Singapore banks need to quicken response to disruptive innovations

THERE have been some interesting developments in the world of finance over the past few months, which have led to a clarion call for change being sent out across the banking industry. Piyush Gupta, the CEO and director of the DBS Group, sounded the warning in a keynote speech at Singapore Management University’s (SMU) Sim Kee Boon Institute for Financial Economics’ (SKBI) 5th annual conference in early May.

In a thought-provoking speech, he predicted that unless traditional banks adapt, innovate and harness digital technology, they would perish sooner than they could realise any threat. Indeed, the pace of change is so fast that it prompted Mr Gupta to declare that DBS’ goal in the next five years was to become an “invisible” bank.

Vivian Balakrishnan, minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation initiative, appeared to concur with Mr Gupta’s viewpoint, and in his keynote address at the conference dinner, said: “If our banks, financial institutions and businesses are doing exactly the same thing next year as they were doing last year, we are going to be swamped, because the pace of change is not slowing down.”

The inexorable rise of digital banking and digital currency is gaining momentum. The emergence of these new technologies and the financial innovations that it facilitates, such as peer-to-peer lending, blockchain, crowdfunding, Internet finance, cryptocurrency, and the decentralised ledger, have allowed non-bank entities to reach out and serve the bottom of the pyramid, providing direct competition and a threat to traditional banks.

A good example would be the bitcoin system and its blockchain technology which have been quietly gaining acceptance among startups over the past year or so. In fact, earlier this April, Jamie Dimon, the chairman, president and chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase, said: “Bitcoin developers are going to try and eat our lunch.” Around the same time, Blythe

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