Fresh out of school, Eo Xiangjing was looking for a career that was “constantly stimulating”, in a people-centric environment that provided plenty of learning opportunities. He found the perfect fit in DBS.
Xiangjing, now 29, joined the bank’s accelerated-track Management Associate (MA) programme for high-performing graduates in 2011. What followed was a structured programme of specialised training and functional experience. Three seven-month rotations – at DBS’ Consumer Investments & Insurance Products, Group Strategic Marketing & Communications (GSMC) and Regional Consumer Banking Group divisions – offered him hands-on understanding of banking operations, as well a broader perspective on how the individual departments worked together.
Like other MAs, Xiangjing was given responsibility for challenging projects to prepare him for an eventual leadership role. But guidance was always close at hand. “The greatest part of the programme is the dedicated senior mentor who is always around to offer advice, perspectives and tips – and sometimes coffee too,” Xiangjing quips.
One of his most memorable tasks was to help conceptualise and execute the DBS Marina Regatta, a three-day dragon boat competition at Marina Bay Promenade that marked the bank’s inaugural marquee event. More than 1,000 people from 100 international and local teams took part in the race in May 2012, the culmination of months of preparation by Xiangjing and his team in GSMC. “It was a very intense but rewarding experience,” he says.
Qualifying for the selective two-year MA programme was an intensive process. Xiangjing had to work with fellow candidates to analyse case studies, brainstorm recommendations and present their conclusions. Throughout the process, senior managers assessed each candidate from the sidelines. What gave Xiangjing an edge was “having a clear thought process, good EQ and effective communication skills”, he believes. The MA scheme values diversity, so aspirants from all fields of study are welcome. Possessing unique qualities such as previous overseas exposure, internship stints or a consistent leadership track record also helps to differentiate stand-out applicants, he says.
The experience Xiangjing gained as an MA stood him in good stead for future opportunities. In 2013, he was chosen to participate in the Young Business Ambassador programme and sent for a stint at a partner bank outside of Singapore. This is one of DBS’ initiatives to provide promising young talent with wider exposure to the banking industry, including gaining regional experience. For Xiangjing, this took the form of a 10-week attachment with Shanghai Pudong Development Bank in China – an assignment he welcomed as an adventure to expand his horizons and a chance to brush up on his Chinese. “With Asia as its hinterland, Singapore is well poised to capture the many opportunities in the marketplace today,” Xiangjing says. “DBS is in a unique position as the safest and best Asian bank to ride on the Asian growth story.”
Currently, as part of the Customer Management Team in the Consumer Banking group, Xiangjing works on tailoring the bank’s products and services to different customer segments. The aim is to drive revenue growth by ensuring that customers are satisfied and resources are optimised. Specifically, Xiangjing manages the Young Adults customer segment – a valuable growth area for the bank – through social media and the DBS Remix platform, a concept banking effort designed by and catering to young adults. “This could be anyone who are in their tertiary education and joining the workforce later on,” he says. “As such, we create events, roadshows and campaigns targeting this segment specifically as they move through these life stages and milestones.”
A typical day for Xiangjing might involve rolling out and monitoring campaigns to engage and reward young adults, pairing up with key partners such as tertiary institutions to launch activities and events, and working internally across various products and marketing teams to develop compelling offers. Since joining DBS, he has thrived in the fast-paced learning environment and steep learning curve. “All these exposures and experiences have enriched me tremendously and equipped me for my current role in Consumer Banking,” he says.
After two years as a Relationship Manager at DBS, Ang Shiyuan was ready for a new career challenge. The bank was happy to provide it. Under DBS’ Internal Mobility (IM) programme, Shiyuan was seconded to the SME banking division in DBS China's Beijing branch in 2013. The IM programme, implemented in 2010, aims to nurture leaders from within the organisation by providing employees with diverse learning opportunities through stints in different departments, businesses and even countries.
In Beijing, Shiyuan, 30, was tasked with expanding the bank’s business channels and improving workflow processes. It was a big leap for her, but a welcome change. She was keen on greater exposure to the regional banking landscape, and wanted first-hand knowledge of how DBS operates and competes in other markets.
