EXCLUSIVE: “The transformers: Building the future of banking” – Dr Dennis Khoo, TMRW in ‘The Fintech Magazine’
Dr Dennis Khoo created the digital bank of TMRW – one of the most successful among the so-called ‘speedboat’ launches – and went on to write the playbook for others to follow. His most surprising piece of advice? There’s no such thing as ‘digital’ transformation
Traditional banks are facing unprecedented disruption from challengers, which begs the question – why aren’t more launching their own digital propositions?
Some high-profile standalone failures, such as JPMorgan Chase’s Finn and RBS’ Bo, may put them off. But there have also been some notable accomplishments from which to draw confidence and inspiration. One of the most impressive is the digital challenger launched by United Overseas Bank (UOB) in Thailand in 2019, and subsequently rolled out in Indonesia in 2020.
Led by entrepreneur Dr Dennis Khoo, who has gone on to advise others embarking on the same journey, the team went against established paradigms and bucked conventional wisdom to build a bank that didn’t just imagine a different financial future, its very name embodied it: TMRW.
At the start of this year, Khoo released Driving Digital Transformation: Lessons From Building The First ASEAN Digital Bank, an eye-opening exposition of his time at the neo, filled with useful analysis and guidance for those chipping away at a similar coalface and finding the work hard. Khoo himself admits that creating TMRW – now a stand-out success with more than one million customers – was the most complex initiative in his 30-year career. He was driven to write about it to address what’s obviously a pressing market need: a dismal five to 30 per cent of digital transformations at big banks manage to achieve the stated objectives.
So, what, in his opinion, could the industry do to improve those odds? For starters, stop using the term ‘digital transformation’.
“There’s no such thing,” he says. “If you’re going to transform a company, you need to work on people, and you need to work on process. You need to work on technology, yes; but it’s about holistically trying to intertwine all three – people, process, and technology. And a lot of companies just aren’t doing that because they get too enamoured by the digital part and forget there’s a lot of people involved, and a lot of process involved.”
FAIL TO PLAN, PLAN TO FAIL
Dr Khoo believes the more successful projects, including TMRW, owe that success to robust planning and organisational design.
“You don’t build a building without proper plans,” he says. “When you build a building, there’s so many bills for materials, so many drawings, and so many people involved: the electricians, the mechanical people, interior designers, and the bricklayers who will put together the foundations.“Business transformations are just as complex, but in many cases we don’t know who the architect is, we don’t know who the engineer is, and we just focus on the builder. If it goes wrong, we blame them. We forget to ask who the architect was, and who engineered the whole thing.”
Georg Ludviksson, CEO and Co-founder of Meniga, a partner of TMRW and experts in personal engagement banking, agrees with the importance of proper planning.
“It’s not as simple as ‘OK, I’m building a new digital bank, so I’ll hire a startup and put them in a separate building’. It’s much more complicated than that. A lot of organisations now realise they need to embark on a digital journey, but the problem lies in how exactly they build the execution capability.
“When I first met Dr Khoo in the early days of TMRW, I immediately noticed his attention to detail, which was really impressive. His ability to create the right culture and minimise the chances of details being lost.”
It’s the details Khoo drills down into in the newly published follow-up to his first book. The all Digital Future Playbook (taP): How To succeed In Digital Transformation & Innovation In A Complex World is intended to be a deep-dive for senior leaders who are undertaking a major transformation or creating a new digital business innovation. By exploring each transformation or innovation using taP’s customer, business, capabilities, and people and leadership dimensions, it exposes and explains the complex circular interactions common in such initiatives.
“If you’re going to transform a company, you need to work on people and process. You need to work on technology, yes; but it’s about holistically trying to intertwine all three”
“I felt it was a good time to introduce a new playbook because the failure rates are very high,” explains Khoo. “The main thing that’s missing is a holistic approach; you have all these ingredients but if you don’t think about how you’re going to throw them together, the soup could taste awful.”
PUTTING CUSTOMERS AT THE HEART OF TRANSFORMATION
“A central ingredient in this ‘transformation soup’ is undoubtedly customer experience, which needs to be at the heart of the recipe; instead, many organisations make the mistake of putting money first.“Banks need to understand their customers; what they want, their pain points, and behaviours,” says Khoo.
“That’s the beginning of having very customer-centric thinking and culture. But the industry often thinks too much about selling products. Selling is not a customer-centric event – experience is a customer-centric event. When you think of giving customers great experience, they will naturally buy from you. But when you focus on selling too much, you will neglect the experience.
“Sometimes banks don’t have the patience, they don’t focus on the fundamentals. They start by going ‘OK, what’s the cross-sell ratio? How much money are we making?’. That can destroy everything. It goes back to why we are trying to change banking. It’s all about engaging to cross-sell, rather than cross-selling to engage.
If you’re truly customer-centred, you’re going to put into place things that will make customers love you. And, if customers love you, how can you not make money?”
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