of great strain. And it did, whether through the digital relief package it rolled out to about a thousand food and beverage businesses; or the use of its API platform to support liquidity needs of small businesses; or launching a digital financing facility with Haier to distributors.

On the wealth side, the DBS NAV Planner was an important part of the bank’s vision to democratize wealth and increase financial literacy. In eight months, it has delivered more than 30 million personalized financial planning insights to customers and, it says, helped 400,000 customers become net savers.

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