Behind The Scenes

Life as a DBS UNI.CORN

7 Sep 2017
The DBS UNI.CORN 2017 intake expanded by 50% to 24 interns this year, reflecting the programme’s success and popularity among university students. Photo: DBS

Hear from two UNI.CORNs about their 12-week stint at DBS’ innovative internship programme

As part of its strategy to groom a new generation of digital bankers, DBS designed the DBS UNI.CORN Management Internship for students from any discipline in their penultimate year.

Interns, also known as UNI.CORNs, are taught the agile methodology framework and spend 12 weeks conceptualising, testing and developing their solutions to specific business problems. Each team showcases their solution to the bank’s senior management at the end of their internship.

Certain solutions may be tested within the respective business units, while outstanding interns will be recommended to join the Management Associate and Graduate Associates programmes.

Now in its second year, we caught up with two UNI.CORNs from the 2017 edition to find out more about their experience. Meet:

  • Natalie Cheung, Life Sciences major, National University of Singapore
  • Jonathan Goh, Finance major, Singapore Management University

1. How did you hear about the DBS UNI.CORN Management Internship and why did you sign up?

Natalie: While I was applying for internships, I chanced upon the DBS UNI.CORN blog. I’m a Biological Sciences student but I wanted to move out of the scientific field to try a career in finance and acquire some business knowledge/acumen.

The DBS UNI.CORN programme offered this opportunity and was a great entry point into the industry. I wanted a better understanding of the management and functions of a company, financial literacy and entrepreneurial skills that would be transferable to any career.

Jonathan: I was searching for internships at banks, and had several other applications that were incomplete as I was stuck with the usual "why do you want to join this bank" question. Nothing really stood out among the other banks.

DBS UNI.CORN was not just about banking. It was about finding new ways to bring value to the customer. The unique programme made me decide to sign up.

When selecting internships, I usually look out for three things. 1) How much can I learn from this internship? 2) Will I be able to add value to the company? 3) Will it be fun?

DBS UNI.CORN checked all three boxes.

Watch DBS UNI.CORN Idea Smash 2017 01:32

2. What was your experience trying to get into the programme?

Natalie: It was like a marathon! There were numerous stages; online application, cover letters, numerical tests, logic, video interviews, and finally an Idea Smash (recruitment hackathon).

However, it ensured that the most brilliant minds were selected for the internship so it was a pleasure and privilege to have been able to compete and be chosen.

Jonathan: The Idea Smash is a 12-hour hackathon where applicants are grouped in teams to tackle a challenge statement issued by DBS. We were guided through a methodology that DBS applies to its work and mentors were always available to help us.

Participants of the Idea Smash will definitely learn new things even if they don't get through. This is what stands out to me. It shows DBS' stance towards learning and developing its people.

— Jonathan Goh, UNI.CORN 2017

3. What is a typical day for a UNI.CORN?

Natalie: Every day is different. There is a lot of freedom to determine your own schedule and objectives. We spent 60% of our time outside the office interviewing stakeholders to understand their pain points, needs/wants/aspirations/goals, thought process, lifestyle, etc.

When in the office, we spent a lot of time consulting our mentors – the amazing people at DBS Asia X (DAX) – who were always receptive to our ideas. This was usually followed by a group discussion that could take anywhere between five minutes to five days! But it helped us avoid groupthink and all members could voice their views.

Watch DBS UNI.CORN 2017 VLOG #1 - Ready, Steady, Go! 01:39

Jonathan: Every new day presented new challenges. Some days we were out and about interviewing people, other days we hunkered down to analyse the insights gathered. We had post-its stuck all over the whiteboards and countless discussions with other UNI.CORNS and our mentors.

During ideation, we came up with crazy ideas and tested them. We learnt how to use prototyping tools to create a minimum viable product (MVP). When testing the MVP with members of the public, we faced constant rejection, but took all these in our stride and were creative in our approach.

