How DBS changed its fortunes in less than a decade

DBS Bank's Chief Data and Transformation Officer Paul Cobban told HR Festival Asia about the company's unique and rapid transformation journey.
By: | May 8, 2019


The first-ever HR Festival Asia, brought to you by the combined experience of HR Technology Conference & Exposition (US) and HR Summit (Asia), takes over the Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre on May 8 and 9.

With a line-up of more than 100 speakers across six dedicated streams, and an Expo Hall with more than 100 exhibitors, there’s a little something for everyone at the event.

Check out our HR Festival Asia tag for more coverage direct from the event.

Today, Singapore financial institution DBS Bank might be known as the “world’s best digital bank”, but it was not so long ago that the company had a reputation for being inefficient.

Chief Data and Transformation Officer Paul Cobban (pictured) recalls how a taxi driver had referred to the bank’s acronym as “damn bloody slow” back in 2009.

Speaking on the HR Festival Asia plenary stage, Cobban says the leap into the big league can be attributed to a concerted company-wide effort at transforming customer experience and organisational culture.

“We went through a series of transformations and each one we built on top of the other, the first one being customer experience,” Cobban told the packed room this morning.

One of the ways DBS executed this was through a five-day workshop called Process Improvement Event, which was aimed at reducing customer waiting time and unnecessary layers on its systems.

“We ended up taking 250 million customer annual waiting hours out of the system,” said Cobban.

Now, DBS is furthering its customer service experience by utilising an approach that Cobban refers to as “customer science”. This approach sees the bank using customer behaviour data to predict and prevent problems.

A customer behaviour map, for example, shows what services customers are mostly interacting with, which then help to inform future decisions.

A focus on culture redesign to become more innovative across the board was also key to the company’s successful transformation.

The bank set up an innovation team, whose Number One priority, Cobban says, was ironically “not to innovate”. The purpose of this was to encourage the rest of the company to innovate, rather than have it fall on the shoulders of the innovation team alone.

Innovation oftentimes means failing, but Cobban says that just comes with the territory.

“We ran so many programmes at innovation, many failed, but they helped to create a culture of innovation, which is the ultimate goal.”