Planting the seeds of innovation at DBS

We find out how award-winning Chief Innovation Officer, Neal Cross, is creating and nurturing an innovation-driven culture in his organisation.

By Nurdianah Md Nur
Sept. 13, 2016

DBS Bank's Chief Innovation Officer, Neal Cross
Neal Cross, DBS Bank's Chief Innovation Officer. Credit: DBS Bank

While cost cutting and improving efficiency contribute to business growth, they need to be coupled with innovation if a company wants to futureproof itself in this age of disruption. As innovation requires a change in mindset and behaviour, it is no easy feat to instill a culture of innovation especially in large, established companies that are too comfortable in their success or way of doing things.

However, it is not an impossible task, as exemplified by Singapore's DBS Bank. Since appointing Neal Cross as its Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) in April 2014, the bank has taken various measures to embed innovation in its DNA as it aims to shape the future of banking.

Those efforts have been fruitful as the bank was recently named as the World's Best Digital Bank by finance magazine Euromoney at its annual Awards for Excellence. Besides that, Cross was recognised as the most disruptive CIO/CTO in the Asia Pacific region and globally in the Talent Unleashed competition.

As part of reviewing Cross' entry, Talent Unleashed Awards judge Sir Richard Branson commented: "A great and very clever way of creating an entrepreneurship programme within the company and investing in the ecosystem. Very inspiring to know that we have people like Neal who truly care about all of these issues, while still working at a bank!"

Another distinguished judge, Steve Wozniak, added: "Organisations today struggle trying to figure out how to enhance entrepreneurship on the inside. This organisation actually does it with an innovative management approach."

So how exactly did Cross and his team managed to inculcate a culture of innovation throughout the bank?

Encouraging innovation inside and outside the workplace
"As DBS' Chief Innovation Officer, I'm really here to introduce a way of thinking and new mindsets at the bank. That's because innovation should be inclusive; everyone has the ability and should have a chance to innovate, regardless of the function they play in this bank or any organisation," said Cross.

"So when I first joined DBS, [my team and I] went on a mission to turn everyone within DBS into an innovator. One of the first things we did was to [host a hackathon, in which we] paired the top executives within the bank with start-ups to invent new products and services to solve real business challenges we faced within DBS. We [now] run a few hackathons annually. These have ranged from those that we have organised for our own people to those where we want to tap into external knowledge and perspectives."

"The point [of the hackathons] was to expose them to what it's like at start-ups, and get them to understand perspectives from the customers we serve every day. This will also drive cultural change by action and implementation," he added.

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