Alfian Michael Sharifuddin has been managing director, group head of consumer banking channels technology, at DBS Bank—one of Singapore’s “Big Three” financial institutions--for nearly a year-and-a-half.
Sharifuddin is among numerous executives who will be speaking at the Digital Marketing Symposium, Adobe’s biggest event for the region, later this month.
In advance of the event, Sharifuddin shared some insights with CMO.com APAC about what channels DBS Bank invests in to communicate with its customers, and why he has not been surprised by the trend that has seen IT become tightly integrated with the marketing function.
CMO.com: Tell me a little bit about DBS and what your role involves?
Sharifuddin: DBS is a Singaporean bank that operates in six locations, which include Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Indonesia, India, and Taiwan.
As the group head of channels technology, consumer banking, I manage all of the customer and staff touch points across DBS for the consumer franchise. I work with the consumer business team to deliver end-to-end channel technical solutions to meet our customers’ needs.
CMO.com: What is the greatest challenge you’re currently facing?
Sharifuddin: With technology changing so rapidly, the challenges today lie in keeping up with evolving needs in a cost-effective manner.
CMO.com: In what ways have these technologies changed and affected business?
Sharifuddin: With the rise of mobile and Internet, we have found that we need to migrate many of our functions and features onto these platforms. Increasingly, we are adopting a mobile-first approach because we know that smartphone usage will outstrip any other channel tenfold. If we do not shift our focus to be mobile-centric, then engaging our customers effectively in the future may become a problem.
CMO.com: What channels are you using to connect with your customers?
Sharifuddin: We have an array of customer touch points that include mobile banking, Internet Web channels, ATMs, the bank’s branches, call centres, and, of course, human interaction in sales and distribution.
CMO.com: What cultural changes are needed within the business to communicate effectively in a multichannel environment?
Sharifuddin: Firstly, openness and trust. As long as all parties are willing to communicate in an open way, I find that anything can be overcome. Also, the silo mentality needs to be broken down. Any new initiative where technology is involved should have technology participants included early on in the process. By leaving the engagement until later, it may lead to a lot of rework or missed expectations.
CMO.com: How much has your role changed since you started?
Sharifuddin: Many years ago the technology team used to take instructions from our business partners and deliver what they needed. Over the past few years, my role has evolved to stand alongside our business partners to think jointly about customer-centric solutions. This assists in creating a more pleasant experience for DBS customers. Increasingly, the technology team is viewed as an integral part of the planning team rather than being just an execution team.
CMO.com: Did you ever expect your position in finance and IT to eventually meld so strongly with marketing? When did this realisation/transition occur?
Sharifuddin: I actually did expect it. With the rise of the Internet and mobile and the fact that smartphones penetrate so deeply into our customers’ lives, it was only a matter of time before IT integrated with marketing. We sit alongside to recommend ideas and strategy, especially through the use of mobile applications. Jointly, we are exploring ways to exploit new and more advanced contextual techniques to further add value to our customers’ lives by providing meaningful content, advice, or offers that are relevant to them.
CMO.com: How has your own organisation overcome culturally distinct departments, like digital, marketing, and IT, for them now to all work together?
Sharifuddin: We had to go through a mind-set shift. Culturally, many organisations have internal silos. In DBS, we painstakingly ensure these silos are disrupted. It doesn’t matter whether a person works in technology, operations, or business--everyone works toward the same goal of providing the best customer experience possible.
CMO.com: According to research, Asia is home to some of the most sophisticated digital marketing, and then there are those that still aren't quite getting it right. What trends are you noticing around this? And how can this gap begin to close in the region?
Sharifuddin: Asia is vast. Across the continent there are varying degrees of technological and marketing sophistication. In the more modern and advanced markets, we have seen companies leverage data and contextual techniques to achieve maximum customer engagement, be it for sales or servicing. In other markets, where it is less sophisticated, there is a large gap in terms of how advanced the deployment of such technologies are. I think a lot of it has to do with the country in question. Bridging the gap takes time. I do believe that if we deploy a technology in a country that is not ready for it, the initiative won’t work well. It has to match the level of sophistication of the country.
CMO.com: What are some of the most exciting marketing campaigns or strategies you've seen? Why did they get it right?
Sharifuddin: I actually like the way Apple does its marketing. Its multichannel approach is highly effective. It has grown into an institution for its customers. I find the Apple philosophy--about simplicity of design and how it ties it in with a strong customer-centric approach--very impressive. It’s a great example of marketing melding with IT.
I also like Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), the media announcements around its product launches, and how it implements global live streaming. It makes you feel very connected to the company because you get to see its senior management team often.
CMO.com: Can you please provide two tips for how to make the CMO-CIO relationship most effective?
Sharifuddin: Firstly, any silos need to be broken down. Secondly, there must be trust and collaboration in the relationship in order to make it most effective.
CMO.com: Can you provide an example within your own organisation where this has happened?
Sharifuddin: Where I am, the teams work as one. Decisions are made with the right people in the room, and teams are involved up front, which speeds up the decision-making process and removes guesswork.
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