The world’s best digital bank 2021: DBS
A flurry of new services, including DBS Digital Exchange and Climate Impact X, have kept the Singaporean lender in pole position.
In digital terms, DBS can feel like ‘the Terminator’, in that it absolutely will not stop. The Singapore lender simply never lets up: it never stops innovating or finding creative digital solutions to problems. It is as integral to its customers’ digital journey as any bank on the planet and has been for the best part of a decade.
Other banks were considered for an award that was, as ever, fiercely contested, including Bank of America, Citi, Santander and last year’s winner, Ping An Bank. But in the end there was only one – very clear – winner.
One of the decisions DBS made long ago was to avoid having a single head of digital banking. That makes sense in a world where pretty much everything is digital. From chief executive Piyush Gupta, on down through chief information officer Jimmy Ng and chief planning and strategy officer Kwee Juan Han, it’s a team effort.
Every year offers a new chance for the bank to renew itself and pull further ahead of the pack. Covid offered a different kind of challenge. It shone a harsh light on the yawning gap between digital adopters and laggards – a gap that became a chasm when the pandemic tested banks’ digital capabilities.
Yet throughout Covid, DBS never stopped unveiling new products, from artificial intelligence to machine learning, blockchain to distributed-ledger technology. It reckons 99% of applications are now cloud enabled and investment in its Mobile First strategy ensured 90% of staff could easily transit to working from home when the lockdowns hit.
In Covid’s early days non-customers flocked to DBS, attracted by its stability and its digital reputation. Between March and July 2020, the number of digital banking customers rose by more than 200,000. That included a threefold rise in the number of digital customers over the age of 62.
“While we have been transforming ourselves digitally over the years, we decided early on to use the crisis as a platform to further reposition ourselves fundamentally as a bank of the future,” says Gupta. “This involved identifying key trends, which we believe will reshape the post-pandemic world; trends such as hyper-digitalization, supply chain shifts and an increased ESG [environmental, social and governance] focus.”
A number of notable new partnerships stand out. In April 2021 DBS joined forces with JPMorgan and Temasek, Singapore’s sovereign wealth vehicle, to create a blockchain-based joint venture for payments, trade and settlement, called Partior.
In September 2020 it was the first Asian bank to join AntChain’s blockchain trade platform, Trusple, with a view to deliver cost-effective digital trade services to firms of all sizes, including small and medium-sized enterprises and micro-enterprises.
Keeping things simple
To be great at digital is no mean feat. Clever solutions often reveal new problems or opportunities to be addressed or seized. So success is secured in part by keeping things simple – evidenced by the bank’s three-point plan: being digital to the core; embedding itself in the customer journey; and always thinking and acting like a startup.
Unlike its peers, DBS treats this as an ideology rather than a marketing slogan. Take its NAV Planner, a digital advisory platform that leverages big data to help customers make better financial decisions. Launched in April 2020, it helped more than 400,000 people become net savers in the first eight months.
In Singapore, it was the first bank to deliver contactless digital trade finance services to corporates. For the first time, firms could upload trade finance applications and documents via its corporate banking platform, Ideal. That led to a 500% year-on-year rise in the number of suppliers being onboarded digitally in 2020.
Another recent development is DBS Digital Exchange, a regulated platform for the issuance and trading of digital tokens, backed by assets not already found on public markets – such as shares in unlisted companies.
We decided early on to use the crisis as a platform to further reposition ourselves fundamentally as a bank of the future
That was in December 2020. Five months later, DBS priced an S$15 million ($11.05 million) digital bond, marking the new exchange’s first security token offering. And in August its brokerage arm, DBS Vickers, secured in-principle approval from the Monetary Authority of Singapore to offer trading services for digital payment tokens.
In May 2021 DBS joined forces with Temasek and Standard Chartered to launch a global carbon exchange and marketplace called Climate Impact X (CIX).
Based on the principles of the Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets, launched by former Bank of England governor Mark Carney, the aim of CIX is to use satellite technology to track projects and to use machine learning and blockchain to ensure the transparency and integrity of carbon credits.
Gupta says the digital and carbon exchanges as well as Partior, the blockchain-based payments joint venture, are three of the “seven or eight” big business ideas the bank tested when Covid struck. “The pandemic also helped us recognize that gaps still remained in several of our last-mile processes, which we doubled down on in refining to better serve our customers,” he notes.
That’s the kind of big picture thinking for which the bank has become famous. For DBS, digital isn’t a slogan or a means to an end but a way of life.