At your service for more than 40 years: memories of long-time DBS bank branch staff

From left: Emily Tay, Henrietta Seah (in black) and Henry Yeo have each been with DBS for more than 40 years.

What was it like working for DBS during the its early years? As DBS celebrates turning 50, a total of 112 of our employees are commemorating more than 40 years of service with the bank.

Emily Tay, Henrietta Seah and Henry Yeo each started their careers with DBS in the frontlines – facing the customers every day at one of the bank’s branches.

And while the trio agrees that the nature of the banking industry has changed dramatically over the last four decades, many of the core values that DBS adopted in its early days remain true today. These include a sense of purpose, a willingness to try, and a desire to improve our customers’ lives.

These are their memories:

‘Sometimes it’s like I have the DBS logo on my forehead!’

Emily Tay, Assistant Vice President

Joined DBS: 27 January 1975

Presently at: POSB Bedok Central Branch

I was about 18 when I joined the Shenton Way branch in the mid-1970s. There was no customer segmentation and fewer customers back then, so we had more time to chat with them.

Even though I’ve moved between many branches since, I still meet some of my old customers. They still recognise me when they see me at the counter and they mention that I have not changed much! Sometimes, it’s like I have the DBS logo on my forehead!

Some customers also used to come in every day to bank for their company. These regular customers became our friends. Even today, we still keep in touch once in a while. When there are special occasions, like weddings and housewarmings, they will invite us.

I tell you something funny. There was this customer who once asked me, “Emily – do you know that your name means ‘Every moment I love you’?” I was so shocked! Anyway, I didn’t end up marrying him.

Today, we are working with many more customers now than in the 70s, so you need to be on your toes. You can’t expect to just deliver the basic level of service – there’s more competition in the market today, so you need to be quick and good with customers. I take it as a challenge – to be able to serve the most demanding customer so well that he/she leaves the bank happy.

‘If you give just a little bit more, people will appreciate it’

Henrietta Seah, Assistant Vice President

Joined DBS: 1 July 1974

Presently at: POSB Yishun West Branch

I was 20 when I first joined in the mid-70s. DBS was just a young bank then; I was a teller in the Shenton Way branch.

It was all very manual in the past. You remember those public phones that charged 10 cents for a call? The telecom company would come in with big bags of ten cent coins and we had to count them by hand! It would take days.

The Sports Council would also come in with bags of $1 notes from their events, which we also counted by hand. We then tied them with raffia string until our hands bled. I can’t imagine what the younger generation would say if you asked them to do this today.

There were no incentives, benefits, or staff privileges to incentivise us to perform well. But we were just happy to have jobs. You just did what you had to do; it was all about commitment and passion.

When I was at the Shenton Way branch, Chairman Howe Yoon Chong and Mr S Dhanabalan would personally come to queue whenever they needed to encash a personal cheque. They would join the queue, patiently wait, and come to the counter to chat with us. There was no fear of serving them, they were just like one of your colleagues. I still remember how Mr Howe would always queue patiently with his hands behind his back.

The customers were also all very friendly, nice and understanding. Over the years, we’ve gotten to know our customers personally and understand their expectations, so we can serve them better.

I remember this private bank customer who I encountered many years back. The bank was having a product promotion and was giving out a premium as part of the promotion. The lady customer wanted the premium without buying the product and asked her Relationship Manager to get it, but she was rejected.

She lodged a complaint and was redirected to my branch at Buona Vista. In addition to giving her the premium, I packed her some additional Chinese New Year red packets and other bank gifts. After that, the client came to visit me at my branch every year during Chinese New Year, no matter where I was located. She would go even as far as Jurong.

As she was also a private bank customer at several other banks, she would collect these unique ‘ang paos” from the different banks and give them to me. This went on for ten years.

One year, she told me, “Mrs Seah, I may not be able to see you again next year.” She was suffering from lupus and the doctor told her that she may not be able pull through. I never saw her again.

Looking back, she technically wasn’t “my” customer; But I find that if you just give a little bit more, people will appreciate it. It was just a small token from me but she appreciated it so much.

‘I’ve never wanted to leave.’

Henry Yeo, Vice President

Joined DBS: 1 August 1974

Presently at: DBS Harbourfront Branch

I was about 21 when I joined the bank. Even though I was just a junior officer, we were seen as very important people, because we did the cheque clearing and balancing.

Back then we had to rush to balance the cheques and get to the Clearing House (today’s Fullerton Hotel) by the cut-off time, or we would have to pay overnight interest. All the banks had to go there by 1pm to exchange the cheques in person.

I remember we had a big Mercedes Benz to ferry us because we were carrying SGD 20-30 million in cheques each day. The company car was used by only the chairman and us! Today, everything is automated. There’s no need to rush.

When I became a full branch manager, we handled everything – commercial and personal banking. Customers then were very friendly. They were always very grateful if you went the extra mile for them. Every Chinese New Year and Christmas, we would get hampers delivered to us by the corporate customers. Today, everyone expects more, even myself. I think we tend to take quality service for granted.

It’s been 44 years since I joined DBS – I started as a young boy and now I’m an old man! Over these 44 years, I had some opportunities to leave. I was head-hunted, but I never wanted to leave. I was always motivated at the bank.

I feel proud that I’m still working here and I always tell my colleagues, “You must stay around, I see many people coming in and out – but many of them come back. So there must be something special here that makes them return.”

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