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Get To Know Karen Ngui, Managing Director & Group Head, Group Strategic Marketing & Communications Of DBS Bank

DBS has committed to utilising 100% renewable energy in all our markets, with an interim target of 100% in Singapore by 2030.

Welcome to Marketing In Asia, Karen. I really have to ask you this first – I am very taken with the fact that DBS Bank has made a commitment to advancing the sustainability agenda as a purpose-driven bank. Please tell us all we need to know about this great initiative, Karen.

The world is facing enormous and complex challenges, including developmental, social and environmental issues. As Singapore’s leading bank, we recognise our role in promoting sustainable development. Being purpose-driven is in our DNA and our desire is to make a difference beyond banking to touch real people, real businesses and real lives.

Taking a holistic approach to sustainability, we seek to be responsible in our banking practices by delivering products and services that promote sustainable development and conduct our business in a fair and responsible manner. We also ensure that we do the right thing by our most important resource – our people – and take into account environmental and societal considerations in our day-to-day business operations.

To create social impact, we seek to be a Force for Good by supporting social enterprises (SEs) – businesses with double bottom line – and giving back to the communities in which we operate. The DBS Foundation was set up five years ago to build a better and more inclusive Asia by championing social entrepreneurship and encouraging the development of businesses for good. It has since nurtured over 300 SEs around the region and has awarded about SGD 5 million to them in grants. Through DBS’ People of Purpose programme, our employees invest their time, donations and skills to serve communities. This includes skills-based volunteering with SEs, where employees use their expertise to solve business challenges faced by SEs. We are also planning to deepen and expand partnerships with community partners to drive greater positive change in the communities. In the long term, we hope to make volunteerism an intrinsic part of our work culture and aligned to our businesses in a deeper way

In 2018, DBS provided sustainability financing amounting to more than SGD 2.4 billion (this includes green loans and renewable energy financing). With growing awareness of the importance of sustainability, we continue to integrate responsible financing principles into our credit assessment processes and lending activities. We are so encouraged that more companies want to build businesses that leave a lasting impact on the future. 

Recently, Chew’s Agriculture, a leading egg producer in Singapore, signed Singapore’s first sustainability-linked loan for an SME. AU Optronics signed Taiwan’s first sustainability-linked loan. We partnered with French renewables company, EDF Group, to provide China’s first wind farm project financing to UPC Power in Zhejiang. Combining our strengths as a digital bank and our purpose-driven agenda, we were also able to integrate our APIs to enable payments and collections for EDF’s biowaste suppliers and farmers in their waste-to-energy project in western Henan province.

We are also partnering companies to create sustainable investment opportunities in the region that not only generate positive financial returns but social returns as well. DBS underwrote the USD100 million Women’s Livelihood Bond programme that will fund and support high-impact enterprises in South and Southeast Asia focused on areas such as financial inclusion, access to clean energy, and sustainable agriculture. The programme aims to empower one million underserved women in Asia to transition from subsistence to sustainable livelihoods.

DBS is the first Asian bank and Singapore company to join the global renewable energy initiative, RE100, led by The Climate Group in partnership with CDP. It signals our dedication to support the transition to a low carbon economy powered by renewable energy, benefitting not just our company but the world we live in. To this end, DBS has committed to utilising 100% renewable energy in all our markets, with an interim target of 100% in Singapore by 2030. 

We all know DBS as a bank that is deeply rooted in the heart of Singapore. For the sake of our regional readers, can you tell us a brief background of DBS Bank?

DBS’ roots trace back to 1968 as the Development Bank of Singapore, playing a key role in the industrialisation of the newly independent nation. As Singapore grew, so did the bank. Today, DBS is not only Southeast Asia’s largest bank but also one of the safest and best.

Underlining widespread recognition for our leadership in defining the future of banking, and our commitment to delivering a purpose beyond banking to create a more sustainable future, DBS recently became the first bank to concurrently hold three global best bank awards. This was achieved after DBS was named “World’s Best Bank” by leading global financial publication Euromoney in its 2019 Awards for Excellence. This is the first time an Asian-headquartered bank has been named “World’s Best Bank” by Euromoney since the award was launched in 1993. It follows the bank’s wins of Global Finance’s “Best Bank in the World” in August 2018 and The Banker’s “Bank of the Year – Global” in November 2018

DBS celebrated its 50th-anniversary last year and continues to ignite the same spark as a future-forward bank. We continue to keep our promise to find ways to deliver banking that is simple and seamless so that customers can focus more on what matters most, and so ‘Live more and Bank less’.

In 2016, DBS launched an industry first, Sparks, an online mini-series that serves as a platform for the Bank to communicate authentically to the heart of consumers and that first season, took the industry by storm. This year, DBS brings sustainability to the forefront with Sparks 2. It features real-life stories of social entrepreneurs looking to effect change and shape a green future. I am excited to hear all about it, Karen.

DBS launched Sparks in 2016 to convey the true meaning of banking and reflect the bank’s commitment to integrating banking seamlessly with customers’ everyday lives, going the extra mile so that they can achieve their dreams and get more out of life. The mini-series followed a group of young bankers as they navigated work and personal lives. Inspired by real-life examples, it challenged the perception that banking is only about transactions and to tell the DBS story in a relatable manner. 

Since its 2016 debut, the 10 episodes of the first season of Sparks have collectively garnered more than 250 million views and over 24 million digital engagements across the region and has won a number of global media and marketing awards.

Following the success of the first season of Sparks, the second season is themed “Everyday Heroes for a Better World”. The new season of Sparks focuses on sharing real stories of social enterprises that are finding ways to address pressing social and environmental issues of the day. At DBS, we believe that there is an everyday hero in each one of us, and together, through the choices we make, we can spark positive change.

