An interview with Susan Hwee


UOB’s Managing Director and Head of Group Technology and Operations sheds light on the bank’s plans to further increase the adoption of contactless payments.

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

Hwee: Over the last five years, our focus has been on integrating our regional network through a common technology platform that can support our regional ambitions. We have completed this and now we are able to offer our customers a seamless intra-regional banking experience, as well as access to a wider range of products and services. For example, we have extended the convenience of UOB Personal Internet Banking and UOB Mobile Banking, which were first developed in Singapore, to retail customers in Thailand and China. 

In the next 18 months, we will be focusing on improving efficiency by digitising our internal processes. We will also be analysing big data in order to understand our customers better, and integrating digital technology into our products and services, to make banking faster and easier for them. 

Cyber security continues to be a key priority for us. While digital technology brings about greater convenience and connectivity, it has also created a whole new set of cyber challenges for the industry. We will continue to invest in strengthening our banking systems and processes, to ensure the security of our customers’ data and online banking transactions. 

FST Media: How do you see cloud adoption shaping up in financial services over the next five years?

Hwee: In the financial services industry, it is essential to ensure customer data privacy. This means banks are likely to adopt private clouds for storing sensitive customer-related data, while using public clouds for their other computing needs. I believe there is potential for cloud computing to grow in popularity, as it lowers IT costs and is a more efficient way to maximise the use of computing power. 

FST Media: What will banking look like in 2020?

Hwee: The banking industry will be very different with the entry of more non-bank players. Payments is an area which is likely to undergo significant change, with many digital disruptors already experimenting with electronic and mobile payments. The proliferation of crowd-funding also means that borrowers will have more alternatives to simply taking up bank loans. 

Just as internet banking has impacted traditional branch banking, mobile banking will change online banking in the future. In Singapore, the adoption of mobile banking has grown rapidly, fuelled by the popularity of smartphones. Currently, two million transactions are conducted via UOB Mobile Banking application each month. This means that more than twenty per cent of all funds transfer and sixteen per cent of bill payment transactions are conducted via mobile banking. The growth potential of mobile banking is huge and we will be making investments in mobile services to better serve our customers.

FST Media: How will the digital transformation of banks impact on the overall customer journey?

Hwee: Digital technology is enabling banks to simplify their banking processes, manage their costs and risks better, and introduce new services. The digital transformation of banks will also ensure that customers enjoy seamless service any time and anywhere. 

We believe in using technology to deliver a consistent and distinct UOB experience for our customers, when and wherever they bank with us. For instance, our customers can now use any UOB ATM in our regional network to do their banking, without being charged an overseas transaction fee. We are also looking at how we can use technology to make the banking experience more personal to each customer. For example, the use of big data analytics will allow banks to harness information about the customer, to achieve true customer-centricity and relevance. Together with the digitalisation of internal processes, banks will be able to provide simple and customised banking solutions to customers, as well as to tailor communications to every individual.

FST Media: How will UOB’s ‘Personal Internet Banking’ website and the ‘UOB Mobile’ app deliver a personalised customer experience?

Hwee: Customisation is critical. Currently, we have a Smart Click feature which allows our online banking customers to perform multiple bill payments or fund transfers in one go. Other banks provide only single bill payments or fund transfers. Whenever a customer needs to perform these transactions, all they need to do is to tick the corresponding boxes for each payment and enter the amount needed. This reduces the amount of time needed and clicks taken. We have received very good customer feedback on this feature. 

For mobile banking, we continue to study how people use their mobile phones. In 2011, we were the first in Singapore to offer the Mobile Cash feature, where our customers could transfer funds instantly via their mobile phones, and recipients could withdraw the money from any UOB ATM by using a one-time password. We plan to broaden the scope of services available on our mobile app and will launch new services in the future. 

FST Media: What are your plans to further increase the adoption of contactless payments at UOB?

Hwee: UOB has been helping to lead Singapore’s adoption of contactless cards payments. Since last year, all newly-issued UOB Visa credit and debit cards have contactless payment functionality. This includes our UOB Visa Infinite Card which is the first high-end card in Singapore using Visa payWave for such payments. As a result, we have seen more than a three-fold increase in contactless payments from April 2013 to April 2014.

Based on our customer research, we found that Singaporeans are using contactless card payments to make smaller, everyday purchases, such as groceries, dining and pharmacy items. To cater to this growing demand, we are increasing our contactless card payment acceptance points in Singapore. 

With the proliferation of smart phones in Singapore, we are also looking into developing contactless payments via mobile phones, for the customers’ convenience. 

FST Media: What role will data analytics play in delivering a seamless customer journey?

Hwee: The use of data analytics allows banks to gain insights into customer buying behaviour. Advanced data analytics help to evaluate cross-selling opportunities and will reshape the customer journey. From the point of engagement to the distribution and delivery of products and services, data analytics helps at every step of the way, to anticipate and address our customers’ needs. 
FST Media: With respect to career development, what is the greatest advice you have ever received?

Hwee: The best career advice I have ever received is: “Always look for challenges, go the extra mile and push the boundaries.” 

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

Hwee: Besides building an efficient and sustainable technology infrastructure for the Bank, I would like to harness technology to create an inclusive society. By this I mean technology can be used to generate meaningful employment for an untapped talent pool, such that we can draw on a larger labour pool. We started exploring this concept in mid-2013, to provide sustainable employment to individuals with autism. It has been a learning journey to see how we can re-engineer and match their work processes with technology. Today, they are a small but integral and growing part of our work force.