Digital banking: Not Limited to Millennials and Gen Z

Interview of Divyesh Dalal, Managing Director & Head Global Transaction Services DBS Bank India.

As featured in the February edition of Data Quest Magazine

What technology initiatives stand out firmly and were well received by customers—when you look at the last 2-3 years? 

One is the E-verification of invoices leveraging APIs for validation. It helped us significantly cut down the processing time of client requests, particularly in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. It has made the entire process seamless, resulting in a better customer experience. Also, during the pandemic, there was a decline in branch walk-ins, which resulted in delays around the completion of KYC. We created a platform for onboarding SMEs digitally, enabling us to onboard suppliers faster, which in some cases was over 1000 suppliers on a given day – the need of the hour, given the external environment. The platform reduced TAT and ensured faster transaction processing — a latent demand for anchors and their supplier ecosystem. The platform also provided complete visibility to anchors and suppliers. A key differentiator of this platform is that it is bank agnostic, which helps onboard the supplier without compromising the end credit account for the payments.

Any challenges faced during these initiatives, especially on Internet penetration, smartphone usage, and digital literacy in small towns? 

Compared to large corporations, smaller players typically handle and schedule payments once a week; hence, Internet issues were not much of a problem. However, the initial reluctance to adopt a new platform was something that we had to navigate, especially considering that most of these users are anchor-driven and adopt technology in line with the ecosystem’s usage.

You are a lighthouse bank – a pioneer in the industry of technology? What are your crucial consideration points and approach for tech investments? 

We evaluate technology and tech platforms from the perspective of customer experience, efficiency, and operating model and drive decision-making through data usage. ONDC is a good case in point here; banks, fintech, or local regulators worldwide have yet to attempt to provide a platform that enables merchants to participate in local e-commerce without needing to create one for a private network. It helps that we are at an intersection of a solid tech-friendly regulatory environment and have seen increased consumer adoption across platforms. ONDC is poised to democratise the online marketplace for MSMEs by enabling buyers and sellers to transact online through open network systems. Whilst it has allowed MSMEs to participate in this offline-to-online migration, it will also provide an opportunity to unbundle the supply chain and ensure better credit decisions.

Can you share something about the importance of partnerships like GoFrugal Tech? 

We believe it’s a good platform that will enable merchants (our customers) to participate in ONDC from the seller side and drive supply chain efficiencies through key anchors and their linked distributor chain. 

What’s the flip side of openness in banking: with UPI going international, SWIFT, ODI, open banking, and DeFi? 

Customer data is critical, and we never compromise on security. We always ensure that a platform is secure and follows protocols. We will never compromise on safety for other advantages. We safeguard customers’ interests against theft, fraud, and attacks through AI and transaction monitoring. We ensure that appropriate checks and balances are in place to ensure that speed and agility don’t come at the cost of security. 

Any thoughts on the implications of CBDC for the financial landscape? 

Whilst it helps to drive up the usage of digital (i.e., noncurrency) payments, it also enables one to monitor end-user behaviour and consumption patterns, which can provide significant insights for offering subsidies and rewards to various institutions. The data obtained can be leveraged by institutions and regulators too. CBDC, therefore, not only changes payments but also impacts post-payment behaviour.

How substantial are regulatory changes like the NPCI’s UPI for global SWIFT-level payments and Overseas Direct Investments (ODI) rules? 

These developments will positively impact and align with the government’s vision of making India an economic powerhouse. The guidelines have simplified the regime on overseas investments and provided much-needed clarity on specific concepts previously subject to interpretation by various stakeholders. UPI for global SWIFT-level payments is an attempt to replicate domestic success for cross-border payments, especially in the remittance space and linked underlying commerce. 

What’s been your experience with digitally literate and Gen Z customers? A recent EY report points out that 63 per cent of Gen Z customers feel comfortable managing their finances using a virtual assistant, and 45 per cent are willing to share their data for rewards. Have you noticed such inclinations too? 

Millennials and Gen Z customers generally tend to be more receptive to tech solutions and adapt to changes more smoothly. In terms of our experience with such customers, since the launch of our AI-powered insights feature on digibank in 2020, we have seen a 56 per cent repeat usage of the feature month-on-month and have generated over 25.3 million insights since the launch. We have noticed an engagement rate of 70 per cent with a customer base of 0.7 million. However, we have seen an interest in digital offerings across customer segments, which is more comprehensive than millennials and Gen Z customers alone. 

What is the future of technology at DBS? And what makes DBS distinct from legacy and new-age banks in the market?

We, as a bank, have always been proactive in adopting new technology and have partnered with like-minded partners to develop innovative solutions to help our customers grow their businesses and wealth. Some emerging trends we are closely tracking include AI technology in customer service, robotic process automation (RPA) in decision-making and big data to combat cybersecurity issues. We are looking at how we can be a growth enabler for our clients, especially SMEs. Data and AI will be critical to this. The idea is to go beyond banking and to look at our clients as partners for growth, identifying areas where we could help them grow their businesses. We will continue leveraging our core strengths, including our expanded network, technology, and cross-border capabilities.