How DBS’s head of Big Data is leading the bank's digital transformation

Siew Choo Soh of DBS is one of the few women in the world heading digital transformation at a big bank, building a culture around big data to scale up.

Technology has transformed every industry, and banking – an extremely data-driven field - is no exception. As more and more millennials join the workforce, traditional banks need to reinvent and take on a digital avatar or risk becoming irrelevant. Be it the cloud, big data, blockchain, or AI, new technologies allow banks to strengthen customer engagement with innovative and personalised offerings.

And leading the digital transformation at multibillion-dollar bank DBS is Siew Choo Soh, Managing Director - Consumer Banking and Big Data Analytics Technology, DBS Bank.

In four years, she is not only responsible for setting up the consumer banking practice, but created a platform for the bank's big data journey. She continues to drive digital transformation by leveraging agile, cloud computing, big data, AI, and ML, even as she focuses on increasing the representation of Women in Tech.

Constantly motivating her team to learn and grow, Siew Choo Soh tells YourStory what her mandate was when she joined DBS, how she took a bank on an agile digital journey, and why she believes it is important to engage with startups.

Edited excerpts of the interview:

Siew Choo Soh

YourStory: Tell us about your early days at DBS.

Siew Choo Soh: I joined DBS in 2014, but, had spent 19 years building banking technology before that. I had worked at JP Morgan for two decades as a technology person. DBS was a great opportunity because it presented something that i have not done before i.e. transforming the core banking and supporting services. 

When I came to DBS, the work my team was responsible for was mostly outsourced.  It was not only not cost-effective but more Importantly, it was not preparing us for the future. Leverage of India with its big pool of tech talents was one of the thing we decided to do. We decided to setup a technology hub in Hyderabad. It had zero members in 2016; now we have around 2,000 people and the headcount is going up.

We were convinced that digital banking is not about cost savings, it is more about our ability to create a differentiating experience. There was a significant cost savings when we started building the tech ourselves.

We launched a chatbot four years ago, which could literally open a bank account for you in 90 seconds. DBS is now an agile digital bank. This happened because the entire bank wanted to embark on this digital journey.

YS: As a leader, how do you look at work?

SCS: My role is to enable my team to learn continuously and support them in their jobs, bashing the necessary barriers coming in the way of making progress 

To be a digital bank in its true sense, we need to enable our teams to be truly  state of the art and to be continuously in touch with the latest development in all areas be it technology or operating models.  

One thing is certain: I am constantly brushing up on my technical skills and constantly reading. At the moment I am reading Becoming by Michelle Obama as I believe her to be an inspiration and role model for many females.

YS: Have you engaged with startups in India?

SCS: Yes, fintech is becoming very popular in India. I have met a few startups in data analytics and lending. As a leader, you have to spend time to meet people who are innovating and to learn from them e.g. from the startups.

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)