Surekha Ragavan
Jul 7, 2022

Why DBS wants to be seen as a tech startup rather than a bank

DBS marketer Karen Ngui on the brand’s new regional campaign, pushing ‘startup values’, and prioritising presence marketing.

Why DBS wants to be seen as a tech startup rather than a bank

When DBS launched its brand positioning in 2018 to ‘Live More, Bank Less’,  the industry saw it as a “bold move”, according to Karen Ngui, managing director, head of group strategic marketing & communications for the Singapore bank.

So far, the response to ‘Live More, Bank Less’ has been assuring, adds Ngui, who was recently named to Campaign Asia-Pacific’s Power List. When the platform was first rolled out in 2018, post-campaign numbers showed that people took to the new motto very quickly, and it soon became associated with brand DBS. Before signing off on ‘Live More, Bank Less’, Ngui’s team performed qualitative research and it was found in focus groups that people perceived ‘bank less’ as something to do with better technology. This point assured Ngui that she was on to something.

But initially, when the positioning was being considered internally, concerned colleagues of Ngui’s would ask her: “Why do you want to tell people to bank less with DBS?”

Ngui says: “We’re not telling people to bank less with DBS. But rather to spend less time, less hassle, and less pain banking. So that they can do more.”

Fast forward to present day, ‘Living, breathing Asia’, the bank’s old brand positioning that was used for 12 years, has effectively been replaced with a fresher, newer outlook for the brand.

Historically, banks have largely been perceived as ‘old-guards’: process-driven, bureaucratic, and corporate. And this has inevitably seeped into brand positioning for many banks. DBS aims to do the sector one better by changing the outlook of users away from banking altogether towards values associated with tech startups. Qualities usually associated with startups—high-growth, high-energy, and innovation—are things that DBS wishes to emulate, Ngui says.

“I've always believed that it’s about building the brand from the inside out,” she says. “And therefore, it's about 33,000 of us who work at DBS inculcating a different kind of culture that’s not your traditional bank culture where it's very bureaucratic with onerous processes. Piyush [DBS CEO] always says that we are 33,000-strong startup. We challenge the status quo, we ask questions, and it’s definitely not a ‘if it ain't broke, don't fix it’ culture.”

This startup culture, according to Ngui, is something that the bank has been trying to inculcate for years but it hasn’t explicitly marketed this mindset externally.

“That's why we feel that perhaps it's timely to demonstrate the fact that we want to be a different kind of bank, and why. It's by being an idea incubator, it's by thinking like a techie,” she says.



To push ‘Live More, Bank Less’ into fifth gear, new creatives and assets have been created—in partnership with agency partner Tribal DDB—to elevate this messaging (see above) and to tie into the bank’s 54th anniversary. The bank also wants to stress that tech such as blockchain and AI are being leveraged into their offerings. Plus, big themes that fits with DBS’ purpose, such as food waste and sustainability, are explored.

From a media-buying point of view, Ngui’s team has prioritised presence marketing where MRT stations and buses have been emblazoned with assets from the new campaign, aside from traditional OOH. For instance, the brand performed a complete buy-out of the City Hall MRT station.


“We chose to funnel more of the budget to presence marketing because in the past, there was a lot of digital. Digital is still important, don't get me wrong. But we felt that it's important with people coming back to the office. We wanted to be seen, hence the bus shelters and the MRT stations,” says Ngui.

Following this campaign, the brand will employ its usual brand trackers to gauge whether certain attributes or perceptions have shifted among users. Internally, internal surveys and annual employee engagement surveys will continue to be rolled out.

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