For example, approaching people with a clipboard is a major “no-go” as they will think we are trying to sell something. We were constantly going through experiment loops to test our assumptions.

All the hard work culminated into one 5-minute pitch on the last day of our internship.

Jonathan Goh (fourth from left) and his team picked up the Best Team prize on Demo Day. Photo: DBS

4. What were some of your best moments? What lessons did you learn?

Natalie: The best moments were always shared with my teammates: Celine Foo, Tan Zhi Wei and Rayner Chua.

As a team, we went through a lot together over the 12 weeks. We had innumerable pantry/waffle-runs, laughter, arguments, philosophical questions, ridiculous alien jokes, the list goes on. I feel that we definitely are the best team ever.

— Natalie Cheung, 2017 UNI.CORN

We spent almost every weekend interviewing the target audience for our project. We were invited to join their birthday celebrations, picnics, musical performances and heard many amazing stories. They taught me many life lessons; on kindness, gratitude and the beauty of sacrifices made.

We worked tirelessly for our final presentation. We spent our penultimate day practising our pitch non-stop. I can still recite it, even in my sleep! :) None of us wanted to leave DAX.

Demo Day was a culmination of the blood, sweat and tears we shared during our internship and a symbol of accomplishment for the team.

Natalie Cheung (second from left) with her team on Demo Day. Photo: DBS

Jonathan: The people at DAX are so vibrant, making coming to work exciting. My fellow UNI.CORNs knew how to work hard and play hard! :) From learning about design thinking to delivering on Demo Day, it was a fun roller coaster ride.

Besides work, we organised many outings; embarrassing ourselves at the trampoline park, singing our hearts out at karaoke, and even weekly Wednesday runs we call "RUNI.CORN". The people made this internship even sweeter.

A lesson for me was: the paralysis of analysis. More often than not, we’d be thinking too much and doing too little. In the end, we get nothing done.

I've learnt to operate in a leaner way, to experiment and fail faster (yes, we are bound to fail) in order to achieve success quicker.

— Jonathan

5. What were some challenges? How did you work through them?

Natalie: The biggest challenge was managing different stakeholders and their varying expectations. Every business unit had different demands and views. It is up to you to manage these relationships efficiently and strategically. Ultimately, we decided to put more focus on the needs and wants of our target audience.

Jonathan: My group's project direction pivoted six times before it came down to the final idea. It was really tough mentally. There were times when morale was really low and we felt we were getting nowhere.

But we were not alone. We had the support of mentors and peers. Each time we pivoted, we took a step back to look at lessons learnt, and applied the learnings in subsequent weeks.

Watch UNI.CORN Management Interns of 2017 Graduate 01:13

6. What advice would you give future UNI.CORNs?

Natalie: “There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.” – William Butler Yeats. The bank is huge and has a wide, expansive network. Make more friends, say hi to people, be brave and ask people out for coffee, there’s so much you can learn from them.

DBS Singapore Country Head Sim S. Lim also told us this quote: “When you go to war, you must be prepared to die. Then you can fight in peace.” Sim told us the same is applicable for our internship. “When you go to work, you must be prepared to be fired, then you can speak your mind.”

I found it very inspiring because he is a person who is not afraid to voice his opinions or go against the current. As an intern, you have less to lose, so if you have a logical, reasonable argument, don’t be afraid to make it. You will be respected and remembered for it (especially if it’s a good one).

Take risks. The bigger the better!

Jonathan: There's still a lot I have to learn but here are my 2 cents’ worth.

A) Be open minded: This programme teaches you many new things. By being open minded, you'll be able to learn as much as possible from the experts at DBS and external speakers.

B) Be relentless: Hard work pays off. The internship will not be easy, but be relentless in your pursuit for better insights and ideas. Make use of the abundance of resources at the Innovation Group and keep working hard!

C) Have fun: This internship was so much fun for me, and I know it'll be the same for the future UNI.CORNs.

Find out more about what UNI.CORNs have to say about their internship over at their blog.

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