DBS aims to be uni of banking talent

It is one of the universal truths of the banking industry that no matter now deep the talent pool, there will rarely be enough skilled people to go around.

Banks have two ways of solving the problem - throw ever-increasing amounts of cash to lure stars from other banks, or take the DBS approach and deepen your own talent pool.

In effect, that means turning the bank into a "university" of talent, or "growing our own timber" as DBS chief executive officer Piyush Gupta describes it in a recent exclusive interview with The Straits Times.

And like trees, the process takes time, Mr Gupta acknowledges, but he is happy at the progress DBS has made since he joined in 2009. That is borne out by one key statistic.

Previously, it was a challenge to find enough skilled people within the bank to move into senior vacancies. Only about a third of these positions were filled internally while the rest had to be recruited from outside.

The level of skills has now deepened to such an extent that an estimated two-thirds of such posts can be staffed from within the bank.

Developing your own talent reaps other benefits too. In a global employee engagement survey last year, polling firm Gallup ranked DBS Bank among the top 10 per cent of companies. Three years earlier, it figured only among the top 30 per cent.

In April, the bank became one of 32 companies worldwide, and only one of three in Asia, to win the Gallup Great Workplace award.

"Our attrition rates have come down tremendously. People feel that they have a future here," notes Mr Gupta.

The sheer size and complexity of DBS - it has 18,000 staff across 15 markets, including Singapore - makes talent spotting and development a challenge.

When Mr Gupta took over the reins, there was a lack of a formal, wide-ranging training programme for the majority of staff.

There was also a shortage of staff who had the skills to steer the bank towards being a multinational organisation operating in several Asian markets.

Mr Gupta says: "If people are going to lead a (multinational) organisation, that is one thing, they are going to need the leadership skills to be multicultural and multi-diverse."

The first step was to have a programme that identified talent, says Mr Gupta, adding: "There was a carefully crafted programme, dividing people into five cohorts."

It identified those in their early to mid-40s who could take over key leadership positions in five to 10 years. Another group consisted of people in their late 30s who are seen as senior talent; those in their early 30s deemed established talent and those in their late 20s regarded as emerging talent, while management associates and new joiners fell into the entry-level talent category.

The bank has since refined the way it identifies talent and now uses metrics - aspiration, ability and engagement - to identify high performers.

Another key priority is to ensure that staff are properly trained and developed.

"This is done through education, exposure and experience," says Mr Gupta.

While younger staff generally need more technical skills, softer skills such as handling customers, leadership and innovation are more important for those in senior positions.

Here is where Mr Gupta warms to his subject and where his background as a former Citibanker comes into play. "I had 21 assignments in 27 years (at Citi), so you have a culture where I was always doing a bigger job than my peer group. That's what we're trying to do here."

Take the experience of some of the senior DBS staff who have done stints in different units as well as overseas.

Mr Melvin Teo, the president director of PT Bank DBS Indonesia, was previously chief executive of DBS Bank in China and headed the bank's private equity business.

Similarly, POSB head Derrick Goh was previously the chief operating officer at DBS' institutional banking group while Mr Koh Kah Siong, who is now the regional head of DBS Treasures, was previously the head of POSB.

Mr Gupta is quick to stress that DBS is not going to throw everyone into the deep end.

"We are custodians of public money after all," but as the bank has a control architecture in place, "rather than the safe way where you wait till people are ready for the job, we are pushing for the developmental way", he notes.

How this plays out for the majority of staff is through various initiatives such as the "two plus two" and the "three plus three".

"It's based on creating an environment for people to move easily, so for more junior staff, after a minimum stint of at least two years in a job, you can give two months' notice and your boss has to let you move to another role," says Mr Gupta.

More senior staff operate under a three years plus three months' notice system.

There is also a formalised training centre - the DBS Academy - where every employee gets seven training days a year, across various areas.

The bank also uses a "talent inventory" process which Mr Gupta likens to a thermometer that highlights issues such as a shortage of young joiners or there being too many staff who are going to retire.

"What we have now is a systematic way of funnelling up to top management where the issues are and where the talent is," he notes.

But while the bank's responsibility is to provide training, resources and a conducive work environment to facilitate an individual's career growth, Mr Gupta stresses that the onus is on staff to make things work.

That said, the bank is confident it is doing more things right than before.

Mr Gupta says: "We hire a lot more from the universities; we used to hire 10 or 20 management associates, now we are hiring 200 people a year. These are our future ambassadors."

At the top end, a group of 250 staff go on a four-day programme focusing on group leadership and how to work better together.

In terms of gender diversity, six out of the 19 management committee members are female, including chief financial officer Chng Sok Hui and the head of institutional banking, Ms Jeanette Wong.

A third is an enviable number for the industry but Mr Gupta jokes that the actual influence they wield is even higher.

Now that the talent-spotting and talent-development systems are firmly in place, Mr Gupta is formulating even more ambitious goals. Referring to global giants Citi, General Electric and Hewlett-Packard and their reputations for nurturing talent, Mr Gupta says: "I am particularly pleased with how we are growing our own timber - with how we are grooming and nurturing talent - but there remains more to be done.

"Over time we would like to be known as a university for talent, a place where people can learn and grow, while making a difference at work."

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