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Invisible banking: How to disappear completely

  • Posted on May 14, 2018
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes
invisible banking

DBS Bank was set up by the Singapore government in 1968. It has 22,000 employees, revenues of US$10.3bn and 36 branches in Singapore. In 2009, it had the lowest customer satisfaction scores of any bank in Singapore. The local taxi drivers claimed DBS stood for ‘damn bloody slow’. So how did it get to be one of the most advanced digital banks in the world? This is how it all started.

Make banking invisible
Paul Cobban, Chief Data & Transformation Officer of DBS, first joined the company back in 2009. He recognised that people’s lives don’t revolve around banking: "If you’re making a major purchase, like a refrigerator, the smaller and faster the banking piece, the better. To make banking joyful, make the banking part invisible.” For many organisations undergoing digital transformation, the technology is front and centre. But for DBS, the better the technology, the less visible it becomes. The essential insight was: “Banking is a small sliver of a job to be done.”

DBS started ‘customer-centred design’. This involved understanding customer concerns in detail. For example, they discovered that replacing a stolen credit card (which took them five days) only led to the response: “Where’s my debit card”? Of course, the customer had lost her entire handbag. This led to identifying three concerns. Are they able to get cash to get home? Is someone using their stolen credit card? And how do they get their life straightened out? DBS changed the bank’s call centre script to show empathy, explain the process and provide phone numbers to help the customer get their life back together. They also began 5-day process improvement workshops to eliminate wasted customer time. Cobban: “We took out 250 million customer hours of waste per year”. By 2010, DBS had the top customer satisfaction scores in Singapore. Recent Avanade research found that almost nine in ten (89%) banks believe that their organization could improve at personalizing the customer experience and around seven in ten (71%) concede that providing a seamless experience is something that their organization really struggles with.

Don’t innovate
The heavy lifting of digital transformation is always the organizational change behind the scenes. DBS started to identify ‘blockers to change’. The decision-making process meant people had to ask for permission from managers via email – major blocker – so DBS set up weekly decision-making meetings that brought all interested parties together: “Teams present their ideas to decision-makers in person; 99% of the time they get a yes answer on the spot,” Commented Cobban.

He went on to say: “Innovation was all about culture and behaviour so we took our leaders and put them in ‘hackathons’ with start-ups. Hackathons replaced the executive training budget”. DBS teamed 7-8 employees with people from start-ups and put them through a five-day hackathon: one day devoted to understanding technology and skill building in human-centred design, three days of working together with start-ups to help code and create an app.

“We started the ‘experiment’ with young people in their twenties and thirties. By the third hackathon, we had 40- and 50-year-olds and other employees not naturally comfortable with technology. Exposing executives to the start-up mentality opened their eyes to new ways of doing business.”

Cobban defied conventional wisdom: “I told our innovation team: don’t innovate. Instead, teach the rest of the organization to innovate”. This meant an executive within the bank would bring a problem to the innovation team. The innovation team would then give them the right tool kits and train them with specific methodologies such as the ‘lean start-up’ or ‘human-centred design’.

These were the building blocks for transformation. After overhauling their systems, restructuring around the customer and disseminating innovation across the company, DBS were now ready to start building a ‘digital’ bank.

Key takeaways:
  • Make the technology – and the banking – as invisible as possible (customers’ lives do not revolve around banking)
  • Structure your process around the customer and make the process more empathetic
  • Expose staff – regardless of age - to the entrepreneurial culture of start-ups and hackathons
  • ‘Don’t innovate’ – give staff the digital tools they need to be more innovative

In my second post, I’ll talk about how DBS successfully transformed itself into a truly digital bank – stay tuned!

Find out more about how digital technology disrupts the banking industry in Avanade's recent report.

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