Standard Chartered has been present in Singapore for 159 years and currently operates in ten ASEAN markets. Regional CEO Judy Hsu discusses SC’s operations in the Southeast Asian region, its digital transformation agenda, and how it is investing in employee training, re-skilling and up-skilling in line with Singapore’s SkillsFuture initiative.
How do you see the evolution of Standard Chartered in the ASEAN region?
In terms of the region,the ASEAN and South Asia (ASA) region is a key contributor to the Group’s performance. We are one of the largest and oldest foreign banks in most of our markets in ASA. What differentiates us as a region is the integral role ASA plays as an economic powerhouse with a significant impact on the global economy. Together with well-established trade corridors in ASA, we are in a strong position to facilitate greater trade flows and investment within ASA and with the rest of the world.
We are fully committed to this region. For instance, we are really focused on and will continue to invest in the bigger markets like Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia – given the opportunity and the size of the market and the fact that they are large trading partners. Many of the Singaporean companies have businesses in these three countries.
Of course, the next big destination for many of the companies in Singapore is Vietnam, where we have also invested heavily in the last few years. If you think about last year, we helped more than 120 companies in Singapore expand into the region and that's the value we bring.
Standard Chartered started its big digital transformation in 2015 and committed more than $3 billion to it. You’ve launched the eXellerator, your innovation hub as well as the SC Ventures. How do you see the Fintech atmosphere here in Singapore? How do you believe that's going to impact your operations not only here but possibly worldwide?
It's both an opportunity and a threat. But I would say it's more of an opportunity. We were one of the first banks, along with others, to start our innovation lab, eXellerator,here. The objective of this lab is not to become a Fintech company, but to work with our clients, understand their problemsand seek new ways of solving them.
We try to match those problems with a fintech solution and then test it in a proof of concept. In Singapore, just in 2017, we engaged more than 500 fintechs. We did 28 proofs of concepts and 10 of these are in production, in retail banking, and corporate, commercial and institutional banking. Technology is at the heart of our strategy and everybody's strategy. But technology's nothing if it doesn't solve a problem, if it doesn't provide a solution.
Technology also comes with disruption and the need for continuous learning, upskilling. Can you tell us a little bit how you are incorporating that SkillsFuture ideology or mentality in your own operations?
Two years ago, we launched an initiative to encourage our over 9,000 employees based here to start thinking about up-skilling. As a bank, we do a lot of training. Most of the training is related to your current job. It's important that you continue to upgrade yourself in your current job. But that initiative was to encourage employees to think more laterally: what are the other important skills that you should acquirethat could help you move or progress to another role. We curated a menu of about a hundred different courses for our employees. We put a budget behind it and we branded it ‘SkillsFuture@SC’.
We are also committed to retraining and re-skilling 3,000 employeesin the next three years across Singapore to ensure that they are future-ready. We can't guarantee everybody a job for life but we want to do is that when you are employed by Standard Chartered, we support you in acquiring the skills for you to continue to work for ten, twenty, thirty years, however long you want. That's our commitment. It's with us hopefully or with other industries. Certainly, this insecurity about jobs is not onlyin Singapore, it's everywhere. It's what we encourage at the end of the day, the mindset.
The other piece is also about being a lot more client-obsessed. As an organization, we are very client-focused but if you look at the non-traditional players who are coming in,either in payments or in many other parts, not only in banking, they are very strong at delivering a very strong service to a slice of a problem. This client-centricity is also something that we continue to focus on. It is a real threat because, as a bank, if you're not obsessed about your clients and you focus too much on many other stakeholders, you might not be relevant anymore.
At the end of the day, technology and digitalization is more an opportunity for us. Given that we are such a large organization, some things cannot be replaced by technology. This relationship and an understanding of local expertise and how we do business – be it in Vietnam, India or Bangladesh where we have a strong presence – these things can’t be replaced by technology. But still we have to equip our people to embrace technology so that we can continue to be relevant.