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Up the game to match empowered generation of consumers, says OCBC head Desmond Tan

OCBC Bank’s Head of Group Lifestyle Financing, talks about the boundless future for the consumer experience of tomorrow.

Spending a big part of the last 17 years working in the finance sectors of various Asian countries has helped Desmond Tan to appreciate just how sophisticated Singaporeans have become.

“We have been groomed to feel empowered, and we expect businesses to constantly up their game,” he says. What this means for OCBC Bank’s Head – Group Lifestyle Financing (who sums up his role as helping the bank, consumers and lifestyle partners to bridge gaps to bring value to one another) is that it has become increasingly vital to look beyond the conventional one-way relationship between a bank and its clients, and to recognise that the most successful businesses operate within communities.

Keeping a close eye on the ever-evolving consumer is critical to your role. What’s the biggest change you have observed over the last five years?

Not only are consumers using non-traditional platforms to fulfil their needs, they are becoming a lot more demanding too. Also, because we are so well connected digitally and companies are getting smarter, using data to get to know customers even before they know themselves means these companies can remind you to do things you might not have thought of. That’s scary because it makes our already very empowered generation have high expectations that everyone needs to up their game.

What’s getting you excited at work now?

I handle OCBC Bank’s credit cards, payments, personal loans and lending, and student loan businesses across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and China. Then there’s a new business line I handle called ecosystem commercialisation. Nowadays, with everything being connected, you cannot work on the economy and in the ecosystem alone. While we can create our own ecosystem and try to embed partners in it, our job is also about fusing ourselves into other people’s lives through various pillars such as health and travel, in addition to banking.

(RELATED: How luxe brands, too, have had to reconfigure to woo millennials.)

So, besides the bank’s usual products and services, what’s key now from a banking perspective is, “How do I embed myself into those ecosystems to ensure I work alongside partners to make life easier for customers?” It’s the future and we are putting our investment dollars behind it to ensure we are embedded tightly in the economy. The future is all about the customer. Putting a product on the shelf and expecting people to look for it doesn’t work anymore.

Enlighten us about ecosystem commercialisation.

If you go on a matured shopping website and buy something, there is a tendency for the company to try to understand your needs and wants, and try to push what we call a “next best sell” or “next best service”. In the same light, in the new ecosystem world, OCBC Bank and Starhub have merged their data in the first partnership of this kind in Singapore.

What does this mean? While banks know the customer’s spending patterns, wealth, income and life stage, a telco like Starhub knows your geolocation activities, what websites you visit and your channel preference when watching TV. By putting these two sets of data together, we form impressions and personas of every customer, which we can then use to deliver better products and services.

(RELATED: Giving personal data for convenience is inevitable, but here’s how you should protect your digital “health”.)

How would this affect the future of consumer travel, for instance?

Before you travel, you might have purchased your air ticket through an airline website. Meanwhile, the telco knows the moment you arrive at your destination when you turn on your mobile phone. To make your life easier, we could immediately send you an SMS saying we’ll activate your data roaming free of charge, and because of this, OCBC Bank is going to waive 50 per cent of your administrative charges when you use our products overseas. But what’s stopping me from also sending you a travel advisory about the country you’re in, for instance, what immunisations you need, where the closest hospitals are, weather reports, and a list of the need-to-know phrases for taking a taxi? Going a step further, how about me pre-arranging a limo for you since I already know you are there? I could also remind you to buy travel insurance.

That’s how I envision the typical travel journey of the future. It’s just one trigger – booking a hotel room or air ticket with your credit card – but it opens so many possibilities for the bank or telco to enhance customers’ lives. To a certain extent, we are helping customers know themselves even before they know it. We want to do it in a way that really benefits them, showing them we’re on a journey with them.

What are your passions outside work?

As a father of two young boys, I enjoy spending time with my kids at the pool on weekends. Food is another passion. I enjoy everything from hawker fare to trying new restaurants and cuisines, and even travelling overseas to places like Hong Kong, Bangkok, Australia, Italy and Taiwan for food. The best dining experiences aren’t necessarily at Michelin-star restaurants, but the ones where the food is so exquisite that when you put it into your mouth and close your eyes, you can appreciate the time, intensity and effort that went into its creation. Good food is important, but great company is also essential for a memorable dining experience.

What destinations are on your travel bucket list?

The Grand Canyon: I went there last year and took a helicopter tour. Next is Bhutan or Tibet, and probably a trip to see the Northern Lights. Then there’s so much of history in South-east Asia to explore. I could spend a day in Angkor Wat, or marvel at the stupas surrounding the Inle Lake settlement in Myanmar where people still live as they did centuries ago. I went there 10 years ago, and there was no TV or phone. It was the last time I stayed at a place with no internet connection.


About the venue: PS.CAFE, MARTIN ROAD

It is located along a quiet, leafy stretch, but inside the all-day diner, a palpable buzz abounds, what with upbeat music playing amid lively chatter from a crowd seeking to unwind, away from the city hubbub. A signature is the truffle shoestring fries but the hearty takes on cafe fare are equally good. For breakfast, try the moreish chorizo chilli hash and poached egg, the Summer Berry Brioche Stack, or, for something healthy with a light crunch, the Superseed Granola. Wash these down with a juice or fresh house sodas. The drinks list also includes craft beers and wines.