On a day-to-day basis, Shiyuan monitors market news, writes proposals, attends project meetings and coaches junior bank officers on areas such as credit writing and risk analysis. The last assignment has proven to be particularly demanding. “Credit writing is not an overnight skill,” she says. “It involves a great deal of practice… because each financing transaction, industry and business model varies.” Shiyuan helps the bankers in Beijing identify the risks of each transaction, think of factors that might mitigate the risks, and better articulate their analysis.
The overseas experience has not been without its difficulties. "Personal challenges like living alone, building up an entirely new circle of friends and assimilating into the living and business culture are present," she says. "But I believe the eventual satisfaction is definitely worthwhile.”
For her, part of the attraction of the IM programme was its longer length compared with a typical exchange scheme or internship. “The duration of this IM programme is comfortable enough for me to familiarise myself with the business operations and perform my role well,” she says. It also allows her to build interpersonal relationships strong enough to last even upon her return to Singapore or subsequent trips back to China in the future.
Warm working relationships, along with a focus on learning and development, are two key aspects of DBS’ culture. Among Shiyuan’s most memorable experiences at the bank have been her interactions with senior management such as Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer for Institutional Banking Group Lim Him Chuan, DBS Singapore Country Head Sim S Lim, and POSB Head Derrick Goh. Shiyuan had the chance to meet them during a Talent Conference organised by the bank for employees from different divisions to connect and network. “Hearing from them their experiences and challenges faced, it starts to make you stand in their shoes and think of the issues,” she says.
Collaboration and pro-activeness are also encouraged within the bank. One scheme that promotes these values is the Spot Award, where employees identify co-workers who are going beyond their call of duty and recognise their efforts. Shiyuan sees this as “particularly motivating for staff who go the extra mile to make positive changes”.
To Shiyuan, the best thing about working in DBS is that the organisation understands the needs of its employees. For one thing, it prioritises career progression. “It is a bank that is open to job role rotation,” she explains. “It walks its talk and understands that job and career are two different things.”
Apart from offering new opportunities for exposure, DBS also accommodates employees’ unique requirements. Staff members have the flexibility to work part-time or opt for sabbatical leave to attend to other priorities such as their families, while keeping their options open for an eventual return to a full-time role. “Having a culture such as this is a very positive driver for staff and talent retention,” says Shiyuan.
Like many fresh graduates, Sharon Lim viewed the working world through a bewildering haze. Her apprehension was compounded by the fact that Singapore had just emerged from a recession back then. Young, green and without any work experience, Sharon said she was “willing to take on almost any job”.
But the world had big plans for her. Soon after graduating, Sharon landed a job at DBS Bank’s Finance department handling credit reports. After only half a year, she was asked to join the bank’s coveted Management Associate (MA) programme, which is designed to place top candidates on an accelerated career track.
Now Senior Vice President of Treasury & Markets, Sharon says her entry to the MA programme marked the beginning of exciting career developments. “I was given extensive learning and development opportunities and had to undergo cross-franchise rotations that exposed me to different businesses and allowed me to develop a breadth of knowledge,” she says.
Though she had initially set her sights on an investment banking career, her employers consulted her and together they decided she would have a better career in Treasury & Markets (T&M) after her MA programme. Though this was not what she had planned for, Sharon immersed herself in the work with the help of her mentors and colleagues who gave her the guidance she needed.
Working on the trading floor with little experience, Sharon recalls, was no walk in the park – the stress and long working hours collectively took their toll. Though the going was tough, Sharon kept going. She says: “I realised that the only way to tackle these obstacles was to work harder and take ownership of my role… I seized every opportunity I had to ask questions about the job and the industry.”
Most of what she learnt, Sharon says, was not through formal training, but on the job. “I had to pick up the skills and learn on the job,” she said. “There were risks involved, but I took the plunge and learnt from my mistakes along the way.”