The first three episodes are inspired by real-life stories of social enterprises that are supported by the DBS Foundation. The Foundation was set up five years ago to champion social entrepreneurship and has nurtured over 300 SEs around the region and awarded about SGD 5 million in grants.

The three SEs featured are Evoware from Indonesia, which creates edible packaging made of seaweed; Bettr Barista from Singapore, a coffee academy and roastery which trains marginalised individuals to brew coffee; and Eco-Greenergy from Hong Kong, which turns coffee grounds into innovative products such as soap, compost and flower pots.

Where and how can our readers catch Sparks and Sparks 2?

Readers can catch up on all 10 episodes of Sparks Season 1 and the first three episodes of Season 2 on dbs.com/sparks, as well as on Facebook and YouTube.

By 2030, DBS is moving towards utilising 100% renewable energy for the entire Singapore operations – it is remarkable! Walk us through that, Karen.

One aspect of our current “Live more, Bank less” brand promise, is to encourage our customers to “live larger than themselves,” such as to live socially-conscious by making them more aware of various ways to do so.

This also translates to our own responsible business practices by promoting sustainable development. In 2017, DBS joined the global renewable energy initiative RE100, a public commitment to sourcing 100% renewable energy for our Singapore operations. We were the first Asian bank and first Singapore company to do so, reaffirming our commitment to sustainable development.

We are doing this through the installation of 1,200 solar panels on the rooftop of DBS Asia Hub, DBS’ business complex located at Singapore’s Changi Business Park. The solar energy installation spans 30,000 square feet and can generate 460 MWh of energy per year.

Furthermore, we have put in place initiatives across the organisation to drive energy efficiency. This includes replacing lamps with energy-efficient LED lights across our retail branches, sub-meters to monitor the usage of utilities, and enhancements to our data centres in Singapore to reduce power consumption by 50 per cent. Last year, DBS reduced its electricity consumption by 9.6GWh, equivalent to S$3.8 million in electricity costs.

We are on target to utilise 40 percent of renewable energy by the end of this year, working towards our goal of 100 per cent by 2030. We hope to inspire both corporates and individuals to take small steps towards becoming more eco-friendly, building a sustainable world for future generations. 

I was reading through your very impressive credentials. You are a communications and brand management executive through-and-through. Tell us about you, Karen.

I’ve spent all of my 30-year career in the banking industry, with the past 14 years at DBS.

What’s evident in recent years is, media consumption habits of consumers have evolved with the ubiquity of the smartphone, the explosion of data and the rise of the sharing economy, exacerbated by rapid changes in Asia and the rest of the world. Banking is also being fundamentally redefined as customers want a new kind of banking that is relevant to the digital transformation that we are facing. Having made reimagining banking a priority for many years, we believe we are well-placed to personify and represent banking of the future. DBS’ “Live More, Bank Less” ethos embodies the belief that the bank needs to remain at the forefront of change to meet the needs of our customers.

The culture at DBS encourages us to think out of the box and think differently, and I’m privileged to be working with a like-minded team and peers from varied backgrounds who thrive on doing well, making my work more meaningful and enjoyable.

Marketing, branding and communications – and why?

In the past, we had to find ways to disrupt people at their tracks, find out the best time to run a commercial or biggest place to put our billboard. But now, the lines between marketing, branding and communications are all blurred! Delivering relevant and meaningful content in a myriad of ways has never been more important.

At DBS, we want to be immersive in people’s lives – to touch real businesses, real people, real lives. In May 2018, we ended our positioning “Living, Breathing Asia” to “Live more, Bank less”. This new brand promise reflects our belief that in the digital era, we need to deliver banking that is so simple, seamless and invisible, our customers have more time to spend on the people or things they care about. It encapsulates several ideas – enabling customers to live hassle-free with invisible banking, to seize life’s opportunities and to live larger than themselves.

Sparks is one way for the bank to immerse itself in people’s lives. Our ability to tell relatable stories that are inspired by real-life examples is crucial to draw in the audience and allow them to see for themselves DBS’s value.

But the art of championing the voice of the audience through empathy and understanding as seen in the Sparks episodes is insufficient to design an optimal customer experience. Art, with the help of science, provides a more precise and efficient way to understand consumption patterns and sharing behaviours. For instance, during Sparks Season One, we were able to attribute some of the enquiries lodged on our website to the mini-series. Through data analytics, we were able to establish that in Singapore, more than 10% of new business in our loans and SME products, as well as almost 10% of wealth products came from people who had watched Sparks. These data points demonstrate the impact of good storytelling by the brand and in facilitating customer acquisition. 

For those who wish to know more about DBS’ sustainability initiatives, where can they go, to get more information?

For more information on DBS’ sustainability initiatives, please head to – https://www.dbs.com/sustainability/default.page

In line with our commitment to advancing the sustainability agenda as a purpose-driven bank, DBS is also the first Singapore bank to issue a standalone sustainability report. It provides an expanded account on progress made in supporting the United Nations’ set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and material sustainability matters over the past year. 

DBS’ inaugural standalone Sustainability Report can be read here – https://www.dbs.com/sustainability/overview/sustainability-reporting/default.page

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Zu Anjalika Kamis Gunnulfsen

Zu Anjalika Kamis Gunnulfsen is the Marketing In Asia's Editor for Singapore. She is also a certified Image Branding & Lifestyle Consultant. Born in Singapore and blessed to have lived in a couple of other amazing cities in the world, Anjalika is currently expatriating in Kuala Lumpur. Follow her on LinkedIn and Instagram. You may also reach her by email at anjalika@marketinginasia.com.

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