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Group Head of Consumer Bank & Wealth Management at DBS Bank, Sim S. Lim, speaks on the post-pandemic economic recovery, digital transformation, sustainability and the importance of the Singapore-Japan partnership.

Bridges: What impact did the pandemic have on the Singaporean economy and DBS?

Sim S. Lim, Group Head of Consumer Bank & Wealth Management DBS | © DBS
Sim S. Lim, Group Head of Consumer Bank & Wealth Management, DBS | © DBS

Lim: The pandemic has impacted every single country in the world and Singapore is no exception. However, Singapore continues to make good progress on its economic normalization, bolstered in part by the government’s transparency and tenacity in tackling the pandemic. Singapore once again shines as a safe haven at times of rising uncertainty.

As the nation’s leading bank, and armed with our deep understanding of Asia’s business dynamics, regulations and cultural nuances, as well as our extensive Asian insights, connectivity and world-class digital capabilities, DBS stands well positioned to tap into this trend of robust growth.

DBS was born from the mission to develop Singapore and this sense of purpose continues to be embedded in our DNA today. DBS was a key partner in the nation’s public-private Emerging Stronger Together taskforce, which was formed in May 2020 to explore and build the best path with which to help Singapore prosper and emerge from the pandemic stronger and well positioned for the future.

In line with our ongoing support for social enterprises, which are companies with dual bottom-lines of profit and impact, we deepened our support for the sector with a slew of initiatives, including working capital loans at preferential interest rates, grant offerings, access to business and digital transformation courses, and a business resource guide on how to navigate COVID-19 challenges. We also committed ourselves to not only protecting the livelihoods of our workforce, but also hired over 2,000 people, specifically young graduates fresh out of the university and seeking jobs, at a time when there was a dearth of job opportunities.

We also sought to do right by the communities in which we live and work. We launched a 10.5 million Singapore dollar Stronger Together fund to help hard-hit communities across the region, and continue to aid Singapore and our neighboring countries in the battle against COVID-19. With the support of the Singapore High Commission in India and the Indian High Commission based in Singapore, DBS imported three cryogenic oxygen tanks, each with a capacity of approximately 20,000 liters, to support the ongoing relief efforts in India. More recently, DBS donated 1,000 oxygen concentrators to Indonesia to help treat patients with respiratory conditions.

How do you see the post-pandemic recovery progressing and how well positioned is DBS to drive growth in 2021 and beyond?

The pandemic has brought two particular themes to the fore: digitalization and sustainability. Both are key strategic pillars for us.

As a leading player in the digital space, DBS is well-positioned to play the game differently from our peers and step up to help construct the highways of today’s new digital world. We started on our digital transformation journey a decade ago, centered on four pillars:

• Automated banking to enable operations to be performed via “straight-through processing.”

• Augmented banking to power digital capabilities, designed to enhance the  service experience. Examples include DBS’ digiPortfolio and hybrid human-robo investment solution.

• Open banking connecting DBS’ banking services with ecosystem partners.

• Intelligent banking.

Over the years, we’ve established a strong footing in the first three, and are now focused on doubling down on our intelligent banking capabilities. These harness advanced technologies such as predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning to transform data into hyperpersonalized, relevant and intuitive insights for our customers.

For example, our AI-powered financial and retirement planning tool DBS NAV Planner helps customers to make more informed decisions about their money in an insightful, actionable, yet simple way. For our wealth customers, we have rolled out a range of industry-first “smart triggers” that seek to empower them to make holistic investment decisions and capture timely opportunistic investments.

We continually challenge ourselves to stay ahead of change via innovation and self-disruption. For instance, amid growing interest in the crypto front, we launched DBS Digital Exchange last year, an ecosystem for digital assets that also provides security via robust due diligence, safekeeping and custodial services. We have also built on this to roll out Asia’s first bank-backed trust solution for cryptocurrencies for our private banking clients, so they can now integrate crypto into their wealth succession plans.

As a purpose-driven bank, we believe we have a responsibility to do right not only by our clients, staff and shareholders, but also toward society. We stand committed to further entrenching our position as Asia’s industry leader in sustainability, which is a means to not only do good, but also do well. Our approach to sustainability is focused on three areas: responsible banking, responsible business practices and creating social impact.

How is DBS contributing to the ongoing economic partnership between Singapore and Japan?

A strong and prosperous Japan is good for the entire Asian region. Japanese companies are looking at diversifying and venturing into opportunities abroad including Southeast Asia, and Singapore remains an attractive destination, given its position as a lighthouse to Asia’s opportunities. As a leading bank that is synonymous with Singapore and armed with extensive Asian insights and connections, DBS stands well positioned to partner these companies on their journey.

We also see potential opportunities to collaborate with Japan’s companies in the fintech space. Just last year, we partnered with Seven Bank on an initiative to avail our digital remittance services and application programming interface for their use.

What are some of your fondest memories of working in Japan and with the Japanese?

Japan holds a special place in my heart. The three tipping points in my life all occurred in Japan: I had a scholarship to study in Japan; I met my spouse there and we now have two kids; and the first big break in my career was given to me by my Japanese boss while I was in Tokyo. These encounters and experiences shaped me into the person I am today, and I feel nothing but gratitude for them.

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