Asia's best bank 2020: DBS

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Awards for Excellence 2020

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DBS is a bank at the top of its game. For the second year in a row, it not only wins the best bank in Asia award but canters away with it at high speed. 

Every conversation about the Singapore lender starts and ends with its digital transformation journey, and for good reason. DBS describes it as “one of the most comprehensive for a bank anywhere in the world” – and it is hard to argue the point. 

It was the first bank anywhere to clearly articulate how much it earned from digital and traditional customers, and each year it rolls out a host of new services that extend its reach in the digital realm. 

Everything is built with disruption in mind, as well as with care and forethought. Rarely do these services overlap – there is never a sense that DBS is doing something for the sake of it. 

Take last year’s launch of DBS DigiPortfolio, a hybrid human-robo investment service that allows retail customers with as little as S$1,000 ($720) to invest and to access analysis and advice provided by the bank’s best wealth management strategists. 

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Piyush Gupta

In short, DBS is using its digital strength to democratize financial services. 

Or take the multi-tier financing facility it unveiled last year in mainland China. Built on blockchain foundations, it gives small and medium-sized enterprises better and faster access to trade financing. 

It’s an invaluable service for SMEs, who often struggle to have their trade finance needs met by traditional lenders. 

There is a nice balance too in its digital platform. DBS doesn’t just throw up a new tool or service and hope for the best. Its self-service tool Wreckoon, which tests the resilience of applications in development and draws its inspiration from Netflix’s original chaos engineering concept, is testament to that. 

But digital is also a means to an end. Fundamentally, it is used to make the bank work better and to help its clients, from retail customers to SMEs to corporates and sovereigns, live easier and better financial lives. 

Beyond digital, there is so much to admire. Financially, it has never been healthier. The DBS group posted net profit of S$6.39 billion in 2019, up 14% year on year. Total income rose 10% to S$14.5 billion, with return on equity hitting a record high of 13.2%. 

Net profit unsurprisingly dipped in the first quarter of 2020, as it set aside S$1.09 billion to cover potential pandemic-related losses, but some data continued to shine. Its cost-to-income ratio hit a record low of 38.6% at the end of March 2020, against 42.2% a year earlier.

Regional ambition

And there is a feeling that DBS is just getting started. When Euromoney met Piyush Gupta in February 2020, the topic of its regional ambition came up

DBS’s chief executive highlighted six economies he deems essential to the bank’s future, noting: “We are putting our chips on China, Indonesia and India, three markets with 40% to 50% of combined global growth,” along with Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong.

This level of ambition extends to sustainability and environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles. In November, DBS became the first bank in southeast Asia to sign up to the Equator Principles; during the full year 2019, it completed 35 sustainable financing deals, collectively worth S$5 billion. 

And when the Covid crisis hit, Gupta tasked POSB, a division of the bank, to bring as many of Singapore’s financially excluded migrant workers into the banking sector as fast as possible. 

In April alone 41,000 labourers signed up to open a POSB Jolly account, which allows account holders to remit money overseas and to top up pre-paid Sim cards via SMS.