DBS’ 2022 performance, demonstrating high-returns and a resilient franchise, again highlights how optimisation of its digital transformation strategy is paying off.

For calendar year 2022 the DBS share price was ahead by 4%. That may not sound much-but just look at how the share prices have performed this year at DBS’ international peers.

In 2022, JPMorgan Chase, for example, was down by 20%. Bank of America, meantime, is down by 30%. In the UK, Lloyds Banking Group is down by 9% with Barclays down by 21%. In Europe, BNP Paribas is off by 21% with ING down by 10%. Even in the much-admired Canadian market, RBC and TD dipped by 10% and 13% respectively. So, DBS has bucked the trend in 2022 amid a sea of red across the banking sector.

DBS earnings highlight that business momentum was sustained with asset quality resilient. Specifically, underlying loan growth is strong and in the third quarter, growth in non-trade corporate loans and mortgages rose faster than in the first two quarters. Liquidity remains healthy with fee income stabilising.

Underlying wealth management momentum held strong with 9M net new money inflows doubling from a year ago, while card fees continue to grow as travel picks up.

That all helped to produce a robust third quarter net profit, which was up 23% with a ROE AT 16.3%, both record highs. Meantime, successful cost-control resulted in a 4-percentage drop in the bank’s cost-income ratio to 40%. Few major banks around the world can achieve a CIR of the magical 40% or less, but DBS has achieved just that. And the strength of the bank’s ROE serves to underscore significant structural improvements made, such as DBS’s deserved world-class reputation for its digital transformation strategy.

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Indeed, one cannot delve too deep or too long in DBS’ investor relations presentations without being struck by the core role that the bank’s longstanding commitment to digital plays in its current and forecasted future success.

DBS’ relentless focus on customer needs

Some months back, RBI spoke with Evy Theunis, who was appointed head of Digital Assets as part of the Financial Institutions Group.

Prior to this, Evy was with the bank’s retail banking and wealth management arm, where she headed its Customer Segment and Customer Science division. In this role, she was responsible for driving scalable business growth by delivering data-led customer and distribution operating models, frontline tooling, and hyper-personalised digital offerings to the bank’s consumer banking and wealth segments.

Theunis says the bank’s ability to scale is key to the retail banking unit’s success, via the evolution of data and digital.

DBS’ much lauded digital banking operation is built around four key pillars: augmented banking, open banking, automation banking, and intelligent banking.

Augmented banking powers technological capabilities like DBS digiPortfolio, the bank’s hybrid human-robo investment offering; meantime, automation banking enables operations to be performed digitally. The bank was an early advocate of open banking, which centres on its ecosystem of partnerships, while intelligent banking refers to using digital and data to scale the business.

More specifically, intelligent banking incorporates big data, predictive analytics, AI/ML and customer-centric design. The result is to transform data into hyper-personalised insights and experiences for customers. Under Theunis’s lead, the bank has successfully transformed how it operates, be it online or offline.

Naturally, digital and data sit at the heart of the change. The drive to ensure that digital and data are core to how the bank operates comes from the very top of the bank. Indeed, from the CEO, down to the C-suite, divisional managers and the rest of the workforce, there has been a strong digital-first culture at DBS for the past decade or more.

The result is that DBS can go to market with a marketing campaign centred on a promise that the bank is focussed on customer needs. Specifically, an ability to assure customers that when they engage with the bank, they can look forward to relevant conversations, done as efficiently as possible, so they can spend more time on other things in their life that matter.

DBS: innovation core to the bank’s success

Back in April 2014, news of DBS’ appointment of Neal Cross as managing director and chief innovation officer of its technology and operations team was noted with interest by the banking press but not, in hindsight, with the level of fanfare the news merited.

At the time, the bank press release related that Cross would be responsible for DBS’ agenda across its key axes of growth, namely, Greater China, Southeast Asia and South Asia.

Working alongside internal stakeholders and external collaborators, Cross would chart a next-phase roadmap for DBS to enhance customer experience and engage the bank’s customers in the digital landscape.

Neal, a strong champion of innovation in the financial services space, quickly gained a worldwide reputation as the most disruptive, talismanic and charismatic chief innovation officer.

In his five years in the role, Cross catalysed the bank’s innovation agenda. If you could secure Neal Cross for a fireside chat on the conference circuit, as the writer had the pleasure to do on a couple of occasions, one knew that it would be a thoroughly enjoyable and well-attended session.

Award after awards followed for Cross on a personal basis and for the bank itself.

For example, in June 2020, DBS scooped the top award as best global retail bank at the 35th annual RBI Global awards. In total, DBS collected six awards on the evening with other awards recognising the success of the bank’s digital innovation and multichannel strength with the award for best branch strategy and best digital strategy.

DBS also collected the awards for best payment innovation, best service innovation and most disruptive innovation.

The DBS brand promise: ‘Live more, bank less’

To this day, the legacy of the bank’s phenomenal success lives on. It is evident even in the bank’s advertising via its “Live more, Bank less” brand promise.

For example, its award-winning mini-series, Sparks, entrenches the bank’s purpose to make banking joyful and help its customers and the community to live more fulfilled. Viewers learn about what it’s like working at DBS and how it is more like a technology company, less like a conventional bank, along with its agile start-up culture that promotes innovation and collaboration, resulting in transformative digital solutions that delight customers.

