Founded in 1968 as the Development Bank of Singapore, DBS was integral to the rise of the newly independent nation. By offering traditional branch services, DBS grew into the largest bank in Southeast Asia, reaching $400 billion in assets.

But as with many firms, big company success led to a bureaucratic culture with engrained habits. A newly hired executive, Paul Cobban, describes how he got into a taxi to report to his first day of work, and when he said his destination was DBS, the driver said, “You mean, ‘damn bloody slow?’,” a reference to notorious wait times for services.

As Chief Data and Transformation Officer, Cobban not only aimed to tackle inefficiencies but to reinvent the bank in an era when fintech start-ups and global technology giants were rapidly unbundling banking services with simpler solutions.

“Our customers’ habits changed,” Cobban says. “They were doing more online—through social media, smart phones and tablets.

Acting like a 27,000-person startup

A transformation led by CEO Piyush Gupta set out to take on these disruptive challenges by way of setting a new aspiration: to make banking joyful—by making it invisible, like stepping out of an Uber having already paid. This perspective led to the setting of three pillars: becoming digital to the core, embedding into the customer journey, and changing the culture to act like “a 27,000-person startup.”

To change behaviors, the transformation team settled on five key traits for the culture: agility, being a learning organization, being customer obsessed, being data-driven, as well as experimenting & taking risks.

The team targeted inefficient meetings as a blocker to change and a hindrance to innovation. Meetings often started and ran late without leading to decisions. Worse, meetings often lacked purpose and were dominated by a few voices, while others sat in defensive silence.

To change its meeting culture, the DBS team created an intervention called MOJO, a regimen which harnesses the belief that innovation is born from a democracy of ideas. The MO (Meeting Owner) ensures that everybody has equal share of voice. Meanwhile, the JO (Joyful Owner) is responsible for the meeting being on point, so no one’s time is wasted, as well as providing feedback to the MO at the end.

Supported by measurement tools as well as physical reminders, such as handout cards, wall art, and paper cubes that can be tossed around, the effectiveness ratings of meetings at DBS has doubled. Employee surveys also revealed that those who reported they have an “equal share of voice” stood at 40% before the interventions but increased to 90% afterwards.


DBS turned to Innosight to help further the goal of behaving like a 27,000-person startup on a day-to-day basis. Building on the success of MOJO, Innosight generalized the intervention as an example of a BEAN, for behavioral Enablers, Artifact and Nudges, an innovative way to hack daily habits. Behavior enablers, for instance, could range from replacing old rituals to deploying coaches to instituting checklists. For more, see our Harvard Business Review article, Breaking Down the Barriers to Innovation.)

To prove out this new approach by introducing more BEANS, Innosight worked with a DBS team at a tech development center in Hyderabad, India that was essential to the digital transformation. Historically, DBS outsourced most tech but leadership decided that being digital to the core meant bringing it in-house. Yet while the place looked like a young, hot tech venture, employee engagement scores were lacklustre and habits were steeped in big-company inertia.

Using BEANS and other interventions to promote the five desired cultural traits, employee surveys after a year showed engagement scores up by 20% and that customer-centricity had risen significantly. In 2018, LinkedIn named the Hyderabad center one of the top 25 places to work in India, and in 2019 it won the prestigious Zinnov Award as “a great place to innovate.”


The results of the culture transformation have benefited both employees and customers. J.D. Power customer satisfaction ratings increased every year for three years. The development team created a range of new digital growth platforms, such as:

  • A mobile wallet app, PayLah!, that has attracted nearly 1 million users
  • Digibank, a mobile-only bank in India and Indonesia with 1.8 million+ customers
  • Treasury Prism, the world’s first online treasury and cash management simulation tool, with 400 corporate treasurers signing up in its first month
  • The innovative use of the social app WeChat to onboard customers in China
  • Smart Buddy, a wearable lunch payments and savings technology for students

Says Cobban: “Innosight taught us how to unpack customer needs in the context of what is the job that the customer is embarking on. Taking that approach got us to a different level of innovation in solving customer problems.”

By breaking through cultural logjams, building new digital platforms, and embracing a powerful story about its future, DBS has also been able to reach record profits and revenue while transforming into a company that has twice won Euromoney’s Best Digital Bank Award.

In 2019, DBS became the only bank ever to simultaneously hold three global titles: “Bank of the Year” (by The Banker), “Best Bank in the World,” (by Global Finance), and “World’s Best Bank,” (by Euromoney).