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Bank of Singapore invests in tech to “cope” with swelling AUM, transaction volumes

Eddy Tai, Bank of Singapore
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Bank of Singapore’s assets under management (AUM) and transaction volumes jumped by 12.6% and 60% respectively in the first half of the year. Eddy Tai, the Singaporean private bank’s global head of operations and technology, tells Asian Private Banker about the bank’s investments in its core platforms, which are being made to handle its “tremendous growth” and to raise efficiencies.

Asian Private Banker: In the first six months of the year, Bank of Singapore’s AUM grew to US$89 billion and transactional volumes were up by 60%. Why has the bank turned to technology, rather than increasing its headcount, to keep up with this growth?

Eddy Tai: You cannot keep hiring when the business is growing at this pace. Our approach is to invest in technology that will support our staff dealing with higher volumes and to continue to maintain a good service level to our clients.

APB: How has technology helped with managing workflow?

ET: On the transaction side, we have automated our processes so that 70% of transactions can be settled without any human intervention.

APB: Can you give us an insight into the different tech projects you have worked on over the past six months?

ET: We just finished a pilot phase of a robotic process automation (RPA) project which involves testing it in our client onboarding processes. We are happy with the pilot and have set up an RPA competency centre to support more process automation.

And, at the start of the year, we rolled out Bank of Singapore’s first digital app for clients. The first phase included access to all Singapore-based clients. We plan to roll it out to our Hong Kong-booked clients in October and add functionalities like trading capabilities in the future.

APB: How do you plan to measure the success of these projects?

ET: With RPA technology, we see the biggest benefit being the elimination of manual work. [With regards to the app rollout] the adoption rate thus far has been quite high.

APB: Have any projects come about as a result of Bank of Singapore’s integration with Barclays’ wealth business in Hong Kong and Singapore last November?

ET: Yes, there were a number of key learnings from our acquisition with Barclays. We realised that our platform was strong on the managed investments side but for FX margin trading, for example, the Barclays platform was stronger. These were important takeaways to ensure that the clients that were at Barclays receive the same high standard of service at Bank of Singapore. We have since been working on how to close the gap on our platform.

APB: Was closing the gap between Bank of Singapore and Barclays’ platforms the biggest challenge during the integration process?

ET: The biggest challenge from the acquisition was the change in management as we were dealing with complexities of policy to processes to systems changes for a large population of staff in a short time.

However, in addition to completing the integration while executing on a number of tech projects in six to seven months, we were also happy to say that the data migration was smooth. This is no simple feat. We ran at least four to five dress rehearsals with scrambled data that provided us comfort that we would not have data migration-related problems.

APB: Indeed, many private banks have faced massive delays when carrying out hefty tech projects, from streamlining their core platforms to revamping them. What do you believe was key to ensuring the successful execution of multiple tech projects?

ET: The success of carrying out such sizeable tech projects can be attributed to our size. We are in an AUM sweet spot. We have enough scale to cope with changes but are not too big to be bogged down with bureaucracy. We also have a three-hub approach – Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai – that will continue to allow us to be grounded even as our assets swell.

We also have the advantage of being a Singapore-headquartered private bank. This can expedite decision-making processes.

APB: There are a number of buzzwords sweeping through the tech world. One is artificial intelligence. Is Bank of Singapore doing anything in this space?

ET: At the moment, we are working to explore ways [of] using AI when onboarding a client to support tasks like name screening, which are very manual intensive, and [this] is a priority for us. For example, a tool that can read information and news about a prospective client by scrapping information that is both proprietary and public will help us understand a client. This will also improve client service as KYC onboarding can be reduced.

APB: The other buzzword is robo advice, or automated advice.

ET: On automated advice, we believe that the model that will succeed is one that combines automation, product and the RM advisor, well i.e. the bionic advisor. This is something we are working on too.

APB: Bank of Singapore announced recently that it is piloting a number of fintech projects. What’s the latest on your fintech strategy?

ET: When it comes to the fintech community, we are very active. We are currently piloting a number of solutions including BondIT. We believe that the merits of the innovation lab strategy are that it allows you to keep track of which of Gartner’s [a research firm] five stages of maturity the various fintechs are in. We do not need to be a trendsetter all the time.

APB: And lastly, a question I have been asking many private banks is whether the business process outsourcing (BPO) strategy has any legs in Asia. What’s your view on this?

ET: Currently, the BPO proposition is not popular in Asia. This is evident from the number of smaller players opting to leave the market [rather] than outsource their back offices to a BPO centre. Furthermore, the bank-to-bank service is not a focus of ours as we are not in the scale game. We are very clear that we are in the relationship model business, not the platform or distribution one.

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