- Getting your Company to Think Big and Continually Innovate
Wowing your customers is often a whole-of-company effort. Named in 2020 as the Best Bank in the World by Global Finance magazine, DBS proudly champions innovation to build the future of banking. The need to innovate is a continuous message driven throughout the bank — across all employees in every division — and one of our focuses is pushing the boundaries of “Big Themes” in technology.
As the bank strives to stay ahead of the game and become a best-in-class bank for innovation, we caught up with Jimmy Ng, Group Chief Information Officer and Head of Group Technology & Operations at DBS Bank, and Annie Ye, Head of DBS Asia X and Senior Vice President at DBS Innovation Group, who shared more about what Big Themes are, and their impact on DBS’ innovation efforts.
1. Could you tell us more about what Big Themes are, and how they help DBS stay ahead of the curve? What drove DBS to identify these themes?
Jimmy: Big Themes are disruptive technologies that DBS has identified, which can redefine not only the future of banking but the world around us. It is imperative that these technologies would impact the broader societies and communities that we serve. Big Tech and FinTechs came and created new blue oceans to operate in and reimagined the way we live. The distribution models changed — the whole world became a village (Amazon); analog was turned into digital (Netflix); on-premise servers and data-centres were moved from cabinets to infinitely scalable computational farms (cloud); and engagement models transformed from brick-and-mortar to digital and mobile-first (Apple).
Covid-19 gave this a further nitro-boost. Our early digital transformation gave us a headstart when Covid-19 hit. But now, we need to accelerate our digitalisation efforts with digital disruptions having a domino effect across industries. These disruptions are changing the game rules and will help position our business for thriving in uncertainty tomorrow.
Using an outside-in view to identify relevant new focus areas and deepening understanding through experimentation and eventual adoption, the Big Themes will bring us to the next wave of change with reality redefined by the challenges that Covid-19 has wrought upon us. This also ensures that we are well-positioned to stay ahead and leverage these key trends at the right time.
The Big Themes are nine areas of external developments identified within our landscape which we consider to be headwinds, opportunities and focus areas that will help us make the leap in banking through controlling our destinies.
There are a few emerging technologies that, we foresee, will be a game-changer for the future. The first is 5G, which will be a big enabler for us. The three main attributes of 5G — speed, latency, and remote everything — will open the door to many opportunities. Imagine a 5G enabled wireless office network, whereby you can work remotely, anywhere, seamlessly, with the same level of security when you logged in from the office. Increasing accessibility has never been more essential since the pandemic.
The second emerging technology is the Internet of Things (IoT). The combination of 5G and IoT enables machine-to-machine payments, allowing for use cases such as in-car payments via connected vehicles; new forms of insurance by using wearables to monitor health conditions, and more.
The third emerging technology is augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR). With the accelerated shift towards digital-first experiences, AR/VR can power more immersive digital experiences for customers and allowing us to be “present” anywhere. Retailers worldwide have started experimenting with AR/VR-enabled virtual malls — this could potentially pave the way for AR/VR enabled virtual branches, adding a new dimension to digital banking and even facilitating new forms of interaction such as servicing customers via hologram agents.
Overlay that with AI and Natural Language Processing (NLP), AR/VR can also enable us to create digital twins of our customer service officers and transform the customer experience to be more immersive and transformational.
Some of these technologies are still in the nascent stage, but keeping our eyes and experimenting on these emerging technologies will enable us to exploit them when the technology matures. New developments in technology will help create new avenues for business to remain relevant, capture new market share, and expand our footprint.
Annie: In 2019, the DBS Innovation Group organised a Big Theme workshop for senior executives of the bank to get inspired by external industry opinion leaders and identify themes that will significantly disrupt the banking industry in years to come. The workshop identified nine technology themes as mentioned by Jimmy, including AI, cloud compute, blockchain, tokenization of assets, and more. Since then, DBS has done more than 70 experiments to test use cases across the bank.
These big theme experiments’ objectives were to better understand these emerging technology in terms of their maturity and impact, experiment relevant use cases to assess opportunity or threat to the bank, and identify next courses of actions based on the learning. Being able to leverage these Big Themes will enable us to create new WOWs for employees and customers — through reducing pain points for both customers and employees, by enhancing existing processes and developing new financial solutions that better serve our customers’ needs.
2. How does experimenting with Big Themes enable DBS to explore new horizons in banking and surf the waves of innovation? Could you also share how the bank has progressed in adopting the Big Themes?
Jimmy: We have been experimenting with blockchain technology over the last few years. I have always considered blockchain to be a solution looking for a problem. When Covid-19 hit, blockchain found a problem to solve. With supply chains being disrupted during Covid-19, building a trusted supply chain ecosystem became the current preoccupation of many governments, industries and companies. I believe blockchain technology can play an important role here in helping supply chains and the acceptance of crypto currencies. As a result of our early experimentation with blockchain, we were able to put this technology to use and set up the DBS Digital Exchange, the first in the world, for us to be a custodian as well as an exchange for trading of crypto assets.
