India: DBS Bank is looking to use India as a technology innovation hub, working in tandem with the external ecosystem, as the Singapore-based bank bids to pitch itself against mobile wallet players like Paytm and Mobikwik in the country.
In April this year, the bank had announced to set up a technology centre out of Hyderabad, while launching India’s first mobile-only bank with its offering Digibank. In addition to the technology centre, the company now plans to set up an innovation lab, also in Hyderabad, to explore new applications based on emerging technologies such as augmented reality, big data analytics, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning among others.
Paul Cobban, chief operating officer, group technology and operations at DBS Bank, told Business Standard the bank was looking to hire about 2,000 engineers over the next 18 months who would be located in India and work in tandem with a yet-to-open innovation lab in Singapore.
“Traditionally, we have had IT capabilities outsourced. But now that the nature of banking is becoming increasingly digital, we need to own and attract the best engineering talent,” said Cobban. “In future, you will see banks competing with each other based on their engineering talent.”
DBS Bank, which entered India two decades ago and has about 12 branches in the country, began its digital journey 18 months ago. Among the six countries it operates in, India is the only place here it has launched Digibank, which uses Aadhaar for biometric authentication as well as AI-powered virtual assistant, which can understand what a user is saying. While the company is targeting five million customers, who belong to the “emerging affluent segment” in India, it also intends to take Digibank to other markets like China and Indonesia.
According to the company, it has invested about $1.45 billion to strengthen its infrastructure and technology globally, a majority of which has gone into setting up Digibank.
In addition to developing its technology prowess in India, DBS Bank is also looking to partner with service providers in areas such as transport, travel, entertainment and food.
“Our strategy is going to be to form a select ecosystem and work with partners to make banking as seamless as possible. The trick is finding the ecosystem in which you want to play,” said Cobban.
“Our competition is directly with companies like Paytm and Mobikwik. Banking is on cusp of disruption and we want to move as fast as we can to compete with these guys.”
India has become an important market for DBS Bank with its home market reaching saturation. Singapore has about four million bankable customers, and this number is not growing. “In order for us to grow, India has become a very important market for us,” he said.
The company, which is working with IBM’s supercomputer Watson to provide financial advice to its clients in Singapore, is also exploring the use of blockchain. Blockchain is the public ledger of all transactions made with virtual currency bitcoin.
The company has an app based on augmented reality that can tell the mortgage price of a house when pointed at with a smartphone that is taken to mortgage application. In Singapore, the company has installed sensors at its ATMs to predict which ATM may go down next. Similarly, it has created a big data model into which it feeds internal data to predict which branch can have an issue in the future.
The plan is to bring these use cases to India in future, said Cobban, along with the applications that will be developed in the upcoming innovation labs.