A Bank, An Insurer & Their Digital Transformation Playbooks

Across economies, there is rising evidence of correlation between total shareholder return (TSR) and digital capabilities. “Digital champions” had annual TSRs that were 5% higher than “digital laggards”. They were also faster growing with nearly 6% higher annual premium growth and 1.8X higher valuation multiples. Their net promoter scores were 8 points higher.

Successful digital transformations are rare, despite the executive attention to build digital capabilities that drive customer centricity and productivity. Failed initiatives are not just in troubled companies – market leaders and investor favorites have also failed. New research shows that 70% of digital transformations fall short of objectives.

Near term impacts include productivity and customer experience improvements. In the medium term, growth opportunities and business model innovation are the norm. Successful transformations set companies up for sustained success. While technology is a given, the people dimension is overarchingly the decisive factor.

Singapore-based DBS Bank was awarded the “world’s best bank” by Euromoney and also bagged the “best digital bank” accolade. As Southeast Asia’s largest bank, while it owes its latest triumphs to bold initiatives during the pandemic, its rise to the top is from a digital transformation years in the making.

That transformation commenced in 2014, with a vision to “Make Banking Joyful”. The vision translated to three strategic priorities: become digital to the core, make DBS invisible and build a 30,000 people start-up culture. Top executives decided early on that emerging technologies and data adroitness had to percolate throughout the bank. The transformation quickly bore fruit, starting with time-to-market reduction in new launches. In 2016 it launched the first digital-only bank in India that added a million customers in the first year. DBS built ecosystem partnerships, such as with fintech Doxa to launch automated payments for Singapore’s construction industry, which accounts for 4% of GDP.

It imbibed learnings from tech leaders with the catchy mnemonic “GANDALF”: G — use open-source software like Google; A — run software on Amazon’s cloud platforms; N — use data at scale and personalize recommendations like Netflix; A — design systems like Apple; L — push for continuous learning akin to LinkedIn; F — focus on communities like Facebook.


In 2017, DBS launched a developer API platform to access services, such as peer-to-peer payment and mortgage assessments. Today the network has 1,000+ APIs. Cars are bought and sold on the platform, with DBS loans integrated seamlessly. The bank became “invisible” to customers while meeting needs. Meanwhile, revenue surged from S$9.6 billion in 2014 to S$14.6 billion.

Generali is Europe’s third-largest insurer, with solutions spanning life, health and P&C insurance. It’s vision “Innovation Everywhere for Everyone” embeds innovation in daily efforts of 70,000 employees in 50 countries. In 2020, this translated to hundreds of innovation projects—leveraging external and internal innovation—aimed at improving internal processes and customer experience. It launched its biggest AI and analytics program ever seen with 3.6 million customers from 10 countries making use of its mobile and Web hub, and agents using platforms that streamlined and innovated insurance processes. €0.7billion was invested in three key areas: a)Backend b)Operations c)Customer and distribution, contributing to: expense reduction in Europe of €0.3billion and the largest NPS improvement among peers.

Recently, Generali outlined a new three-year strategy, investing €1.1billion in transformation to enhance its earnings profile, increase the profitability of its Life business and grow premiums 5-7% by 2024.

A Cornerstone Advisors report found a marked difference between financial institutions with the longest digital transformation experience and newer converts. Institutions who started in 2018 or earlier, rated progress more critically. Evidently, more experience in transformation fostered a more realistic perspective. Companies that successfully master digital technologies and the mindset realize a new rhythm of continuous improvement. Digital is not a binary state, but one of ongoing innovation as new waves of disruptive technologies are released to the market.

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