DBS Digital transformation strategy

As part of its digital transformation journey which started in 2014, DBS has made significant investments to re-architect its technology stack to be cloud native. Today, 99% of its applications are either cloud-native or cloud-enabled.

In 2018, DBS established the Platform Operating Model to combine people across geographies and functions to collaborate on 33 platforms, enabling them to share data, resources, and reusable assets across the bank. In the Consumer Banking Group that same year, the teams built an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered engine to provide self-service digital options to customers. Its Risk Platform boasts digitalised and simplified end-to-end credit processing using on-demand cloud-based design, analytics, and machine learning.

DBS’ cloud capabilities have given it the compute power to industrialise the use of AI/ML across the enterprise. It has for instance scaled its foray into intelligent banking – a holistic approach which combines predictive analytics, AI/ML and customer-centric design to convert data into hyper-personalised “nudges” that guide customers in making more informed banking and investment decisions.

Deepening customer focus through digitalisation

As mentioned earlier, DBS is utilising technologies such as big data, AI, and data analytics to meet customers’ digital expectations and enhance customer experiences.

Theunis shared that her foremost priority was to personalise experiences for customers. “All customers, whether in retail or private banking, have a personalised navigation journey on our digital platforms. They also receive personalised, relevant, and intuitive nudges – be it about their everyday banking, financial planning, investments, or protection needs – which aim to help them to manage their finances better and more effortlessly.”

The bank also embeds digital and data in its offline business, to ensure that its customers receive consistent advice regardless of the touchpoint. For example, its relationship managers are equipped with data-driven conversation pointers (or what Theunis calls ‘Next Best Conversation’) to enhance discussions that require more complex advice.

Other examples of the bank’s focus on enhancing customer journeys include how it introduced instant account opening, one-click processing, automated transactions, and e-statements, in order to digitise its operations and eliminate paper-based documents. To enhance customer engagement, DBS is using digital tools and chatbots to assist customers with their everyday banking needs.

It is also leveraging digital tools and predictive analytics, combined with a continuous monitoring approach, to perform risk assessments and provide better risk management insights to its corporate clientele.

Tapping into blockchain, AI, and ML technologies to transform customers’ experiences

In 2020, the bank set up the DBS Digital Exchange (DDEx) with the aim of enabling institutional and accredited investors to tap into a fully integrated tokenisation, trading and custody ecosystem for digital assets. This offering was later further enhanced as the bank moved to avail self-directed crypto trading for wealth clients who are accredited investors via its DBS digibank app, so they can trade independently at their convenience.

As technology continues to emerge and evolve, DBS also plans to deepen its expertise in areas such as AI-enabled machine learning, conversational platforms, and augmented and virtual reality, among others.

Accelerator Programmes and Innovation Centres

Social Alpha collaboration

In 2019, DBS India collaborated with incubator Social Alpha to launch the DBS-Social Alpha Social Entrepreneurship program, which offers training and mentorship to technology startups and social enterprises focusing on healthcare, financial services, and the environment. The programme provided funding of INR10m million ($140,000), with DBS mentoring three ventures over an 18-month period.

DBS Asia X (DAX) Introduced in 2016 in Singapore, DAX is an innovation facility that helps DBS employees collaborate with fintechs. DAX provides participants with project pods and co-working spaces to connect with each other. It broadens DBS’s access to the fintech community, develops its start-up mindset, and accelerates its digital transformation strategy. DAX also houses an auditorium for conferences, hackathons, community workshops, and other digital innovation programmes.

Technology initiatives – highlights include

Digital Exchange

In 2021, DBS launched the DBS Digital Exchange (DDEx), a members-only exchange which provides corporate and institutional investors, accredited investors, and family offices who bank with DBS, a robust and regulated platform to tap into the growing digital asset economy.


In 2021, DBS, JP Morgan and Temasek established Partior, a blockchain-based cross-border clearing and settlement provider, by enabling more efficient digital clearing and settlement solutions across the banking industry.

Climate Impact X

DBS partnered Singapore Exchange, Standard Chartered and Temasek to set up Climate Impact X (CIX) to democratise corporate access to high-quality carbon credits, offset their unavoidable carbon emissions and up the ante on efforts to scale global voluntary carbon markets.

FIX Marketplace

To propel efforts to create more efficient capital markets, DBS launched Fixed Income Execution (FIX) Marketplace, Asia’s first fully digital and automated fixed income execution platform. On FIX Marketplace, issuers can originate their own issuances and connect with investors directly.

Intelligent Banking

In 2020, DBS introduced its Intelligent Banking capabilities, which combine predictive analytics, AI/ML technologies, and customer-centric design to transform data into hyper-personalised, intuitive, and unintrusive insights for customers. The aim is to guide and empower customers to better navigate their finances, as well as capture opportunities in a timely and informed manner.

NAV Planner

In 2020, DBS launched NAV Planner – an industry-first, feature-rich digital advisory solution leveraging big data and technology – that enables customers to independently plan and monitor their financial goals by guiding them through insights and recommendations tailored to their life stages and financial circumstances. The next year, NAV Planner was fortified with a new AI-powered digital investment advisory feature which assesses individuals’ investment profiles and gives tailored suggestions. DBS also streamlined processes to create a more seamless journey for users, including combining the Customer Knowledge Assessment (CKA) and Customer Account Review (CAR) assessments that customers must pass before being allowed to invest in more advanced products.

RBI editor Douglas Blakey speaks with Evy Theunis, head of Digital Assets as part of DBS’ Financial Institutions Group