United Overseas Bank

 

In this Q&A interview with Master of Science (MSc) in Finance postgraduate of Imperial College London, Jacquelyn Tan, reflects on the importance of numbers in running loan books, using data to deliver better analysis, services, and digital experiences – but also why the human touch and customer experience (CX) matters.

Question: Q1. Please describe your background, philosophy, leadership tips & career?

A1. I am the MD and Head of Group Personal Financial Services (FS) at United Overseas Bank (UOB) in Singapore, which is to say I lead the consumer banking business, covering the city state, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the region. This includes secured and unsecured lending, where you have to be on top of the numbers, as well as the deposit and wealth management businesses in Singapore and throughout the region. I also lead UOB’s strategic drive in Asia in the areas of digital banking, sales and distribution, marketing, and business analytics for consumers.

Additionally, I spearhead UOB’s omni-channel approach which extends from transforming our physical network to tapping technology, such as advanced data analytics, to deepen our digital capabilities and provide customers with simpler, smarter and safer ways to bank. The team and I also work with strategic partners to build ecosystems that embed FS into customers’ everyday lives (see technology question).

I have been in banking for more than 20 years and joined UOB in 2014 after previously heading up the unsecured lending business at Citi Singapore. My banking experience extends across a breadth of areas including treasury, consumer finance, wealth management, payments, and marketing.

My philosophy is that it’s the consumers that matter. Customer experience (CX) should be the priority. After all, banking is a ‘people business’ and at its heart is the customer. As such, I always encourage my team – and remind myself – to place ourselves in customers’ shoes, so that we are able to better understand and serve their needs, and even remove their pain points. By developing such ‘heartware’ in my team, we can build lasting relationships that deliver value to all parties.

Q2. How do you inspire your team?

A2. As well as insisting on a customer-centric approach I tell my team that we must be future-ready. This involves building and maintaining an innovative and entrepreneurial culture, and we must be relentless in improving ourselves to stay competitive. You can never rest on your laurels. But that is a good thing as it means there is never a dull day in banking, if you want to innovate and dream that is.

Teamwork in and of itself is important. As the saying goes ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ and I truly believe this.

I believe in creating a safe environment for my colleagues, including teams from other functions, to ensure ideation and effective collaboration. I make every effort to be closely involved with my colleagues in the different projects we do and support them every step of the way. You have to be fully engaged to ensure others are too.

Q3. What digital technologies have UOB developed to improve CX, and talk about the digital transformation and creative, innovative practices you see in retail banking?

A3. At UOB, we place our customers at the centre of all that we do as part of our aforementioned omni-channel strategy. Digital is vital to the future of retail banking. Since 2015, we have continually been enhancing the UOB Mighty app to enable customers to bank, pay and get rewards and benefits, all via a single app that is optimised for smartphones.

More recently in 2019, we launched Mighty Insights. This artificial intelligence (AI)-driven digital banking service provides personalised savings tracking tools, insights and customised alerts on spending patterns and refunds, as well as product recommendations.

More than 1.5 million UOB customers in Singapore now use our digital services. Just looking at the UOB Mighty app, the numbers are impressive:

  • UOB Mighty log-ons are increasing by 33 per cent year-on-year (YOY), measured in June 2020 and based on at least one log-on per month. Many use the all-in-one mobile banking app much more frequently.
  • The number of transactions made through UOB Mighty by Singaporean customers is up by more than 70 per cent. The growth trend is similarly reflected in:
  • Malaysia (+50%)
  • & Thailand (+212%).

Developing the ecosystem

In September 2020, UOB collaborated with Visa to become the first bank in the world to tap a new Visa application programming interface (API) that enables our customers to add their Visa credit or debit cards securely into the apps of our designated partners, such as Fitbit Pay via UOB Mighty. This is an example of developing an ecosystem of services, with partners where appropriate, and is another key priority for us.

In the wealth management (WM) area, we’ve internally developed a purpose-built digital wealth advisory platform called Portfolio Advisory Tools. Our advisors can access PAT to give deeper insights, drawing upon 12 years of historical market data to visualise the expected performance of investment portfolios against various economic scenarios. Aimed at the emerging affluent, PAT enables more meaningful discussions. Customer engagements on PAT in the first half of 2020 rose by more than two times compared with the second half of last year.

Another ecosystem example is the UOB Home Solution. Developed with property ecosystem partners to ease customer and real estate agents ‘pain points’ the digital offering simplifies the home purchasing journey. For instance, it led to Singapore’s first bank-backed online property valuation tool and a GetBanker service, which refers a property agent to a banker based on price, loan multiples and other factors. Almost 90% of agents in Singapore can now access the app. Instant online application and approval for home loans has been accessible for everyone since October 2018.

Q4. What measures have UOB put in place to help both customers and employees during the Covid-19 pandemic?

A4. Well, just to put it on record a lot of the digital innovations, services and CX focus I’ve discussed have been beneficial during these difficult times in allowing customers to still bank safely with UOB, access relief funds, information, and so on. For example, the UOB Mighty mobile banking app, allied to website, ATMs, electronic mailers and social media, have all helped to let people know what relief options are available to them. At the height of the pandemic in Singapore, when people were staying at home, we also introduced more than 50 process changes to serve our customers better remotely and efficiently.

More immediately, and importantly, UOB has also been at the forefront of distributing relief money and other such alleviation efforts. For example, in May 2020, UOB colleagues and customers from across the Bank’s global network raised more than S$1.65 million in a month as part of the #UnitedForYou Covid-19 Relief Programme.

For consumers, we are helping them via the Special Financial Relief Programme (SFRP) launched by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in April 2020, and alerting them to the possibilities. Through the SFRP, for instance, consumers can apply to defer their mortgage repayments, or convert unsecured loan balances to a lower-cost term loan. As of September 2020, UOB has approved the majority of the 8,000+ applications we’ve had to defer mortgage repayments and more than 4,000 applications have converted unsecured credit into term loans.

From November 2020, consumers can also apply for a reduced instalment plan on secured loans under the MAS Extended Support Scheme, which is the latest round of relief measures announced by the central bank.

For business customers UOB has actively helped small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) customers access different government-assisted financing schemes to support their cash flow. The Temporary Bridging Loan Programme (TBLP) for instance offers financing up to S$5m. By April 2020, we’d approved more than S$4 billion in loans under TBLP.

Employee assistance

Our people were not forgotten. UOB’s 26,000 colleagues and their families got a box of masks for their personal use, which was especially important at first when masks were in short supply. The bank has paused hiring plans for the year, but pledged not to conduct retrenchment exercises to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of staff.

We were also quick to put in place precautionary measures in-line with guidelines from the authorities, so those who had to be physically present in the office, could safely distance themselves. Online tips about how best to manage physical, emotional, and mental well-being have also been provided, alongside complimentary virtual wellness programmes and fitness classes.

Q5. What is the biggest people problem you are trying to solve right now?

A5. Professional development is an ongoing area of focus as I believe in investing in my people to help them succeed. It never stops either. Re-skilling and upskilling during this era of technological advances is vital to gain or deepen digital competencies. For example, our Group-wide 12-week Better U programme, launched last year, has a module on digital innovation. It also offers:

  • Complex problem-solving skills
  • Specialised learning tracks on data management
  • Project management skills and so on.

The Better U programme will ensure colleagues are future-ready and prepared to rise to the challenge of understanding numbers, how to use data effectively, and how to deliver CX to ensure a masterful service.

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