Simple, engaging, transparent — UOB’s digital banking journey

Based in Singapore, United Overseas Bank (UOB) has a rich history spanning 85+ years and has grown to become the third-largest bank in Southeast Asia by total assets.

Unlike other incumbents, UOB was quick to recognize and react to the rise of digital banking and the need to serve the ever-growing, digital-first segment with retail banking solutions which meet their expectations.

But how does a bank rooted in tradition offer solutions which match and even surpass those of today’s innovative challenger banks? Simple: create a challenger bank of its own.

Weathering the COVID-19 storm

The pandemic upended the global economy and forced businesses across all sectors to adapt, fast.

In its Rise of Digital Banking in Southeast Asia report, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) estimated that COVID-19 sped up digital adoption by seven years globally. Within Southeast Asia, the pandemic challenged ‘decades of unbroken economic growth’, but has also ‘delivered a remarkable catalyst for digital adoption’.

Another BCG survey found that 16% of consumers used either online or mobile banking for the first time due to the pandemic. Many of these ‘reluctant adopters’ now join their digitally savvy counterparts in seeking targeted, personalized and experience-driven retail banking services rooted in technology.

Organizations mainly or wholly reliant on traditional solutions and legacy systems when the pandemic hit have struggled to transform in time. But not UOB, which has already taken great strides on its digital transformation journey and devised solutions to rival digital-first challenger banks launched by fintech operators and non-financial institutions alike.

One step ahead of the game

UOB has spent many years migrating consumers to digital channels and offering retail products across a range of touchpoints.

In 2011, it became the first bank to grant customers cardless access to CDM and ATM machines, then the first bank in Singapore to digitalize the application process for its consumer-based banking products in 2018.

Integrating the application process with government-backed platform, MyInfo, removed the need for consumers to submit numerous copies of documents, fill in lengthy paper-based forms, or wait days to find out their application status.

Head of Regional Digital and Mobile, Group Retail at UOB, Aaron Chiew

Commenting on the new, digitized system, Head of Regional Digital and Mobile, Group Retail at UOB, Aaron Chiew said: ‘We know the pain points that customers typically experience when signing up for a new banking product and we have designed the digital application journey to ensure that their first interaction with UOB is simple, seamless and speedy.’

A digital-first mindset

Fast forward to today and every retail product application made with UOB can be carried out online, as the bank continues making digital enhancements to benefit new and existing customers.

UOB press release recognizes that improvements to its digital capabilities — including its mobile and online banking platforms UOB Mighty, UOB Infinity and TMRW, and its digital services and products such as cash management, wealth and treasury solutions — have been crucial during the pandemic when consumers had to stay at home.

In fact, the company claims the continued investment in customer engagement during COVID-19, via digital initiatives, partly contributed to assets under management from affluent consumers increasing 6% to $134bn.

And the positive stats don’t stop there: as the wider financial industry tussled with digital advancement during the pandemic, UOB harnessed the power of its omni-channel engagement model which helped to boost retail deposits 7% year-on-year.

It also increased its 20% market share in retail despite tough competition, with its products receiving higher Net Promoter Scores in the BankQuality Survey than the two other dominating banks in Singapore: DBS Group and OCBC.

Not surviving, but thriving

UOB is a company that has thrived during one of the most challenging and uncertain times in recent history. And its success must be largely attributed to its commitment to digital banking.

Away from its consumer-facing services, UOB is ensuring that the digital-first mindset ripples through the very fabric of the business, reshaping the way the organization thinks and works across every department.

Participants in the UOB AI Deathon

For instance, its AI-deathon is a biennial event that brings together over 7,000 employees — regardless of technical backgrounds — from seven countries to pitch ideas and develop prototypes of artificial intelligence and data analytics (AIDA) solutions for the sector. It prepared employees for this event by having data and AI professionals educate them on financial technology.

As the company rightly recognizes: ‘We have to develop digital talent in all and not just a few.’

‘Your days are numbered’ — Appealing to digital natives

UOB banks over 40% of Singaporeans, with the region home to one of the highest digitally active customer bases among Asia Pacific markets.

UOB’s success in digital banking initiatives led its former head of TMRW Digital Group, Dennis Khoo, to issue a stark warning to fellow incumbents: ‘If you are a traditional bank, your days are numbered.’

He continued: ‘There is a need to challenge the status quo even if you’re a successful and growing traditional bank today. Our customers are increasingly going online and the next generation of customers who are digital natives will likely choose digital-first or digital only channels.’

Former head of TMRW Digital Group, Dennis Khoo

A recent survey from deVere Group, which polled customers born between 1980 and 1996 from areas including Asia and East Asia, found that 59% already use purely digital banking services or are planning to make the switch this year.

UOB is more than aware of this trend, targeting the millennial cohort specifically through the launch of TMRW (pronounced ‘tomorrow’) in Thailand in 2019, and later in Indonesia.

TMRW was the ‘first digital bank for the digital generation’ in the ASEAS region, and the first bank allowing consumers in Thailand to track their savings in real time. Now, its mission is to become the most engaging digital bank in the world.

The bank of TMRW

Prior to developing TMRW, UOB carried out ethnographic research which showed that millennials value relevance, simplicity and transparency from their bank. And so it created a solution that meets each of these needs, with its suite of innovative features including: a personalized dash and app; a Facebook/Instagram-style feed; tailored insights in the form of a ‘Card’; and a game called ‘City of TMRW’ where customers build a city as their savings grow.

Though still in its infancy, TMRW has delivered exceptional results for UOB. By March 2021, it had acquired over 310,000 customers from launch, 70% of whom were new customers to the banking group. Cost per customer acquisition (CPA) has plummeted over 40% since December 2020, too.

Today, TMRW customers make up 15% and 20% of Thailand and Indonesia’s retail customer base, respectively.

A customer-centric model

UOB has not been fazed by digital transformation but has embraced it as an opportunity to deliver improved and, at times, ground-breaking retail banking solutions that empower and engage their increasingly digitally native customer base.

Meniga proudly partnered with UOB in several markets for the development of TMRW, helping to clear, categorise and process complex transaction data in order to generate personalized insights for its users. You can read more about the challenges, and our solutions, here.