Piyush Gupta, the CEO of DBS, is a great believer in the threat to banking from platforms like Ant Financial, and in the opportunity available for those who get ahead of the game. Gupta has invested S$4.6 billion in digital strategies in the last five years. He has also insisted that everyone in his team buy in to the vision, arguing that it is much easier to effect change if 22,000 staff believe in it than to try to drive it from the top down.
Everyone in banking management talks a good game in digital these days, but it is striking how deeply entrenched the ideas are in DBS. Senior bankers speak not only of the nuts and bolts of automation and cost control but about a serious investment in getting an entire banking culture to think experimentally about the possibilities of technology.
The same is true in consumer, where 70% of financial transactions in Singapore are already digital and P2P can already be authorised through thumbprint technology; in wealth management; and SMEs, where Hong Kong and Singapore customers can now apply for a business account online in just five minutes and where venture debt solutions are offered to tech start-ups early in their life cycle.
The possibilities of digital mesh well with DBS’s ambitions in more emerging markets than Singapore; in particular the recent launch of Digibank in India was instructive. The theory is that digital innovation allows one to reach the mass market without having a thousand branches; indeed, DBS wants 5 million Indian customers through the venture despite it being so heavily automated and rich with artificial intelligence that it will probably only have about 60 staff. If Digibank works, there will never be a need to make an overseas acquisition again because people won’t need the branches.