Redefining Performance Management at DBS Bank

How Lofty Ambitions and Innovative Metrics Sharpened Customer Focus

by: David Kiron and Barbara Spindel
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In 2008, the year David Gledhill went to work for DBS Bank, few would have predicted that within a decade the Singapore-based bank would be racking up an impressive slate of honors. Nonetheless, DBS was the first recipient of Euromoney’s Best Digital Bank Award in 2016; it received that distinction again in 2018 and, that same year, was also named Global Finance’s Best Bank in the World.

Just a decade ago, however, DBS, beset by long lines at branches and ATMs, high turnover among relationship managers, and a plodding credit card application process, had the worst customer satisfaction scores of all the banks in Singapore. Chief data and transformation officer Paul Cobban, who came aboard in 2009, recalls that “it was almost embarrassing to tell people at dinner parties” that he worked for the bank “because DBS had such a bad reputation.”

Executives did not simply change their performance management systems to achieve these goals. They redefined the meaning and measurement of performance.

Soon after Cobban joined, a newly arranged management team, with the support of tech-savvy CEO Piyush Gupta, turned things around by thinking of DBS as more of a tech startup than a bank. Gledhill, DBS’s CIO, says, “Our future competition wasn’t going to come from just banks, but from a lot of cool technology companies that were going into finance.” DBS, in Gledhill’s words, committed to becoming “digital to the core,” and he and his team initiated a thoroughgoing culture change to support digital innovation.

Executives did not simply change their performance management systems to achieve these goals.

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