As the world gradually rides out the pandemic, what has been the digital impact on firms in South East Asia? And how are firms navigating the reshaped world? A panel of industry veterans from across the region shared their views on setting the path for operational efficiency at DTCC’s recent South East Asia Virtual Forum. Moderated by Nigel Gnoh, DTCC Associate Director of Business Development for South East Asia, the panel included Noorhaslin Mohd Baseri, Head of Investment Services Department, Employees Provident Fund; Brenda Choo, Chief Operating Officer, Principal Asset Management, and Nayeem Khan, Managing Director and Head of Operations Transformation, Bank of Singapore.
Shortening the Digital Adoption Curve
“The pandemic has accelerated our digitalization initiatives, pushed us to go completely digital in our interactions with clients.,” noted Khan responding to a question about changes to operating models. “While it was challenging for those involved in the change process, the speed of implementation would not have been as fast in normal circumstances, and we are now in a much better place than we would have been otherwise.”
Noorhaslin echoed, “Because we have already put in place an effective resilience program to invoke during a crisis, we have been operating business as usual since the pandemic hit us – remotely or onsite. And some of our processes have become even more efficient.”
She continued, “Our digital transformation journey started much earlier – mapping it to a 10-year period to turn EPF into a digital firm by 2030. Given the current abnormal situation, our target to go digital has been brought forward to 2025. What this means for EPF is that we, as a firm, have been working furiously to ensure that we respond and react much faster to operational requirements and challenges. Teamwork and cultural acceptance contributed to our ability to adapt to change much faster.”
Speaking about the rapid digital movement spreading across Thailand, Choo added, “The skillsets are changing – gravitating towards digital talents although this shift is not only unique to Thailand. What has been working for us in our digital implementation is to acquire skillsets in digital marketing and integrate them with existing product and infrastructure teams. The combined skillsets and expertise brought by each group has ensured that we are better positioned in developing solutions that address our requirements.” To amplify this point, Choo gave the example of successfully building a Voice of Customer Program by leveraging the expertise and experience of a digital marketing team, which has improved the client experience.
“Teamwork and cultural acceptance contributed to our ability to adapt to change much faster.”
Conceptualizing Digital Ideas Jointly
As any transformation project is dependent on the people driving it – and not the underlying technology – Khan noted that face-to-face interaction between and among staff to brainstorm and spark of ideas or build on the ideas of others is lost in the current work environment. “Firms will have to look at different ways to engage resources and at the Bank of Singapore, we have launched more training programs and virtual events to enable staff to come together, interact and build closer rapport, virtually.”
Partnering for Success
Choo believed that forming strategic partnership is essential to go the distance and hence, will create a permanent digital landscape change. She said, “We need a partner who is able to walk the walk with us, specifically at our back office. We need a centralized platform to seamlessly match and reconcile our trades. While it may be easy to manage this process manually, an automated solution is required when the number of trades increased to over 250 daily as was in our case. Specifically, DTCC’s Institutional Trade Processing (ITP) platform can play a big part in helping us manage our trade reconciliation and exceptions to ensure timely trade settlement.”
Noorhaslin concurred the value of instant access to DTCC’s global client community to communicate with EPF’s counterparties and accelerate the post-trade processes. She also underscored the efficiency that the ITP platform brings to EPF, particularly when managing cross-border trades with counterparties from a different time zone. The benchmark reports offered by DTCC has been useful in helping EPF evaluate the performance of its brokers against the industry, she added.
Gazing into the digital outlook, Choo opined, “Leveraging digital capability to transform the front to back end will remain a priority for firms in the region. For the front office, we recommend adopting a fail fast, invest and execute digital strategy while robotic process automation has helped tremendously in managing our operations.”