Technology is central to UOB’s ambition to create progressive solutions that make banking simpler, safer and smarter for its customers, according to Lawrence Goh, managing director, group technology and operations at UOB. Given UOB’s extensive presence in ASEAN, the Bank built a standardised regional platform a decade ago to enable innovation at speed and at scale. To ensure its services remain relevant to its customers, UOB continually invests in technology capabilities and financial technology solutions ranging from advanced data analytics to machine learning.
The results speak for themselves: UOB’s digital initiatives throughout ASEAN have been raising the bar for digital banks and digital banking, cross-border payments and financial advisory, to name just a few.
Scaling innovations across the region
One of its biggest milestones is the creation of TMRW, a full-fledged digital bank for ASEAN’s digital generation, in just 14 months. Within a year of launching in Thailand, UOB launched TMRW in its second market Indonesia while ensuring that it was customised to Indonesia’s cultural, linguistic and regulatory requirements.
The ability to accelerate new initiatives such as TMRW across diverse markets in such a short span of time is a result of the Bank’s multi-year investment in its technology architecture. “Our standardised technology platform is both the backbone and enabler of our business strategy across our ASEAN markets, giving us the speed to innovate at scale and the ability to deliver a seamless customer experience throughout our regional network,” explains Goh.
Goh says one of the first things that technologists working at UOB need to understand is how the Bank’s technology architecture works. The Bank’s standardised core banking platform, which processes the day-to-day banking activities and transactions across its regional network, is built with layers of systems that enable its products and services with market-specific parameters. For example, when the Bank rolled out the UOB Lady’s Savings Account across various markets, its technologists are able to adjust product elements such as interest rates and fees and to ensure the product meets local regulatory requirements, all through the standardised core platform.
Redefining the approach to digital engagement
Another breakthrough for UOB is the development of a digital engagement engine that redefines the way in which it uses data insights to deepen engagement and to drive long-term affinity with customers. In fact, the Bank was a first-mover in this area, departing from the traditional approach of using data analytics as a primary vehicle to cross-sell banking products and services.
Combining advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities with human expertise including behavioural science, the engine rapidly learns the unique preferences of each customer as they transact, enabling it to serve relevant information, services and deals when customers need it. What this means for customers of UOB, including its digital bank TMRW, is a hyper-personalised banking experience that anticipates their individual needs and helps them to spend and save more wisely, which in turn drives brand advocacy in the long run.
“Using advanced data analytics, machine learning and pattern recognition algorithms, we are able to understand what each customer wants and finds relevant even as their preferences change over time,” Goh explains. “Seeing the positive results of our digital engagement engine which was first used in TMRW, we scaled it up and put it into action for UOB customers across the region within just eight months.”
A pathway to progression for technologists
As an ASEAN bank that is continually raising the standards of the industry, UOB opens doors to new opportunities for tech talents to experiment and to design innovations that will define the future of banking.
For example, UOB has been collaborating closely with industry regulators and partners on various projects to promote the development of the region as a hub for financial services. Recently, the Bank teamed up with the Monetary Authority of Singapore, the country’s central bank and regulator, and various banks in Singapore and Thailand to link the two countries’ national fast payment systems. UOB is also the first Bank to pilot an electronic signature service known as Sign with Singpass for its customers to authorise transactions and product applications digitally and securely.
The way in which the technology architecture is designed at UOB also enables its technologists to carve out different career paths, according to Goh. One pathway is to work across the full breadth of the platform, servicing different business segments and markets. Alternatively, there are opportunities to focus in a specific area, from mainframe technology to new innovations such as cloud technology, artificial intelligence or blockchain. UOB has dedicated in-house teams focusing on initiatives in each area.
By setting up cross-functional teams and enabling its teams to work directly with the various business units, UOB ensures that its technologists are able to develop a deeper understanding of customers’ needs and to turn business ideas into solutions that address those needs. “This ensures our technologists aren’t just focusing on the nuts and bolts, the binary ones and zeros, but actually understand the business context and needs for their projects,” Goh explains.
Employees across UOB also benefit from Better U, a Bank-wide training programme that was designed in-house to equip its people with competencies in core areas ranging from digital innovation to human-centered design. Upon completing these foundational modules, employees can then deep dive into specialised learning tracks ranging from data analytics to project management. Goh says UOB also collaborates regularly with technology partners such as Google and VMware to broaden their team’s horizons on the latest industry trends and to equip them with the skills to tap new tools and solutions.
Even as UOB is accelerating its transformation and innovation drive, security remains a top priority at the Bank. Goh says it is of paramount importance for the Bank to protect customers from a cybersecurity point of view, especially in the face of rising financial crime online. To do this, technologists at the Bank are guided by the principle of “security by design”. Security is part of the development process from the outset of any project, not an afterthought, so all solutions are built with the customer’s safety in mind, according to Goh.
Investing in technology and its people has been pivotal in driving UOB to the forefront of banking innovation as it continues to spearhead cutting-edge digital initiatives each year. “ASEAN is really taking off in terms of innovation, particularly in financial services, and we are at the forefront of that,” Goh says. “For technologists who wish to be part of this, UOB is the place to be.”