Business Recoded … Piyush Gupta leads DBS, the world’s most innovative bank, with a strategy to make banking invisible, everywhere and nowhere.

September 14, 2020

In an exclusive extract from my forthcoming book Business Recoded, meet one of the most inspiring business leaders, shaking up today’s world. He embraces the opportunities of relentless change, the power of disruptive technologies, and the courage to create a better future in his own vision. In the book, I explore the stories of many of the world’s most fascinating leaders right now, and develop 49 codes that help you redefine the future of your business, and yourself.

The Leadership Code of Piyush Gupta

Piyush Gupta leads DBS, the largest bank in Southeast Asia, and widely recognised as the world’s most innovative bank.

As a CEO, he has a relatively unorthodox background, having grown up in the technology and operations parts of banking. During his 27-year Citi banking career, he did 22 jobs in multiple countries, including a one-year stint as a tech entrepreneur leading his own start-up. He built a very broad-based understanding of commercial banking, how people work together, and how digital can enhance it.

He joined DBS in 2009. At the time, the bank, which was founded in 1968 by the government as the Development Bank of Singapore to help fund the young city-state’s industrial development, was inefficient and bureaucratic, running on outdated technology. “Damn bloody slow” some called it.

Like many banks, DBS was defined by complex products, drab locations, and long queues. Gupta went to branchesincognito to speak to customers, to see for himself the cause of their dismay. He realised that the bank had unwittingly made itself difficult to do business with, creating safeguards on people’s money that also made it difficult to access. Managing the bank was not easy either. No central data was available to show which of the bank’s branches were profitable and which were not.

Gupta spent time looking at other banks, but also looking at tech companies like Alibaba and Tencent who were moving rapidly into banking. He believed that such companies were about to redefine banking in substantially new ways – redefining the whole concept of financial services, not just creating a more digital approach. He decided that DBS needed to have a tech company mentality, with all the agility and inventiveness that would imply. “Banks are yesterday’s story” he told the Financial Times.

Gupta started by focusing on the customer experience, and then having addressed the basic culture and processes, on innovation, specifically embracing technology. His approach was driven by employee “hackathons” to spur collaborative thinking and diverse ideas. Rather than relying upon industry-proven solutions, DBS looked outside for new ideas and solutions, by for example taking a stake in Kasisto, a banking chatbot and AI start-up. DBS also become the first bank in the world to develop a methodology for measuring digital value creation, which shows the impact of digitisation on earnings.

DBS seeks to deliver a new kind of banking experience that is so simple, seamless and invisible, that customers have more time to spend on the things they care about. “If we just tried to apply technology to the existing banking model, we would just end up being an efficient bank” he says, which he sees as ok, but not exactly ambitious. What he really wanted to do was transform the concept of banking, to make people’s lives better.

The bank’s slogan “live more, bank less” has a double meaning. “Bank less” meant saving time, by making banking fast and easy. “Live more” meant enabling people to do more, by embedding banking and payments into everyday life, whether that be helping small businesses to access suppliers at preferential rates, or embedding DBS into a real estate company’s system, to give you an immediate mortgage quote while viewing a new home.

Gupta called his strategy “the invisible bank” where financial transactions are embedded deep within the activities of everyday life – from travel to shopping, eating to entertainment. No longer do people need to think of banking as a separate activity, it is part of everything.

DBS’s transformation is seen by many as the most radical of any incumbent bank. Internally, DBS’s 26,000 employees have embraced a start-up mindset, with a priority to develop and deliver simple and effortless services, with a focus on enabling customers to do what they do better. Digital platforms now account for 48% of DBS’ business. Innovations include Digibank, India’s first online-only bank; PayLah!, a mobile wallet app, Treasury Prism, a cash management tool for corporate finance departments; and Smart Buddy, a wearable lunch payments and savings wristband for school kids.

In 2019, DBS became the only bank ever to simultaneously hold three global titles: “Bank of the Year” by The Banker, “Best Bank in the World” by Global Finance, and “World’s Best Bank” by Euromoney.