Our experiments with IoT also enabled us to deploy the technology across various use cases. Within DBS premises, IoT cameras were set up to monitor our floor space occupancy density for social distancing, allowing us to reconfigure and optimise the use of our spaces. In the near future, we are looking to authenticate our turnstiles and door access via facial recognition technology with inbuilt temperature scanners, even with the wearing of masks. As companies explore the hybrid of physical and digital workspaces, we have an in-house experimental playground where we test physical and virtual ideas to help make the hybrid work model work even better for our employees. These include a special whiteboard that allows teams to innovate and ideate on the same canvas in real-time, regardless of location, contactless technology, as well as sensory ambience experiments.
Looking further into how we can tap into contactless technology, we have begun experimenting with palm vein technology where customers can check out their payments at unmanned stores or smart kiosks, using DBS PayLah! to promote digital inclusiveness. We’ve rolled out this initiative with seniors at a heartland mall who shared that they could get used to this and would be useful in events when they forget to bring their wallets or cards.
We’ll also have futuristic 5G-powered ATMs and next-gen VTMs that allow us to authenticate our customers via facial verification using biometric data, removing the need for an ATM card or PIN numbers– making the scenes in the sci-fi movies a reality! By tapping into VR, we have created an immersive and virtual training environment for branch staff. We will continue to push the boundaries with demonstration platforms that showcase multiple technologies, such as IoT and Blockchain, to scale ecosystem partnerships.
Annie: Innovation is definitely a team sport. What the Innovation Group provides in the process is a framework to help each experiment team to find clarity on trends and landscapes they want to leverage, potential experiment areas, and from there, reassess their house view as to whether to keep, pivot or kill the experiment. We believe we will only know the impact of these emerging tech from daring to try and daring to learn.
As a result of these Big Theme experiments, we see maturity and adoption in AI, Cloud and Blockchain. There is also a lot of potential to experiment for IOT and AR/VR, exploring its possibilities to redefine the future of banking such as the IoT sensors Jimmy shared earlier.
3. How will DBS continue to champion bank-wide innovation in 2021? What up-and-coming trends do you think will affect Big Themes in the coming year?
Jimmy: 2020 was a watershed year for digitalisation, with Covid-19 hitting globally, accelerating at a profound pace that outstrips the years before. Time expanded while space contracted, with people increasingly adopting digital platforms while being confined indoors during city lockdowns.
The first trend I’ve noted is how the lines between our real and digital lives have blurred with people demonstrating their increased appetite for digital consumption — from financial services, to health and education. DBS’ digital activity increased by 30–40% across the board last year, and the demand for instant fulfilment has been paramount. Customers want real-time information or solutions that are reliable, trusted and hyper-personalised to their needs, across omnichannel platforms. Companies would need to embrace emerging technologies to deliver this at scale.
Next is how customers are increasingly putting their values and the environment at the heart of their purchasing decisions. As a technology firm that happens to be in banking, we are in the position to leverage emerging technologies to rebuild a more sustainable society as we ride onto the sustainability wave and reimagine the future of banking. The Environmental, Social and Governance’s (ESG) impact goes beyond green financing. It nudges us to think about how technology such as 5G makes it possible for us to help people who are homebound stay employed through the gig ecosystem or job sharing. This could be shaped by how we harness technology to overcome limitations, such as empowering the disabled to render certain jobs which may be impossible previously. We are also able to promote gender diversity in our workforce by giving working parents or caregivers more flexibility. By harnessing the power of technology for a greater purpose, it opens up possibilities to enable productivity despite limitations.
As we upend convention, trust and security are foremost on our minds. We are constantly enhancing our technological infrastructure through security-by-design and incorporating an inside-out, multi-layered defence approach across all our touch points.
The pandemic has changed both the trajectory and velocity of digital transformation in 2020, and will likely continue in the new year. While we could lean into our experience in the past, today, we find ourselves in unchartered waters, encountering things we may not have come across before. The challenges we face today do not only apply to technology, operations or banking. They span across different disciplines and domains, and we need to be able to connect the dots, continue experimenting and trying out new things. Thanks to changes that no one would have wished for, fueled by the requirements of a more digital society, the banking industry will doubtlessly take a new shape in the coming year to building for a better future for all.
Annie: DBS will continue to experiment with and deploy the Big Theme technologies in 2021 as we look ahead to identify and leverage major economic, social, technology, and banking trends and opportunities. The Covid-19 pandemic has given rise to new opportunities in digitalisation and the use of technology, leading to the emergence of innovative business models and new consumer behaviours.
We aim to provide both inside-out and outside-in perspectives on the next Big Thing in this year’s Big Themes Workshop. An Idea Vault challenge was launched to garner suggestions from DBS’ employees. These ideas ranged from potential new use cases for existing Big Themes, including new themes such as e-sports and new solutions for a post-pandemic world. The Innovation Team’s research unit also conducted scans to determine key trends in the external landscape. We will continuously explore how we can leverage these opportunities to reimagine banking with new innovations as we continue striving towards becoming the “Most Innovative” within the industry.
The guiding point of innovation journeys at DBS, the Big Themes allow the bank to explore and exploit the latest tech disruptions to drive exponential growth. Through these experiments, DBS is able to leverage new technologies to develop new solutions across the bank as it continues striving towards becoming the most innovative bank for a better world.
- Date of publication:
- Thu, 04/08/2021 - 06:57
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