Global Custodian: Ee Fong, congratulations on receiving our GC Legend Award and being inducted into our Hall of Fame.
Ee Fong Soh: Thank you very much for this award. I am actually very honoured to receive this award. I’m receiving this award for and on behalf of my team, my tech partners and my operation partners.
GC: You’ve been with DBS for around 11-12 years now. I’m interested in your background before DBS and how you got into this industry?
EFS: I’ve been in the financial services industry for more than 20 years. I started my career in consumer banking and moved to corporate banking, specifically in financial institutions. In financial institution school, inevitably we end up having to deal with securities services, especially when we are dealing with banks, insurance companies and brokers. That’s how I got myself into the capital markets and specifically, into the custody business.
GC: I’m sure there have been many standout moments, but what are some of the proudest achievements that you can think of during your career?
EFS: I joined DBS in the crux of the global financial crisis around 2009. It was a very difficult time, as we all know, and it was not easy. However, I think the proudest moment was being able to work with our tech and ops teams to help our customers manoeuvre the situation. We did have challenges in those times because of turnover. We had to put in investments, keep our eyes focused on the customer and resolve the issues. So, I think the proudest achievement in my career with DBS really is the fact that despite our limited footprint in Asia for custody services, we have been a top performer as recognised by you and also, the best sub-custodian for APAC, recognised by Global Finance. I think that is testament to our dedication and our passion to make sure that we keep the focus on the customer.
GC: You mentioned customer service, which is interesting because we have seen such strong feedback, certainly in recent years, within our surveys. What’s been the secret and the biggest factor behind this success and such strong customer service as you pointed out?
EFS: I think it’s really just to keep our eye on the customer. Understanding the issues the customer is really going through is basically a journey for us, to really discover the problems that they’re having. What are the problems that we as a custodian can help them solve? Walk the journey with them, discover the issues, design our products to solve their problems, develop it and then deploy it and make sure that it works for them.
That strong partnership with the customer also extends into our own teams in tech and ops because it’s the same continuum. How we actually work with our tech and ops partners, especially working through the global financial crisis when things were a lot more manual, is that if we solved our operational problems, we actually would solve our customer service issues. So, it is really the end-to-end customer service, not only looking at the customer, but looking at ourselves to improve and deliver to the customers. I think that is really the main factor for success. I don’t think there is any secret potion, except the hard work of just keeping that focus.
GC: Did this same ethos also apply to navigating through the COVID-19 crisis in 2020?
EFS: Yes, It is really just about solving the customers issues, so I’ll give you a very simple example. We had a customer in one of our markets and because of the countries locked down during COVID, they no longer could take in money for investments. As a fund manager the subscription is important. We were working from home and they were working from home. But because we built certain technologies to help them receive the customer subscription electronically, confirm through API into that system that the money had been received and therefore could then be deployed, this actually helped them survive during a time when there was a lockdown and improved their efficiencies.
GC: If we look at the industry as a whole, given your illustrious career, how have you seen the industry change during your career and what big changes do you expect in the future as well?
EFS: I think it has definitely been a lot more efficient. There is a lot of emphasis on risk. How do we reduce the risk for our customers and for their end customers? There’s also a lot of development in technology that has helped us facilitate the reduction of risk, whether it is operational risk or market risk like T+3, T+2 and now people are considering T+0. So, it’s really leveraging technology to deliver the efficiencies that everyone in the market is looking for. Because new asset classes are coming up, beyond your traditional equities and fixed income. So how do we, as a custodian, deal with that? We, as custodians, are used to dealing with banks and with financial institutions that are large. Now you’re dealing with FinTechs. What other things do you look out for? The principles don’t change, but the scale may, and therefore the risks are different. So having to deal with that is one of the key things we will keep our eyes on.
GC: Yes, and of course DBS launched the digital asset trading and custody offering, which was innovative and you were essentially a first mover in that space. What was the advantage and thinking behind being so quick out the gates with that service?
EFS: It’s not a given, but a few years ago we developed this North Star Horizon thinking and it was something where we had already envisioned coming. I think it was about three or four years ago. The timing is just right for us to be able to build this ecosystem and the technology is right. Three to four years ago, I’m not sure if we would have been able to get there, but I think with the evolution of technology and blockchain smart contracts, we will find a lot more efficiencies and I think the market will change.
GC: The final question we have for you today – and it’s something we’ve asked all our legends this year – is throughout your career, what has made a good day at work for you?
EFS: A good day at work is that at the end of the day, I can have a glass of drink, hang around with my team and just have a relaxing time. I think we all miss that. More importantly, on a personal note, I think a good day for me is when I see that my people are successful and they have achieved their goals.