With digitisation on the agenda for many corporates around the world, banks are designing new and innovative solutions in order to meet the changing needs of their clients. DBS is a bank that is forging ahead in this regard by not only offering cutting-edge digital solutions, but also by creating a digital philosophy that runs through the core of the bank. In this interview John Laurens, Head of Global Transaction Services at DBS, an industry leader with over 30 years of banking experience, talks to Treasury Today about DBS’ achievements in this space to date and how they plan to remain at the forefront of transaction banking in Asia.
Head of Global Transaction Services
John Laurens is Head of Global Transaction Services (GTS) for DBS Bank, a position he has held since November 2014. He is responsible for transaction banking business including cash management, trade finance, supply chain financing, and securities and fiduciary services. John has over 30 years of banking experience, including 20 years in the Asia Pacific region.
Before joining DBS, John led HSBC’s Asia Pacific Global Payments and Cash Management business, transforming it into a high growth and high performing franchise that produced $2.2bn revenues in 2013. Prior to his time with HSBC, he was with Citibank Australia where he was Head of Corporate Banking and also held senior transaction banking positions with Citibank, including Regional Head, Global Cash and Trade, Asia-Pacific. Before moving to Asia in 1994, he undertook a variety of roles in Europe covering relationship management, global custody, investment management and marketing.
John is an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Bankers. He served on the board of SWIFT from 2011 to 2014, during which time he chaired its sub-committee overseeing the establishment of SWIFT India. He is recognised as a leader in the transaction banking industry globally.
Digitisation is obviously very important to DBS, why is it so vital for a digital culture to be instilled across the bank?
Embracing the digital world is a strategic imperative for DBS. We have invested in hardware – in addition to the SGD 600m we spend every year, we will invest a further SGD 200m over the next two years – to ensure DBS offers our customers the very latest in digital solutions. But, more importantly, we have also invested in our people. For example, over 400 of our staff have been involved in ‘hackathons’ that expose them to the digital world and give a first-hand experience of what can be achieved with new forms of rapid product development. These initiatives help to foster a culture that is truly digital and customer centred.
Creating a digital culture is a philosophy which runs throughout the bank and espoused by DBS CEO, Piyush Gupta, recognising that ‘people need banking, not banks’ and that the bank of the future will function very differently. Take, for example, the fact that smartphones are becoming ubiquitous – we now walk around with two powerful computers: one in our heads and one in our hands. This has had a fundamental impact on how business is conducted and will continue to shape banking.
What digital solutions have DBS developed recently and how do these help address the requirements of your customers?
In the retail space, DBS has developed a mobile wallet solution, DBS PayLah!, that allows users to initiate funds transfers via a mobile number, eliminating the need to carry physical cash.
For our SME customers, we have pioneered virtual account opening. This reduces the need to visit a branch to open an account, allowing customers to focus their time on running their businesses.
In the transaction banking space, mobile solutions are becoming increasingly important for our clients. We are extremely proud of our award-winning DBS IDEAL 3.0 mobile application. This innovative mobile banking solution delivers information management, transaction initiation and approval on the go, meeting the needs of the modern treasurer.
At DBS, we are constantly exploring how Big Data can be employed and are using an artificial intelligence to develop a platform to predict potential trade fraud for customers. The enhanced levels of risk management this will deliver to clients will be significant.
Working capital management is another space which uses Big Data. We have developed a number of tools, including real time analysis, projections of future cash flows and cash conversion cycle diagnostics. This advisory work has elevated our engagement with customers. Today, DBS acts as a key strategic business partner to customers helping them achieve their commercial objectives.
Looking ahead, we are experimenting with a number of digital initiatives, including the use of blockchain technology in documentary trade and payments. For instance, we are working on a solution that utilises blockchain technology to potentially allow letters of credit and their supporting documents to be exchanged digitally and automatically, bringing the prospect of widespread trade dematerialisation closer. Another project we have in the pipeline exploits the immutability of blockchain created data to confirm the uniqueness of trade transactions, thus safeguarding against duplicate financing.
In some ways, digitisation and the rise of FinTech companies have fragmented the financial services landscape. Should these companies be perceived as challengers or collaborators?
The rise of FinTech companies has not fragmented the financial services industry, but has driven more collaborative and progressive behaviour. These new companies are playing a major role in bringing transaction banking to a new age. The financial services industry should therefore embrace FinTech and the broader trend towards digital banking.
DBS is at the forefront of this trend. For example, we are directly engaged with FinTech start-ups and are sponsors of accelerator programmes – including the largest of its kind in Singapore, Startupbootcamp – which offers innovative start-ups support to develop their businesses, access industry expertise and pitch to the growing FinTech investor community in Singapore.
The future will be digital and this is why we are investing in product development that brings new and innovative solutions to our customers. It’s our focus on the customer that will keep DBS at the forefront of shaping transaction banking in Asia.
From my experience working with these companies as a mentor, they are typically expert in ‘Tech’ but require expertise in ‘Fin’. DBS has played a key role connecting the two, not only by providing subject matter experts, but also by delivering banking services that enable start-ups to connect their products to clearing infrastructures.
How can digitisation help DBS leapfrog the competition and achieve its ambition of becoming the region’s number one bank?
DBS is the largest bank in Singapore and Southeast Asia. To better serve our customers, we employed a human-centred design methodology to design and develop products and services. This process enables DBS to keep ahead of changing market conditions, technical innovation and the resultant emerging needs of our customers. The future will be digital and this is why we are investing in product development that brings new and innovative solutions to our customers. It’s our focus on the customer that will keep DBS at the forefront of shaping transaction banking in Asia.