House of the year, Singapore: OCBC

Asia Risk Awards 2020

Wee Wei Min
Wee Wei Min, OCBC

OCBC’s continued efforts to put its customers in Singapore front and centre of everything that the bank does has been particularly appreciated by clients during the Covid-19 pandemic, making OCBC a worthy winner of the Singapore house of the year award.

“We pride ourselves on providing excellent customer service, so when Covid-19 happened, and everyone started working from home, we had to make sure we maintained a good level of engagement with our clients,” says Wee Wei Min, global head of sales and structuring at the bank. “All our sales people and treasury advisors were in touch with our clients regularly, calling them and making sure they could still access our services, regardless if they were working from the office or from their homes.”

This has certainly resonated with clients. One Singapore-based corporate client described the level of service they received from the bank as “exemplary”. Another says, “market updates, innovative products and great service [from the bank] has proven most helpful in assisting our firm’s investment strategy”.

OCBC’s internal technology platform has been a boon in fostering greater engagement among clients.

“Through analytics, we are able to identify which clients have impending foreign exchange requirements, interest rate exposure and investment maturities. We leverage on the technology to gain early foothold into our clients’ business ventures, be it in the arena of business acquisitions, organic growth or just the regular hedging requirements. This enables us to engage and reach out to our clients at an early stage for treasury discussions to help them achieve their business objectives,” says Wei Min.

To further improve the levels of customer service, OCBC launched a new ‘dashboard’ system in the middle of 2019, providing every salesperson with immediate access to the client’s financial exposure with the bank and history of previous transactions. Gerard Tan, team head of corporate sales and structuring, says this has been especially valuable during the Covid-19 crisis, because it allows the salespeople to see, at a touch of a button, how clients could be affected by market movements.

“The majority of us have been working from home, and this means that certain information were not readily accessible due to the sensitivity and confidentiality nature of these information,” says Tan. “This dashboard will allow each of our salespeople on the ground to quickly dive into customers’ transactions with the Bank and provide real-time updates and solutions for market moving events.”

OCBC is looking at improvements to the dashboard system as well. One add-on that the bank is working on is an artificial intelligence that could perform predictive analytics on certain markets, such as foreign exchange.

“If a client wants to know whether the Singapore dollar will appreciate, I could trawl through all the news and rely on the expertise that I have gained over the years – or I could, in a single click, get hold of all the consolidated factors that show me exactly where the currency is heading,” says Tan

There are other things in the pipeline, too, including combining the dashboard technology with the bank’s existing datasets, to create a deeper-learning function at the bank that would provide even greater value for clients.

Funding needs

OCBC has had some success in helping its Singapore clients, even as the markets turned choppy.

The bank has helped out a number of small and medium-sized (SMEs) – which were in desperate need of funding – access a government-backed loan mechanism to service their US dollar debt.

Under the loan mechanism – part of Singapore’s ‘Solidarity Budget 2020’ scheme, set up to help ease the pain caused by the Covid-19 crisis – firms can borrow up to S$5 million ($3.7 million) for a maximum of five years. The interest rate is capped at 5% per annum, with the government providing a 90% risk-share on these loans

The problem is that these loans are in Singapore dollars, while many SMEs have US-dollar liabilities.

“We proactively approached and explained to our clients how they can hedge their exposures and obtain US dollars if required under the temporary bridging loan programme,” says Claire Chin, regional head of corporate sales and structuring. “This is an area where we have been able to add value to our clients, and they have been very grateful for all the hedging advice we have been providing them.”

OCBC also prides itself in being able to spot dislocations across various currency and rates markets, in order to seek out attractive funding opportunities for clients.

“For example, if our clients are expanding into Europe, then the natural currency for them to borrow would be the Euro, but this also means they will not benefit from the negative interest rate,” says Chin. “So what we proposed is for our clients to borrow in either USD or Singapore dollars, and then do a cross-currency swap so that they can get a cheaper cost of funding compared to if they just did a straight Euro loan.”

Wei Min says OCBC has worked to strengthen its regional centres, so that many of the structures that are done by head office can now be replicated in other countries.

“This allows us to better service our clients’ cross-border treasury requirements, allowing them to leverage off our wide network as they diversify into other countries,” says Wei Min.

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