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Big data, big opportunity: Serving more in Asean by getting to know them better

Bank’s acquisition promises more scale, and an opportunity for more personalisation and deeper understanding of customers

Woman uses smartphone for banking and financial needs
Banking apps powered by AI can help customers better manage their money by translating data into actionable insights. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

When Ms Rachel Tan started working about six years ago, she decided that she wanted to keep a keen eye on her expenses.

But it wasn’t as easy as she thought it would be. The financially prudent 29-year-old public relations executive was relying on a free money tracking app on her smartphone then, because the feature wasn’t available on her banking app.

“I had to manually include every transaction I made. Sometimes I would forget for a few days, then I would have to backtrack and check what I spent on with different cards.

“After about a month or two, I just gave up on it,” she says.

Today, banking apps often offer a simpler and pain-free process. Ms Tan uses UOB TMRW (pronounced as “tomorrow”). The app consolidates all her transactions in one place, grouping them into categories like dining and shopping across payment methods.

“It helps me manage my money better, because I can see what I’ve been spending on, and how much I save and invest all through the same app,” says Ms Tan.

“I also receive insights on my spending habits, and monthly reports. I use these insights to adjust my budget as and when it’s needed.”

The UOB TMRW app, which leverages artificial intelligence (AI), was launched in Singapore late last year. The bank was the first in Singapore to launch AI-driven personalised insights via its UOB Mighty app in 2019, which has been renamed to UOB TMRW, says Ms Jacquelyn Tan, UOB head of group personal financial services.

Serving more in Asean

The roll-out of the UOB TMRW app is just one in a series of recent moves that the bank has made to boost its digital capabilities and intensify its focus on Asean. It refreshed its corporate brand two weeks ago.

“Our refreshed brand reflects our transformation and progressiveness. We are sharpening our purpose and reaffirming our promise to build the future of Asean, and connect individuals in the region,” says UOB’s Ms Tan.

In January, UOB announced that it will acquire Citibank’s consumer banking arms in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. This will expand UOB’s footprint in these four markets, doubling its total number of retail customers there to an estimated 5.3 million.

Besides opportunities from scale, the acquisition promises to help the bank better understand customers’ needs through data from a bigger base, and use AI to improve efforts to personalise its services.

“The acquired business, together with UOB's regional consumer franchise, will form a powerful combination that will scale up UOB group's business and advance our position as a leading regional bank,” Mr Wee Ee Cheong, UOB deputy chairman and chief executive officer, said in a briefing of the acquisition in January.

“The Citi acquisition reaffirms our commitment in Asean and accelerates our growth ambition of our franchise by five years,” says UOB's Ms Tan.

The acquisition comes on the heels of its announcement in September 2021 that the bank is investing up to $500 million to scale up its digital offerings in Singapore and across Asean by 2026.

On how the bank aims to better serve its customers across the region, UOB’s Ms Tan says: “We draw an in-depth understanding of our customers from data and relationship-driven insights.

“This allows us to personalise offerings to suit different needs and life stages of our customers, and recommend relevant offers at the right place and time, be it through our UOB TMRW app or when they’re speaking with a relationship manager.”

The bank will double down on personalisation – one of three focus areas in its new brand strategy – as it acquires and engages more customers in Asean.

“This approach will be replicated across markets, incorporating local preferences with insights from customers’ transactional behaviours and in line with the regulatory landscape,” she adds.

Deepening personalisation

But Asean is a diverse region. How can the bank ensure that it not only has a deep understanding of its customers across the region, but also anticipate their various needs and provide personalised solutions?

The answer: By leveraging technology and human expertise.

“Our strategic focus on personalisation showcases our customer-centric mindset. We want to use data, technology and human expertise to personalise banking relationships,” says UOB’s Ms Tan.

One example is the bank’s use of AI. To serve Ms Rachel Tan better, the UOB TMRW app leverages AI to help her categorise and analyse her transaction data in real time. The AI-powered app translates such data into insights to help her manage her money, and alerts her when there are duplicate transactions, refunds received or when the prices of her subscription plans increase.

“We understand that each customer is unique,” says UOB’s Ms Tan. “We trained our analytics models to enable personalisation, so we can meet their evolving needs throughout their wealth journey and lifestyle.”

The bank provided 27.3 million personalised insights to about one million customers in the first half of 2022 via its UOB TMRW app, which is available in Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

The bank also launched a rewards programme via the UOB TMRW app – the largest of its kind in Singapore, says UOB's Ms Tan. Beyond exclusive deals, discounts and rebates, customers can also track the amount of credit card reward points they earn with each purchase.

Looking at one’s past spending habits, the AI-powered app is able to recommend curated deals that are customised to each individual’s preference.

Technology also plays a role when it comes to helping UOB staff better serve their customers.

“We use AI and machine learning (a subset of AI) models to profile and identify customer personas to onboard them to the right platform, and match them to a relationship manager who is aligned to their interests,” says UOB’s Ms Tan.

The bank's relationship managers are equipped with a portfolio advisory tool, which uses historical market data to simulate portfolio performance and meet investment goals.

Ms Rachel Tan, for one, is glad to see banks like UOB investing in digital transformation – especially at a time when competition is stiff. “There are so many ways to bank and pay these days,” she notes. 

“So far, I’m happy with what I have because the app is easy to use and the insights have been relevant.”

This is the sixth of a 15-part series in partnership with

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