Staff Reporters
Jun 17, 2021

Asia-Pacific Power List 2021: Karen Ngui, DBS

Ngui has led the transformation of her brand in the face of growing competition from digital upstarts, even as she’s redoubled a focus on purpose.

Asia-Pacific Power List 2021: Karen Ngui, DBS
Asia-Pacific’s 50 most influential and purposeful marketers

Karen Ngui

Managing director and head of group strategic marketing and communications
Member since 2018

As the marketing head for DBS, the 53-year-old financial services giant, Karen Ngui has had a busy 2020. In a year when she steered her company’s marketing through a global pandemic, Ngui, a 16-year veteran with the company, has focused on communicating the bank’s strong sense of purpose, advocating its sustainability chops and simultaneously continuing to lead the brand’s digital transformation across Asia. 

It has helped that DBS’s brand position remains strong despite the arrival of a raft of new digital banking upstarts. In Brand Finance’s global brand rankings, DBS ranked first amongst ASEAN brands. 

To strengthen her brand’s purpose, DBS rolled out a number of initiatives including its SG$10.5 million DBS Stronger Together Fund, which provided 4.5 million meals and care packs to low-income people, the elderly and migrant workers across six key markets in Asia. The DBS Portraits of Purpose initiative was launched to spotlight everyday stories  of grit and hope demonstrated during the pandemic, and the website where many of the stories are hosted has attracted over 610,000 unique visitors, 32 million video views and two million digital engagements to date. 

In terms of purpose, The DBS Foundation, where Ngui is a board member, has championed social entrepreneurship and nurtured and nurtured over 640 social enterprises across Asia to date. In 2020,  DBS kickstarted a bank-wide Towards Zero Food Waste initiative and launched new episodes of the second season of Sparks, a mini-series focused on stories with purpose. 

Despite these initiatives, Ngui has maintained a steely gaze on core marketing needs and kept the DBS brand steady in a time of constant churn. The marketing team she leads rolled out the ‘This is DBS digibanking’ campaign in Singapore and across regional markets in 2020. One of her priorities has been to drive and embed a culture of ‘data-led’ decision-making within the team, by encouraging the adoption of a data-driven operating model (DDOM) framework that is meant to function as an “ideal operating model” for all departments in DBS. This includes several DDOM projects in marketing, such as a pilot that seeks to sharpen the efficiency of intelligence gathering and tracking of media insights for the firm’s PR and media team. 

As the lines between earned and owned media continue to blur, Ngui has been growing DBS’s in-house content creation and production teams, to adopt a brand publisher approach in rolling out improved content offerings. 

DBS also led the rollout of a new content lineup in 2020. Future Tense, a podcast, aims to get listeners comfortable with the future as they hear from business leaders who tackle big questions on sustainability, innovation, fintech, and more. Meanwhile, In The Moment, a weekly experiential vlog sees presenter and DBS employee Nadia JH discovering change-makers and community interest groups. 

Ngui mentors young female leaders and on the hiring front, DBS has been proactively building pipelines for female talent in technology—an area where women have been under-represented—through targeted hiring initiatives, including existing programs such as Hack2Hire-Her and 'DBS Women in Tech’, a virtual career fair for female technologists in Singapore.

At DBS, Ngui has been a votary for a strong set of work and leave policies, including neonatal care leave for employees who require additional support when their child is born prematurely. In her own team, Ngui backs colleagues’ decisions to work part-time, or even take sabbaticals of six to 12 months, depending on their personal requirements and preferences. 

Asia-Pacific’s 50 most influential and purposeful marketers


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