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DBS boosts Covid-19 response and estimates small 2020 revenue hit from virus

DBS boosted its headcount by 1,671 last year, largely thanks to new technology hiring, while its investment bankers and private bankers enjoyed a bumper 2019, according to the bank’s annual financial results.

But CEO Piyush Gupta didn’t just have 2019 front of mind when he presented the bank’s figures – he also spoke about DBS’s efforts to combat the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus and how the outbreak might impact the bank’s numbers for 2020. On Wednesday DBS evacuated the 43rd floor of its Marina Bay headquarters after announcing that an employee had tested positive for the virus.

Prior to this, DBS had already implemented split teams and work from home arrangements for some of its staff. Gupta said these policies have caused “minimal service disruption”, adding that “staff welfare” is a top priority for the firm right now.

Gupta reiterated some of DBS’s recent coronavirus-focused initiatives for staff and customers, including ensuring adequate employee supplies of “personal protection equipment” (e.g. face masks and sanitisers) and introducing a six-month principal repayment moratorium on property loans. He also announced new “community support” initiatives, such as a partnership with taxi company ComfortDelGro to aid coronavirus contact tracing.

How will the economic disruption caused by the coronavirus affect DBS’s bottom line this year? Gupta said he expects a full-year revenue impact of about 1% to 2%, but the comparatively low estimate is based on the virus being “controlled by summer”. This is by no means certain. Some medical experts believe the coronavirus could have the potential to infect a third of the world’s population in a worst-case scenario, although a Singaporean infectious diseases consultant said last week that it is likely to ease by the summer. Today Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the impact of the outbreak on Singapore’s economy has already exceeded that of Sars.

Gupta’s coronavirus pronouncements partly overshadowed a favourable set of figures for DBS, which recorded a 14% year-on-year rise in net profit to S$6.39bn in 2019. DBS has also been hiring. It added 1,671 people last year, taking its headcount to 28,419.

How did DBS manage to boost its workforce by 6% in just a year? About 72% of the new DBS jobs were for what the firm classifies as “insourced” tech professionals – people who previously worked on DBS tech projects at vendors but are now employed by the bank. Technology professionals likely account for an even greater proportion of the 2019 additions to DBS’s payroll, because the firm would have also poached people from competitors. Technology, digital and analytics roles make up close to half of the bank’s current Singapore-based vacancies.

Meanwhile, 2019 was a good year to be an investment banker at DBS. While IBD remains a small part of DBS’s overall business, gross fee income was up 66% year-on-year in 2019 to S$213m, by far the highest percentage jump of any product line. Wealth management fee income rose by 13% to reach S$1,290m.

Image: kirill-petropavlov, unsplash

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AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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