DBS: Cultivating entrepreneurial minds

As banks increasingly shift towards digital functions, DBS is looking to build a steady pipeline of young talent who can engage in innovative solutions to the issues of tomorrow. HRM finds out more.

Neal Cross, Chief Innovation Officer for DBS, says there are valuable lessons to be learned from being an entrepreneur that can’t be learned from textbooks. These lead to skills and traits such as decision-making, teamwork, risk-taking, and adapting to changes and uncertainty.

“All of these qualities will make students more relevant to the real-world work environment,” says Cross.

“That’s what we really want to achieve. We want to instill these qualities in youth so they can rapidly adjust to the changing world, and compete globally.”

With DBS increasingly espousing the importance of fostering talent that has been sharpened with an entrepreneurial mindset, what better way to cultivating this culture than an internship specifically dedicated to honing this very craft?

Enter: the DBS “UNI.CORN” internship.

Real-world context

According to Cross, the UNI.CORN internship focuses on two key imperatives: identifying and developing talent with an entrepreneurial mindset, and providing training in innovative problem-solving methodologies.

“This is one of the key focus areas for DBS as we want to grow Singapore’s start-up ecosystem – this will ultimately benefit Singapore’s economy in the long run,” he explains.

“Students in the programme will be given real world problems and expected to be hands-on in working towards viable solutions, similar to how a start-up team would think and work.”

For example, interns could be asked to identify new banking solutions in banking that could pave the way to a new business or design of a new system, service or application.

Traits required by students include the ability to utilise their creativity in business and marketing, as well as design and coding skills.

“This is different from our other graduate development programmes and internships where they are typically assigned to specific departments and functions within the bank,” Cross stresses. “UNI.CORN interns will not be assigned business-as-usual tasks.”

During the 12-week programme, the DBS Innovation Group will train the students in human-centered design and lean startup methods. “(The internship) culminates in a final presentation and prototype that addresses the problem statement posed by the challenge,” he says.

Cross explains the DBS Innovation Group, as well as challenge sponsors such as the DBS consumer banking business, will mentor the interns.

Serving business needs

Cross explains that with students attaining problem solving experience within a corporate banking environment, DBS hopes students will experiment, and most importantly, learn to not be afraid to fail.

“Despite working within DBS, these interns will be granted opportunities to come up with new ideas for the banking sector,” he says.

“This could range from creating a brand new service that none of the banks offer today, to transforming the way banks interact with customers.”

Cross also says DBS is looking at how it can transform the banking industry culture and the way banks operate.

“We want to be open to new ideas and be bold in learning, experimenting and failing as we create better banking products for the future,” he says.

“While every bank is trying to innovate, we believe that working with future talent, people who are bright, young and hungry, will help us accelerate how we re-imagine banking and ensure that DBS and the industry as a whole remains relevant to the needs of its customers.”

A robust startup ecosystem

Cross says the startup community has become an increasingly more significant part of Singapore’s growth and sustainability. It has been responsible for new technologies, systems and services that contribute to Singapore’s economy.

“By fostering innovative thinking, we want to create a workforce and a generation of talent that possesses advanced skills, entrepreneurial thinking and resilience,” he explains.

“This will create work-ready individuals who are not only technology-savvy, but possess strong business acumen and technical skills to advance Singapore’s startup and financial technology community.”

“This is just the start; the hope is that we will see more smart businesses and leaders emerging from our programme, who can lead the charge to position Singapore as a global business and technology hub.”

Cross says the internship is just one strategy that DBS is using to contribute to Singapore’s innovation culture. The organisation also has its own pre-accelerator programme, DBS HotSpot, as well as other initiatives such as the well-known DBS Hackathons.

“In DBS HotSpot, we seek to bring a start-up and entrepreneurial mentality into DBS through encouragement of cross-learning between our staff and entrepreneurs,” he explains.

 “From what we’ve observed, the exchange of ideas has been fantastic and is helping us to open up collaboration within DBS and to contribute to Singapore’s innovation drive,” he says.

“These students will bring fresh perspectives to the business, thereby fostering a culture of co-creation within the bank. While the students will be gaining knowledge from us, we also want to listen and learn from the new ideas that they bring into the bank.”

In addition, Cross states the bank can potentially leverage DBS UNI.CORN as a recruitment platform for its graduate development programmes.

Emulating past successes

The DBS “UNI.CORN” internship follows on from the success of DBS’ HotSpot Pre-accelerator programme which the bank unveiled to promote start-up innovation in Singapore.

According to the bank, one of the successful teams coming out from the HotSpot programme was Travez, a one-stop travel platform that offers travel “genies” to plan their customers’ travel needs. The startup was founded by students who had been interning at DBS, working on innovation projects within the bank.


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