Citi’s Head of Operations & Technology shares how digital has transformed banking operating models

Operations and technology are emerging as the driving forces behind digital transformation in finance. The pressure to manage this transformation has led to new digital technologies, reshaping finance in Singapore and around the world.


To find out how Citi is tackling digital disruption in its organisation, IBF spoke with Citi Singapore Head of Operations & Technology, Susan Kwek.


IBF: How is digital disruption changing the roles or responsibilities of the operations function?  

Susan Kwek: Digital disruption has now become a buzzword and digital transformation is no longer a niche interest. It is a driving force of change across industries and the transformation is accelerating at high speed.

The promise of digital raises new questions for the roles of operations management. We now see digitally-enabled entrants creating new competitive dynamics. At the same time, they are challenging the traditional operations workforce. While digital disruption can happen in months, weeks or days, it may take years for an organization and its people to embrace such operational changes.

Change management is by far the most enduring bottleneck to digital transformation and has great impact, especially to the operations management. To successfully embark in the digital journey, it is crucial for organizations to develop and train its employees, particularly the leaders and managers to become forward compatible.


IBF: Are there any other challenges or trends impacting the operations function that you’d like to mention?

Kwek: The pace of digital transformation is accelerating rapidly. It is a game-changer for the operations function. There are three key trends that I’d like to highlight:

  1. Automation – Robotic Process Automation is generating excitement in the finance world and many firms are starting to implement it. It is a well-established approach to cost reduction, quality improvement and productivity enhancement. We can foresee even more opportunity and transformation as analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence follow this wave.
  2. Operational agility – Being able to take an idea to market faster than a competitor and take advantage of new technologies to get closer to customers, is vital to future growth. Operations will have to adapt quickly, respond to new customer’s needs, as well as enhance business and sales processes and systems.
  3. Instant processing – Operations has progressed from batch to online instant processing, with straight-through capability to support customer requests.

At Citi, we’ve embarked on an exciting journey to leverage on automation, straight-through processing and agility. We have seen great success not only in service deliveries, but also in the ability to enable our staff to embrace and adapt to these challenges.    


IBF: How is technology enhancing operational performance management in Singapore’s financial institutions? What are the benefits of this for the organisations and for customers?

Kwek: As businesses grow and transform, streamlining processes becomes a necessary priority to improve operational performance. Today’s technology offers process optimisation through various channels and initiatives such as:

• Content management solutions and workflow software that allow businesses to restructure repetitive paper-based processes, like work order processing or accounts payable procedures.

• Modern communication tools help to improve operations through calls integrated with video conferencing, instant messaging and emails, allowing key communication to be conducted more rapidly and easily.

• Automation and straight-through capabilities enable end-to-end service delivery and operation efficiency without human intervention, thus improving speed and accuracy.

• Operational excellence is building a sustainable competitive advantage through strong leadership and team work to deliver a quality, finished product that fulfils customer requirements. In order to do so, companies need to consistently empower their employees and champion progress in the workplace. This will result in lower operational risk and costs, as well as increased revenues which create value for customers and shareholders. The lean methodology is one of the common tools used for process re-engineering and ongoing organizational improvement.

We’ve evolved from intense paper-based workflow to a fully automated and user-friendly digital workflow. For example, the use of voice biometrics has strengthened our customer verification process and enriched customer experiences at our call centres.


IBF: How should financial practitioners adapt to the above developments? What key new skills are required? How can financial practitioners go about developing these skills?

Kwek: Financial practitioners can optimise existing operations management, increase efficiency and effectiveness, as well as cultivate a culture of innovation by applying new technologies in the business and adapting new processes to suit new non-core product and service offerings.

The future of operations requires radical change of operations management. An organization can facilitate the transformation by:

Creating an open and communicative environment

Connecting teams to build a stronger network

Motivating employees using technology

Emphasizing intelligent use of technology

I’ve been with Citi for 29 years, working on various transformations and initiatives. As technology evolves, there is a need for practitioners like myself to constantly review my current skills and what I need to stay relevant. As the Head of Operations & Technology for Citi Singapore, I have to lead by example and nurture a culture of innovation. I always encourage my teams to continue learning and upgrading their skills so that they are forward compatible. I truly believe that knowledge is power.


To learn more about how you can manage digital transformation and other skills needed for the future of finance, visit IBF.