An interview with Shefali Gupta


DBS Bank’s Senior Vice President of the DBS Improvement Program sheds light on the importance of building a strong culture of innovation.

FST Media: How successful has DBS’ Improvement Program been to date?

Gupta: The DBS Improvement Program has been underway since 2009. Over the last few years, we have made significant progress but if you ask any of the senior executive team, they would agree that it is an ongoing journey and we still have a lot of work to do.

The initial focus for us was on improving efficiency. In the first four years of the program, a total of 203 projects were completed, which eliminated some 240 million hours of customer waiting time. 

More recently we have shifted towards looking at the customer journey and the customers’ experience with us from start to end. We set up a Customer Experience Council in 2010. Since then we have partnered with the LUMA Institute to incorporate human-centred design (HCD) thinking into how we design and manage customer journeys; that informs a lot of our thinking today. We now have a HCD lab in Singapore where employees can spend time with coaches to design and test concepts before a new version is rolled out.

We also adopted Lean IT with the aim of shortening the time taken to come up with customer solutions and improve the customer experience. These are just some of the initiatives we have put in place. In reality, no single initiative is going to radically change an organisation as large as DBS with over 21,000 employees. It is about continually challenging the way we do things.

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

Gupta: DBS is entering into an exciting period and there are several things we want to do internally and externally. For example, we want to focus on improving the customer experience through an outside-in way of thinking. This way, we understand the jobs that our customers are trying to get done, whenever they perform a banking or financial transaction, and can better provide our services in this journey.

As an organisation, we also want focus on building a strong culture of innovation among our employees. To achieve this, we have held events like the Talent Hackathon in April last year, where staff were able to work with external start-ups and learn from experts outside of DBS. We believe that through such collaborations, we can instill a sense of purpose in our employees and enable them to perform to their best potential within a fun environment. 

Thirdly, we want to build collaborative relationships among different teams in the bank because we believe that we can achieve good things when everyone is working harmoniously together and moving in the same direction. 

FST Media: How will DBS Bank harness the power of data analytics to meet the rising demands of millennial customers?

Gupta: We believe that analytics is a huge opportunity and we are only just scratching the surface of what can be achieved. If you look at ATMs for example, in Singapore we have some of the busiest ATMs in the world with approximately 20,000 cycles a month versus 2,000 for the average ATM in the United States. In partnership with SAS and by drawing on their business analytics, we have been able to reduce that number substantially by using predictive analytics. 

However, data analytics is not just about meeting the demands of millennial customers. In our wealth management business, we are currently deploying IBM Watson. As such, we are the first bank in Asia to implement cognitive computing to drive actionable insights in wealth management. We firmly believe that the transformation that is currently taking place is from transaction-processing to information and knowledge, which goes back to where the customer is in their journey and what we can do to offer them a better experience.

FST Media: In your view, what will be the secret ingredient to creating seamless customer experiences in 2020? 

Gupta: The key for us has been to stop thinking about banking as a series of transactions and to think about what the customer is trying to achieve. That means everything that we do at the moment and what we think will be key to remaining relevant to our customers today, this year and in four years’ time.

FST Media: How do you define success?

Gupta: Obviously we have very clear KPIs and metrics, including in areas such as innovation. Our overarching mission is to make banking joyful for our customers. We regard success as anything that takes us closer to that objective. 

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

Gupta: We are encouraging our team to think much more like startups such as through lean methodology and human-centred design. Everything that we do, from top to bottom, we benchmark against the customer journey and employees are encouraged to run with ideas, test frequently, pivot and not to be afraid of failure. 

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

Gupta: A lot of what I do at DBS centres around helping my colleagues become more customer-centric in the way they think and act, so I will be pleased to be remembered for that. 

Personally, I am also a firm believer in the importance of reaping the benefits from the many good ideas and proposals generated during meetings and other discussions. To do that, I take it upon myself to ensure that ideas are turned into well thought-out plans that are executed properly end-to-end. I see it as my responsibility to help DBS become more efficient by executing what needs to be done, both in an engaging and energetic manner.