Excellence in leadership in Asia 2020: DBS

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When Singapore suffered a second spike in coronavirus cases in April, attention turned to the city state’s migrant labourers, an army of essential workers described by a former head of the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health as society’s “most invisible” members.

Most of the new Covid cases were clustered around the workers’ cramped dormitories. Historically, although most workers used basic remittance services to transfer earnings home, many remained excluded from mainstream financial services.

Keen to find a solution, DBS, which provides financial services to more migrant workers than any local lender, set out to bring as many as possible into the financial fold.

“The challenge was clear,” says DBS chief executive Piyush Gupta. “There were 50,000 migrant workers, but most were paid in cash, didn’t have a bank account and were unable to pay for goods in a shop or remit money home during lockdown.”

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Piyush Gupta

Gupta tasked POSB, a consumer lender DBS bought in 1998, with the job.

“We wired POSB up to the manpower ministry and made the whole account opening process seamless and instantaneous,” he says.

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

“Our aim is for all 750,000 migrant workers to have bank accounts by the end of the year,” Gupta adds.

This is only possible for a bank structurally and technologically at the top of its game – and DBS certainly fits that bill.

DBS has been busy across Asia during the pandemic, placing a six-month principal repayment moratorium on small and medium-sized enterprise property loans, introducing frictionless digital trade financing services and – through its Stronger Together Fund – distributing 4.5 million care packs across six key markets, including China, India and Indonesia.