The rise of the Superhuman Banker

DBS is combining the best of digital technology and human expertise to deliver a superior SME customer journey.

SFF

As technology becomes more pervasive in business, more financial institutions are adopting digital solutions to better serve their SME clients. This trend was accelerated by the pandemic, which compelled banks like DBS to roll out new technology-driven processes to overcome constraints imposed by the crisis. 

These new modes of operating have since become the norm for DBS and heralds a new age of banking that will combine the best of technological innovation with human expertise and nuance to elevate the customer experience. This bold vision was outlined by Gene Wong, Managing Director for SME Banking at DBS Bank, during an Open Mic session at the recently concluded Singapore Fintech Festival 2022. 

“During the pandemic, we had to reengineer our entire loan process. So 100% of all loans were digitally originated, and 100% were fulfilled in some hybrid manner, because we needed to use digital acceptance and remote RM assistance for signing without paper forms. And we continue to use those processes today. It is now the default way for us to process our online loans,” Gene said in his 10-minute presentation titled “Our Superhuman approach in a Digital World”.

DBS SME Banking also developed early warning algorithms using machine learning technology during COVID-19 in anticipation of their clients coming under stress during the crisis. This first digital layer of detection was augmented with RMs engaging with clients which helped to improve the model’s predictiveness.

As a result of these efforts, DBS was able to identify up to 90% of its SME non-performing loans in the past two years; three months in advance of the credit stresses actually occurring. Furthermore, the bank was able to avert the risk for 80% of these loans, valued at around $700 million in total. 

While the use of technology has been a game changer in banking, there is still a need for humans to be involved in the customer journey. “(Technology like AI) is functionally adequate, but it's ultimately contextually misguided and emotionally devoid. But we can't rely on humans too much as well, because it's going to leave us wanting, as our outcomes will never match our ambitions,” he explained. “We’ve realised that we can reach out to so many more underserved customers by combining these two techniques.”

In order to achieve this optimal state, however, DBS has had to “re-architect” its organisation to become more horizontal. This has resulted in people from across different teams – whether in marketing, product or operations - working together to deliver seamless customer journeys. “(We need to do this) because it is a moral imperative for us, an ethical obligation to support the underserved customer.”

These teams have employed data analytics to continuously improve their models and, consequently, the client experience. To facilitate this paradigm shift, DBS is equipping its people with the skills they need to work side-by-side with machines on an ongoing basis.

Even as DBS transforms the way it operates, it is looking ahead to predict how the landscape will evolve, and how the bank can respond to potential changes. “The change in the way people have engaged with money in the last 10 to 15 years has been staggering. We've had self-service banking, digital banking, and now data-driven banking. So the question we ask ourselves is: What will be the next evolution?”

One area that DBS is looking at is the metaverse, the collection of virtual worlds where Gartner predicts 25% of people will spend at least one hour immersed in by 2026. Said Gene: “We don't know this for sure, but at DBS we want to be future proof. Hence, we are pursuing selected initiatives today that can potentially help shape the future of how we interact with our clients.”
 

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