Sharon remembers the turning point of her career clearly, because it coincided with the global financial crisis that plunged world markets into turmoil. She recalls: “When the global financial crisis happened, I had to manage various portfolio risks and explore new investment opportunities all at the same time.”
This, however, gave her the opportunity to shine. Together with her team, Sharon managed to limit losses and chart out a new investment plan that involved a greater degree of risk: a plan that paid off and resulted in goals being met, year after year post-crisis.
She says her success is a result of having earned her bosses’ trust. “It was this trust that motivated me to perform to prove that their faith in me was justified. I always believe that people need the opportunity to be able to step up,” she says.
For those considering a career in banking, Sharon shares that gruelling work hours and intense pressure to perform are realities of the job. However, she says a good attitude can make all the difference: “To build a long-lasting career, one has to be passionate about his/her job and have the determination to learn.
“As my five-year-old daughter would say, the most important part of her Lego building is the foundation. Working in the front office is very much like building with Lego blocks – you need to build the right foundation and everything else will fall into place.”
Three job offers awaited Alfian Sharifuddin when he graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2000: a consulting firm, a tech company, and DBS Bank. To the engineering major, the decision was simple. “I've always been proud to be a Singaporean,” he says. “What greater pride is there than working for the Asian and Singaporean Bank of Choice?”
It was the right call. Alfian rose quickly through DBS’ ranks, becoming a Managing Director in 2014, at the age of 39. The same year, he clinched the prestigious Asian Banker Promising Young Banker award presented to only a handful of the finest bankers across the region under the age of 40.
As the Group Head of Channels, Group Technology, Alfian oversees all the technology aspects of DBS’ consumer banking channels worldwide. These range from Internet and mobile banking to ATM and other touch point platforms – in other words, the future of banking. Among Alfian’s biggest career triumphs was the launch of DBS’ Singapore Internet banking website in 2005, when online banking was just taking off. “Failure was not an option,” he recalls. The website would be used by almost 600,000 customers and would be the bank’s main servicing platform for many of them. With the help of a 50-strong team, Alfian worked on the project for 15 months – including a nerve-wracking 72 hours dealing with teething system issues – and helped pull off a high-profile success, giving him the confidence to take on more and larger responsibilities.
Alfian attributes much of his achievements to the high quality of the DBS talent he works with. As a trainee officer in the technological planning team, Alfian was initially overwhelmed by the complexity of the bank’s technology environment, despite having completed his dissertation in artificial intelligence. His best resource turned out to be his DBS colleagues and bosses, who showed him the ropes and groomed him to excel at his job. “I was very fortunate early on and now to have great bosses who were both my mentor and boss,” he says. He has also benefited from several talent programme initiatives that the bank has launched over the years to equip employees with the necessary skills, so they can take on bigger roles as they advance in their careers.
DBS is extremely focused on hiring and grooming capable individuals, which the bank sees as the core of its progress, Alfian says. “If people select DBS as a place to build their career and they give 120% to the organisation, they can rest assured that DBS would give 120% back by way of opportunities, exposure, training and growth. It’s something we as a company take very seriously.”
A typical workday for Alfian starts at 8am and ends around 7.30pm. Most of it is taken up by meetings, project discussions and workshops, where he and his team discuss topics such as how to efficiently run systems on a scale appropriate to a bank that is the largest in Southeast Asia. In some cases this involves “millions of customers and transactions”, to be dealt with quickly and securely, he says. DBS’ Internet banking website is visited by up to 400,000 customers on a single day and its ATMs process up to 1 million transactions per day. “We have to look at critical parameters such as speed of surfing, reliability and robustness of the systems and websites, and this occupies quite a significant portion of our time,” he says.
Due to the regional nature of his role, Alfian travels often. In the first quarter of each year he typically jet-sets every other week, as the bank kicks off its strategic plans for the new year. The pressure in a high-octane field like banking can be intense, but Alfian handles each challenge with the composure of a professional who loves his job. Since joining DBS, he has never looked back. “I am happy every day for the decision I made then.”