DBS a more efficient outfit now, says CEO

DBS a more efficient outfit now, says CEO

SINGAPORE - In the three years since Mr Piyush Gupta took the helm of DBS Group Holdings, he has stemmed a declining market share and made DBS a more efficient outfit.

When he took over as chief executive in 2009, herculean tasks awaited him. He envisaged DBS as a leading pan-Asian bank, better able to utilise its huge deposit base.

He also wanted to rebuild management strength in Hong Kong after it overpaid for Dao Heng Bank in 2001, and to expand in Indonesia, where DBS lagged behind its local counterparts.

Speaking to the local media at a press conference on Wednesday, Mr Gupta said: "DBS is quite a different bank than it used to be three to four years ago."

He said DBS had not functioned as a regional multinational when he took over; rather it was run as a sum of small entities.

"We are now centrally managed, there is now a standardised policy framework, we are more efficient and effective."

One key change is that DBS has managed to utilise its traditionally strong deposit surplus more efficiently, lifting its Singapore dollar loan-to-deposit ratio from 55 per cent to about 70 per cent.

The ratio reflects the sum of loans per dollar deposited. A lower number means the bank has funds sitting unused.

He said: "That kind of shift can only come with substantial increases in market share, which we have been able to achieve in our Singapore business."

For example, DBS' market share of business loans has grown from 20.3 per cent in 2009 to 26.2 per cent last year. Its share in the auto loans business rose 3 percentage points to 28.5 per cent.

While mortgage market share is nowhere near the 42 per cent of a decade ago, it managed to make a slight gain from 24 per cent in 2009 to 25 per cent last year.

"The opportunities in Singapore were not exploited. We have now put our branches to work, and they are now a significant source of origination," he said.

"With 53 per cent market share of savings accounts, that is sticky money. We use that in clever ways, we can leverage better products in the market, and use that to drive pricing down," he added.

Even with interest rates low, DBS has managed to achieve a three-year high for return on equity, of 11.2 per cent last year.

Asian banks, including DBS, were helped by the retreat of the Western banks during the global financial crisis.

Mr Gupta said: "We got a window to build client bases, which would have been hard to do in the early part of the decade. Even though the Western banks are coming back and the marketplace gets more competitive, we have been able to hold our own."

Mr Gupta also noted that regional contributions made up 42 per cent of its revenue last year, up from 35 per cent in 2009.

Its Hong Kong business made record profits last year, finally quelling what has been a "big question mark" on its acquisition of Dao Heng Bank.

"It was clear when we took some impairments that we have not been able to get the return on investments, but today we are a lot more comfortable. It is starting to show the growth and purpose that we originally acquired Hong Kong for," he said.

Mr Gupta is bullish on Indonesia and keen to buy Bank Danamon, though it is still awaiting the nod from Bank Indonesia.

He is also keen to use technology to change the way customers do business with the bank.

"We have filed some patents, hopefully we can launch over the next few months and years."

Another big area of focus is the fixed income and bond markets.

"The Asian bond markets will be the biggest story in the next five to 10 years, that is another big area of focus and growth."

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