Founded just one decade ago, Bank of Singapore is less weighed down by legacy systems than its peers, allowing it to be relatively nimble and flexible as it establishes and develops its technological capabilities. Asian Private Banker sits down with Eddy Tai, global head of operations and technology at Bank of Singapore, to discuss the firm’s Group Wealth Platform, other tech projects in the pipeline, as well as the importance of agility and creating a supportive environment for tech talent.
Eddy, Bank of Singapore is relatively young and thus ‘free’ from cumbersome legacy systems that tend to weigh down older financial institutions. How has this contributed to the bank’s digital journey thus far?
Bank of Singapore inherited the core platform from ING Asia Private Bank when OCBC Bank acquired it in 2010. We took a different approach to enhancing the core system. In 2015, we started the development of our digital channels in tandem with upgrades to our core banking system to prevent any delays in pushing forward with our digital journey.
We benefitted from this approach as it gave us a head start in our digital transformation, to build up our in-house development capability and implement an agile way of working faster. When the core banking system became more mature as an integrated product in 2017, we then embarked on a major programme to rebuild our digital core based on the latest standards. This time around, the rebuild was not only for the private banking business of Bank of Singapore but also for the growing wealth management business across the OCBC Group. Looking back, this approach allowed us a faster time to market for clients as well as a cost-efficient rebuild of our digital core.
From our understanding, OCBC Group is in the midst of a project that will streamline the bank’s wealth management platform.
Yes, we are currently working on a major programme called the Group Wealth Platform, which began with Bank of Singapore. It will later be extended to support OCBC’s growth for its premier client business.
We are working towards having the Group Wealth Platform ready for Bank of Singapore by the end of this year.
We are currently working on a major programme called the Group Wealth Platform, which began with Bank of Singapore.
What benefits does the bank hope to gain from the new system?
We are not replacing our core banking system, but are instead doing a major upgrade — or, more accurately, a ‘rebuild’ from the ground up — for a robust, multi-company digital core. When we do open up in other geographies, we can simply set up and have it up and running within three-to-six months. All core functionalities such as booking and settlements will still be done in Singapore.
For locations that have a unique local reporting requirement, such as Luxembourg, we leverage local partners who are experts at compliance and integrate their reporting solutions with our core system.
Last November, Thomas Cherian, head of digital channels, global operations and technology, said Bank of Singapore is pumping S$200 million into tech. Where specifically is this injection going?
Our main project is to establish the Group Wealth Platform, which involves seven projects — including major improvements to our digital channels, new RM front-end tools, online trading, improvements in product execution and STP, and the rebuild of our digital core. We also have another tranche of BoS-specific projects which predominantly cover risk and regulatory-related projects, such as MAS 610.
Another interesting area we’re looking at is regtech. We deal with a lot of transactions, and AI and technology help us screen large amounts of data and identify if there are any potential fraud incidents or patterns that are out of the ordinary.
We also kicked off a strategic initiative which we call ‘Bank 4.0’. We envision a future where our system will be extended to our partners to enable a new platform business model to integrate into a wider ecosystem. Our architecture will be able to extensively adopt APIs, open APIs, and migrate to a micro-service architecture for scalability and agility. We have also established a multi-cloud strategy to deploy all our new applications to the cloud. Existing applications will also be migrated progressively in phases. We can also offer software as a service (SaaS) to our key partners.
Last but definitely not least, we are looking at setting up projects to continuously strengthen our cyber defence capabilities.
We also kicked off a strategic initiative which we call ‘Bank 4.0’. We envision a future where our system will be extended to our partners to enable a new platform business model to integrate into a wider ecosystem.
How is Bank of Singapore’s tech department able to maintain efficiency and work productively across a number of projects?
Being agile and nimble is very important to us. We run a lean organisation and are very focused. The IT organisation in BoS focuses on change and transformation, and only for domains specific to private banking and wealth management where we can make a difference. We leverage on the OCBC Group for enterprise-wide applications and benefit from the scale of the Group in running our underlying technology infrastructure. When it comes to new technologies, we actively engage fintech companies to give us a head start in specific areas.
How is the digital team arranged and supported in order to promote agility?
We started our agile journey two years ago with the setting up of six scrum teams when we began developing our digital channel applications. Each team has between eight-to-ten staff and follows the two-pizza approach, which relies on smaller teams of competent staff working closely together and efficiently.
We also identified and established the important roles of product owners in developing a vision for the product, roadmap, and backlog requirements. They work closely with clients to get their feedback and input which is translated into direct input for our development teams. Through this agile transformation, we are now able to manage a new product release every two weeks, compared to every three-to-six months previously. We are extending our success in the agile method of working to other areas such as our new advisory process.
One key enabler in our agile method of working has been the implementation of our DevOps setup. It is not just about implementing tools to automate our development process for continuous integration and continuous delivery but changes how development and IT operations collaborate with one another. We now have DevOps setups in place in both our front and back offices, from channel applications to our core banking system. The capability to do daily builds, deploy and test automation is critical to our agile way of working.
Much of the bank’s digital success relies on those behind the tech. How do you go about recruiting the right people for the job?
One of the things we have learned as we grow bigger is we cannot just count on hiring very experienced professionals in the market. We can develop our internal staff, and we also bring in fresh graduates to train and develop them early. This is why we started our Technology Associate programme this year.
Many talented tech people want to make an impact and given that Bank of Singapore is a young, fast-growing company, there are many challenges that come with the business. This is how I approach attracting talent: through pitching to them opportunities to contribute, learn, and make a difference.
We strive to create an environment for talent to do their best — we do not want to have a bureaucratic environment where they cannot utilise their talents optimally. We also want talent that is interested in doing meaningful and exciting work for the bank. We don’t want to bring in people who think that their job will just involve getting external vendors to do things.
We strive to create an environment for talent to do their best — we do not want to have a bureaucratic environment where they cannot utilise their talents optimally.