UOB puts ESG strategy and digital expertise front and centre

It’s become clear in recent years that UOB has doubled down on environmental, social and governance initiatives and bolstered its digital capabilities in response to client needs and behaviour. Its efforts to stand by its clients, in good times and bad, deserve recognition.

Singaporean bank UOB’s tagline of doing ‘right by you’ certainly resonates with clients in this day and age. After all, people in the city-state and around the world have had to contend with an unprecedented health crisis, a high interest rate environment putting pressure on the wallet and a rapidly changing financial and banking world over the past few years. So having a bank that is committed to fuelling your success, doing right by you and building you a better and brighter tomorrow is certainly appealing.

It helps that UOB’s credentials and track record are nothing but strong. With a history of nearly nine decades, the Singapore-headquartered bank is a dominant player in Asean and China and boasts a global network of 500 offices in 19 countries and territories around the world.

It’s also among the world’s top-rated banks – thanks to double-A ratings from all the three major ratings agencies – and is often viewed as among the safest financial institutions globally.

UOB has long maintained four strategic focus areas: create personalised financial solutions for clients through an omnichannel approach, help customers grow sustainably and integrate sustainability into its own business, connect customers in Asean with Greater China and the rest of the world, and foster a culture of care, growth and trust among employees. Over the years, it has easily made its mark in financial circles, and in 2023 took three awards from The Digital Banker in its Global Retail Banking Innovation Awards: Best ESG Initiative, Best Data Analytics Initiative, and Outstanding Use of Advance Analytics – Singapore.

POWERFUL SUSTAINABILITY AGENDA

Sustainability has long been UOB’s priority, for which it works alongside customers, colleagues and partners to forge a sustainable future. That is evident in the suite of green-linked products it provides its customers across personal banking, wealth banking and privilege banking.

Take the UOB Go Green home loan, whereby the bank provides the financing to help clients purchase a sustainable residential property in Singapore. It has bolstered this initiative by offering shopping gift cards that clients can use to buy environmental[1]friendly household items, as well as discounts on U-Solar packages so clients can switch to solar energy for their homes in a cost-efficient way.

Another UOB proposition is the Go Green car loan to support clients looking to buy electric vehicles. With the UOB Go Green Car loan, consumers enjoy free charging benefits to support EV adoption and the bank rewards customers with three Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to encourage consumers to embrace greener living and align with the go green initiatives of the government roadmap.

UOB is also behind Southeast Asia’s first bio-sourced credit card, which offers customers a host of perks like 8% cashback on online and mobile contactless spends, up to 50% discounts at specific merchants and a way to offset all of a client’s electricity consumption through the Singapore Power digital app. Called the EVOL credit card, its usage of 84% plant-based Polylactic Acid (PLA) card material made from non-edible corn reduces the use of petroleum[1]based plastics by 4.48 and produces 10g less carbon footprint for every card.

From an investment perspective, UOB provides access to a variety of high-quality sustainable bonds as well as mutual funds including that of Allianz, Robeco, Schroders and BlackRock.

What’s notable about UOB is that its ESG focus is not limited just to the environmental aspects. It has also put in efforts on the social and governance fronts, with a particular focus on enriching its own employees and arming them with skills they will need now and in the future.

Yes, digital upskilling and reskilling is big at UOB, and is executed through an initiative called Better U. It was initially focused on helping employees with five core competencies: growth mindset, problem-solving, digital awareness, human-centred design and data storytelling. But this has since been extended to also cover effective communication, building an executive presence, owning their careers and sustainability. By May 2023, more than 18,000 employees had benefitted from the Better U programmes – a win-win for UOB, its employees and for the Singapore economy.

DATA ANALYTICS SUCCESS

As a pivotal part of Singapore’s financial sector, UOB takes pride in its desire to improve customers’ branch experience. Before, the bank used to gather customer feedback through traditional channels, such as hardcopy forms or letters, emails, call centres and periodic surveys. But the sustainability of this model soon came into question, given the lag in receiving feedback, low client response and equally low engagement.

To improve the ease of providing feedback, UOB launched a new Voice of Customers (VoC) approach involving the use of QR codes and dynamic surveys. All customers need to do is scan a QR code in a UOB branch and rate their experience. From there, the branch receives real-time customer feedback in their dashboard. Through data and text analytics, it can now summarise the entire CX rating, identify areas for improvement, as well as maintain strong metrics.

This novel technique was derived by working with partners to develop dynamic surveys that pose questions based on customers’ responses. This way, UOB gets the real voice of the customers, in real time, and adjusted to a client’s specific context and issues. Branch customers are appreciative, with UOB seeing a spike in customer engagement levels versus traditional feedback tools.

Importantly, the quality of responses is growing, with clients more willing to leave qualitative feedback that UOB staffers can analyse and improve on – reinforcing its award for the Best Data Analytics Initiative.

UOB TMRW DELIVERS BIG

For a case study of the outstanding use of advanced analytics, one needs to look no further than UOB TMRW, an all-in-one banking app for the digital generation, offering smart and simple solutions to help customers stay one step ahead of their finances. UOB TMRW features everything from artificial intelligence-driven insights and rewards personalisation to mobile foreign exchange currency conversions, digital investments and cash-free payment options.

Its reach is impressive. UOB delivers roughly 120 million personalised insights every year via UOB TMRW across the ASEAN region. But notably, the team of bankers is constantly innovating, to ensure UOB TMRW remains the go-to app for customers. One big innovation in 2022 was the June launch of the Insights Analytics Engine across Singapore and Malaysia, with the objective to examine large volumes of feedback and extract findings that can help uncover customer patterns. Through the engine, the UOB team is able to receive relevant data points that they can take action on in real time.

The Insights Analytics Engine is unique because it can review verbatim feedback, identify the positive or negative sentiment behind the feedback based on a semantic analysis of the words used, and draw out common themes. Had the Insights Analytics Engine not been implemented, reviewing the breadth and depth of verbatim feedback provided would likely have required hundreds of hours – making it a great example of the power of advanced analytics to enhance the quality and content of insights served to customers.

This overarching commitment to everything from ESG to digitalisation makes UOB a shining example of a digitally driven bank that is pulling out all the stops to do right by its customers.

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