Dr Dennis Khoo, Regional Head of TMRW Digital Group at United Overseas Bank, is on a mission to create the most engaging digital bank in Asia.
TMRW, which launched in Thailand earlier this year, is UOB’s first fully-digital bank and offers ASEAN’s digital generation a very different banking experience.
Khoo explains: “Millennials are different to their parents. They want to live their lives differently and the way in which they spend and save is also different. With TMRW, we have created a digital bank relevant to the lifestyle and life choices of the digital generation.”
In practice, this means creating a bank for these mobile-first, digitally-savvy consumers that is engaging, personalised and which anticipates customers’ needs.
Also key to the experience is to make banking simple, transparent and easier. For example, TMRW reminds customers when they have missed payments and creates personalised offers for them based on patterns of spending.
Khoo says there were two main reasons why UOB decided to focus its new offering on the Millennial customer segment. First, TMRW builds a relationship and understanding of the customer that serves them over the longer term. Second, Millennials are sophisticated digital consumers and therefore have high expectations for digital services.
“It may be a bit of a cliché to say they are the customers of the future, but ASEAN has the third highest concentration of Millennials globally. You have almost 350 million people in ASEAN who are under 35 years old.”
Customer engagement at the heart of TMRW’s proposition
He adds that while focusing on mobile-first customers is a huge advantage when it comes to building scale quickly, longer-term it is also the biggest challenge if TMRW attracts customers only based on products and promotions, which can be easily replicated by other banks. To overcome this, UOB has put customer engagement at the heart of TMRW’s proposition.
He explains that as customers transact through TMRW, the Bank can harness meaningful data insights to anticipate customer needs. This in turn makes TMRW an increasingly personalised experience for each customer. Khoo likens it to a virtuous circle where customers increase their engagement with the brand and then the brand engages in a more meaningful way.
UOB believes that this will lead to greater customer advocacy, which in turn lowers customer acquisition costs as word-of-mouth recommendations from trusted sources, such as friends and family, lead to organic customer growth.
“Realising that engagement was the key to scaling was a breakthrough, and that is when we came up with the ambition to build the world’s most engaging digital bank,” he says.
Building the bank of TMRW
Khoo adopted an unusual approach when he first started developing TMRW in 2017, urging his team, which at the time consisted of just six people, to forget everything they knew and to start from a blank slate.
“I felt it was important to pretend we didn’t know anything, so that we could question the very fundamentals of what we were doing. We did not want to jump into an existing digital bank model without really understanding how it can meet our objectives,” he says.
He adds that launching TMRW in Thailand, rather than Singapore, helped this process as it was a market in which UOB has a strong presence but yet still offered a lot of growth opportunities.
“Our goal to launch Thailand’s first mobile-only digital bank was based on extensive market research to deepen our understanding of their needs and service expectations when it came to digital channels. We talked to a lot of customers and held a lot of workshops. In many cases we can trace elements in the design back to these insights.”
Khoo stresses that it was important that the bank and its business model was all about customers, and then finding the right technological solutions that would enable them to make their vision a reality.
“In a way it was upside down, but it should be that way around. You should look at the customer first, then the business model, then the technology.”
Going forward, Khoo plans to add more engagement capabilities to personalise the service TMRW offers customers, using transactional data to help them to save or spend better.
“We are able to personalise the banking experience for each and every TMRW customer, something that could not have been done previously because the technology wasn’t available in a low-cost way. Now we can democratise it,” he says.
With TMRW successfully launched in Thailand, the group is already eying other markets, with plans to expand into Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam in the future.
The Group has also set the target of growing its TMRW customer base to three to five million people within the next five years.
Growing the bank of TMRW
Unsurprisingly, given TMRW’s expansion plans, Khoo is recruiting to his team. He is looking to fill a range of roles, including developers, user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) designers, marketing talents, and people with experience in analytics and using statistical tools.
“We are continually adding to our team, especially in areas that are going to be crucial to our success, such as data, analytics and marketing. We recently hired a behavioural scientist because understanding how people behave is very important in the journey we are on,” he says.
He adds that he is open to hiring people from a broad-range of disciplines, including both bankers and non-bankers, and people who understand design thinking.
Alongside technical qualifications, Khoo is looking for people with the ability to think out of the box and to challenge the norm.
“They need to be always thinking about whether there is a better way of doing something. It is also important that they ask, ‘Why am I doing this?’
“This creates a challenge process in the unit that allows the best ideas to float to the top, regardless of the seniority of the person,” he says.
Khoo strives to create a very empowering atmosphere in his team, in which everyone can contribute, regardless of their position.
“A lot of the feedback from people who work here is that they feel they can make a difference because no matter who you are, you can ask questions and offer ideas. It is very motivating to work in this way.”
To anyone considering joining TMRW, he says: “We are on a mission to build the world’s most engaging digital bank. It is the opportunity of a lifetime to change banking. We are really working on leading-edge stuff. If you want to be a changemaker and to make a tangible impact on the transforming the ways in which people bank and pay, join us.”