An interview with Steve Monaghan


Sainsbury: What are your priorities for the next 12-18 months?

Monaghan: My biggest priority is teamwork and execution. Year in year out it is always the same priority. Knowing what to do is intuitive in innovation. The challenge is always aligning the team behind the objective, one step at a time. In innovation it is easy to think about nirvana, but it’s another to take the first step to get there.

Sainsbury: Where do you see the greatest opportunities for bringing innovation into financial services?

Monaghan: The greatest innovation opportunity in financial services is simplicity. We are an industry invested in complexity. We need to make it easy for our customers to connect in commerce. Whether acting on impulse in consumer purchase or optimising capital flows in the corporate context, our objective must be to reduce customer effort and maximise insight.

Sainsbury: Where do you look for innovation outside of financial services for possible application in banking?

Monaghan: The first place I look for innovation is to understand customer behaviour and how it is changing. Then I look at technology, process and tools to comprehend the drivers of behavioural change. Basically, it’s about how value chains come together with developments in technology.  There are some great role models out there such as Amazon as examples of companies that are transforming information into insight and then into action.

Sainsbury: What is the ‘holy grail’ that technology and innovation are yet to deliver in financial services?

Monaghan: The holy grail is to take the inherent intellectual capital of banking and invest it in our customers where it is most productive and has the opportunity to yield the greatest returns.  Big data, intelligence and connectivity are helping unlock that potential. Case in point; at DBS we have identified $2.7 trillion in underutilised corporate capital in our key Asian markets. We think there is an enormous opportunity to help our customers unlock that capital and put it to work.

Sainsbury: What advice would you offer to a young executive looking to step into a global technology role?

Monaghan: My advice for young executives is three simple things. Firstly, they need to focus on a customer. Secondly, nothing beats a great team, and finally, executives should invest in ‘why’ before they rush to ‘what.’

If the customer loves what you do, you will love what you do and you will achieve great things.

Sainsbury: How do you manage the stresses associated with your role?

Monaghan: Love what you do and stress is inherently minimised.  My biggest stress is not getting things done.  So to ensure things get done, I take a multipronged approach to execution.  I am supported by a great team and great partner teams within the organisation.  It’s a bit like an orchestra where domain expertise merges to create a great experience for the customer.

Sainsbury: What do you consider to be some of the greatest achievements of your career to date?

Monaghan: My greatest achievement to date was making the impossible possible through great teamwork.  In the turnaround of a Japanese bank, we set a goal that staff initially scoffed at. They didn’t believe in their customers. They didn’t believe in their own capability. But in a very short period of time, the team came together and ended up achieving double the goal and growing our deposit base by 25 per cent in six months. It taught me the primary limits in life are limits we place on ourselves. We can overcome those limits through recognising capabilities supporting them with great teamwork. Simply put, by finding reasons to succeed rather than reasons not to move.

Sainsbury: With respect to career development, what is the best advice you ever received?

Monaghan: Focus on the customer.  Have the courage to make mistakes and the humility to quickly recognise and correct them.

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

Monaghan: I have always been deeply moved by those who strive for change. For children who grow up in abusive families who show nothing but love for their own children. To those who are bullied who rise above to show only kindness. To those who work tirelessly to build a better world for others. In a world where it is all too easy to follow a destructive cycle, I can but admire those who choose the wiser path.

In my own humble way, I seek to change the status quo which sees the poorest pay the most for financial services. Through financial literacy and changing the cost and revenue dynamics of financial services, I seek to redress some of these inequalities and create new opportunities for the least fortunate in our society.