An Interview with Nimish Panchmatia


DBS’ Managing Director and Head of Consumer Banking Operations speaks with FST Media about the role of biometrics and videoconferencing in the future of banking.

FST Media: What are your priorities for the next 12 to 18 months?

Panchmatia: Our first priority is to focus on digital and mobile and see how much of our operations we can digitise. Our second priority is to focus on effortless banking and effortless fulfilment. The outcome of our operations should be to fulfil the customer needs. We want to focus on conducting customer journeys, and this is really about putting ourselves in the shoes of the customer and understanding exactly what the customer needs are and how they would like to be fulfilled. 

It is important to base this on the human-centred design concepts, and one of the big things about human-centred design is to experiment and to learn quickly, either through failure or success.

FST Media: What will be the biggest technology game changer in the banking industry in the year ahead?

Panchmatia: With digital banking becoming a reality, the entire digitisation agenda will definitely be the biggest industry game changer in the year ahead, as well as how much of our organisation’s operations will move away from traditional banking to mobile. This shift obviously has to be technology driven. 

The second key game changer will be the non-banking players, such as Alibaba, Apple, Google. We will need to look closely at what are going to be the implications of ApplePay, what is Alibaba going to do next and what kind of things will encroach upon the banking industry in the next 12 to 18 months. 

FST Media: What is your response to disruptors such as Apple, Google, Alibaba – are they a threat or opportunity for traditional banking institutions?

Panchmatia: Digital disruptors like Apple, Google and Alibaba are both a threat and an opportunity. As a bank, you are complacent if you are not working with them, and you would be complacent if you were not watching what they are doing and preparing your own answers to this.

We have a very clear agenda: we established a unit at our top level around digital banking, so the implications of digital disruption is at the forefront of our strategic planning. We are also working and collaborating with technology companies and other companies in other industries to see how we can best address this disruption.

FST Media: What role will the bank branch play in the future of banking, as mobile dominates?

Panchmatia: Physical bank branches will always be around, but their role will evolve. 15 to 20 years ago, you went to the branch to deposit money and collect money or apply for a mortgage. It was a very different interaction. Today, the branch embodies a sales channel, where customers go for investments and loans, and I think this will continue to evolve.

A key point to consider is how nimble must we be to ensure that, as the customer evolves, we are also evolving the branch to stay on top of these changes in customer demand.  

FST Media: What role will technologies such as biometrics and videoconferencing play in the way that customers bank in the future?

Panchmatia: We are already seeing a lot of video solutions around ATMs and digital facilities emerging. In the United States, for instance, there are a few banks which have begun trialling virtual tellers. Biometrics and videoconferencing will certainly play a part, however what is going to be interesting is how many banking transactions customers will be able to do on video, because video is not very private unless you are locked in a room. Videoconferencing will absolutely have a significant impact on how customers bank in the future, however I believe it will be used for simple queries where we see customers today contact the call centres or visit the branch – these processes could move to video very quickly.

On the biometrics side, I think biometrics will have a huge role to play in the future. This is a very exciting industry particularly with developments in voice biometrics or fingerprints. We are doing quite a lot of work in the voice biometrics area as well as in the finger vein and fingerprint technologies – focusing on trying to understand how we can integrate these technologies and bring them to our customers. 

It is also interesting to see that a lot of regulators around the world are keen on biometrics and they are willing to have these discussions. Authentication in banking is a very important consideration because we need to be able to confirm the identity of the customer we are talking to before we begin discussing account details with them. 

FST Media: How has MBFC Branch delivered value to the business and how will you measure its success? 

Panchmatia: MBFC is different, it is a first for DBS. We brought in the concepts surrounding human-centered design and the customer journey. We are trialling new ideas, we now have iPads, pod seating arrangements and a staff member to meet and greet the customer. These are firsts in banking in Singapore and are key innovations across the Asia Pacific region. 

We measure success of this approach by the feedback we receive from our customers, and this has been very positive. 

FST Media: How do you encourage a culture of innovation in your team?

Panchmatia: The first thing we do is think as the customer: we need to look at what it is that the customer wants, not what we think the customer wants. We want to be nimble, we encourage experimentation and we are not scared of failure – and if we fail, we want to fail fast. What we also do is look at past projects that we have attempted and were unsuccessful. This is important as we try to understand what went wrong, and then go back and try this project again after making some changes. 

We aim to keep up with what is happening in the world, not just in the banking industry, but across all industries. Recently, we won a major award here in Singapore for our use of analytics, which was traditionally applied in the aerospace and manufacturing industry and we incorporated it in financial services. From a banking perspective, that was a very innovative approach. 

The project involved using data analytics to improve the customer experience with ATMs. The outcome over an 18 to 24 month period was that sometimes, ATMs run out of money; and we saw a 90 per cent reduction in this by applying usage patterns and customer profiles. We also saw a 90 per cent reduction in customer complaints, and approximately a 35 per cent increase in efficiency.    

FST Media: What is your most effective customer acquisition channel and why?

Panchmatia: Internet and bank branches are our most effective channels. We are the biggest bank in Singapore with four million customers among a total population of five million in Singapore. Our internet banking is cutting-edge and very user friendly, and it is one of the biggest advantages we have at DBS. 

FST Media: What has been the most influential career advice you have ever received?

Panchmatia: The most influential advice I have received was from our Country CEO, Sim Seng Lim who spoke on the value of truth and logic. There is no free ride when it comes to banking, it is always important to do the right thing for the customer, and be guided by logic and truth, after which success is just the natural outcome. 

FST Media: Every leader has a legacy they wish to be remembered for, what is yours?

Panchmatia: I would like banking operations at DBS to be innovative and nimble enough to address customer needs, and be able to provide a joyful banking experience for whatever the market needs are at the time. Tomorrow’s needs are going to be very different from today’s needs, so as a bank we should be nimble and innovative enough to provide that joyful experience for our customers.