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UOB pushing the boundaries of digital banking innovation across ASEAN

Even as UOB continually deepens our technological capabilities to accelerate transformation and to enhance business performance, our customers’ needs are always at the heart of our innovation drive, says Albert Kho, a managing director in UOB’s Group Technology and Operations function.

“We have invested heavily in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics in recent years, which enables us to draw deeper insights from data across the Bank. This has played a critical role in the way we create progressive solutions that help our customers to make financial decisions confidently as they progress through different life stages or business cycles. For example, we are using these technologies to help our retail customers make more informed investment decisions,” he adds.

UOB was the first bank in Singapore to launch an AI-driven service on its mobile banking app UOB TMRW (formerly UOB Mighty) to anticipate and to provide personalised insights that help customers save and spend more wisely. Tapping insights from customers’ banking patterns, UOB is also able to provide information to its customers on financial solutions that are relevant to their needs and lifestyle aspirations. These latest solutions are easily accessible on UOB TMRW and include UOB Reward+, the largest merchant rewards programme in Singapore that serves each customer with a personalised reward experience, and SimpleInvest, an easy-to-understand wealth management solution for customers looking to kickstart their investment journey.

Technology is also integral to the way in which UOB is enhancing the customer experience digitally. For instance, Kho’s team has developed an AI-driven chatbot comprising live chat and in-app voice call functions for customers as they increasingly prefer to seek assistance virtually. “We designed this solution here in Singapore and it is a mainstay feature for our digital bank, TMRW, in Indonesia and Thailand. Our customer satisfaction surveys have shown that customers really like it,” he adds.

Making change with technology on a regional level

For talents who want to join a bank that focuses on innovating for customers, the good news is that UOB is hiring “across the board” in technology – from blockchain to DevOps, says Kho.

“We are always on the lookout for talents with expertise in areas such as application programming interface (API) and cloud computing. We also look for candidates with strong strategic thinking, analytical and stakeholder management skills who can understand business problems and bring together experts across our various functions to provide solutions. These skills are a key differentiator for technologists,” says Kho. 

Kho says UOB offers a “unique employment proposition” to technologists interested in advancing their careers. The Bank’s standardised regional platform, which has been running efficiently for several years, enables innovation at speed and at scale.

“What this means for our technologists is that they are able to play a key role in designing and developing solutions that will drive business growth in the region,” explains Kho. “When we plan projects, we take a long-term perspective to assess how our solutions can benefit our customers with varied needs from across the diverse markets in which we operate. In a nutshell, working here opens up many opportunities to turn our strategy into reality through driving innovation across the region and thereby growing professionally as a technologist,” he adds.

UOB’s regional ambitions were a key reason why Kho, who is responsible for driving digital transformation and innovation for the Bank’s retail segment and channels, joined UOB in 2019. “I was also attracted by the potential to make an impact in the region’s retail banking space through technology. As the Bank continues to invest in technology for the long term, it offers a great environment for us to learn new skills and to develop our professional growth. In my role, I also focus on how my team can deepen our collaboration with the various business teams to boost creativity and innovation as we collectively solve challenges and drive the Bank forward,” says Kho.

A diverse hiring approach

Kho says the market for tech talent in Singapore is “extremely competitive”, and UOB often interviews quality candidates from outside the financial services sector. “The use of technology is now much more prevalent across industries than it was 10 years ago as companies accelerate their digital transformation. This makes it imperative for us to widen our talent pool,” says Kho.

“There are certain domains in banking such as credit cards which require our technologists to have specialised knowledge in banking and finance. But there are other areas such as machine learning (ML) and data analytics for which we are able to hire from other industries,” says Kho. “These skills are transferable – you just apply them to a different set of business problems. A financial background can be a plus, but it is not everything. Hiring from non-financial sectors also provides diversity in ideas which is core to spurring innovation thinking and creative solutioning,” he adds.

UOB has recently been boosting the hiring of local technology professionals, including by working with the Singapore government via its recruitment initiatives, SGUnited Traineeships Programme and the Technology in Finance Immersion Programme. “Nurturing local talent is a priority and it is our commitment and duty as a Singapore bank to create meaningful opportunities for talents here. We also believe in building a diverse workforce and the 25 nationalities within the technology and operations family is testament to that,” says Kho.

The future of technology careers at UOB

Kho says there are some key trends that are shaping the future of technology careers at UOB. For instance, blockchain is increasingly being adopted across the Bank, such as in the Know Your Customer (KYC) compliance process as part of our digital bank TMRW customer onboarding journey, given its benefits in improving efficiency and speed while ensuring security and transparency, he says.  

“As part of developing solutions that can help the Bank to reduce time to market and to improve operational efficiency, we also continually test new products in the area of automation such as robotic process automation, test automation and pushing the boundaries of software development,” says Kho.

“Underlying our approach to harnessing new technologies is UOB’s desire to serve customers better and to help them achieve their financial aspirations. Working in a tech role here at UOB is about taking the digitalisation of service to the next level,” says Kho.

AUTHORUnited Overseas Bank

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