DBS consumer marketing boss on the challenges of being an expatriate marketer

SiveaRegional managing director of consumer banking group marketing for DBS Bank, Sivea Pascale has been in the role  the over a year, after coming across from Westpac in Australia.

Today she oversees the Singaporean bank’s consumer marketing efforts across the six countries of Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Indonesia and India and in this Q&A Pascale talks about the challenges and opportunities of being expatriate marketer in Asia. 

– What are main differences from a marketing perspective between the Australian and Asian markets? 

The first thing that comes to mind is the diversity. In Australia, even Australia and New Zealand, you’re working with one culture, one language one relatively homogeneous consumer.The benefit of that is insights can be transferred and adjusted by market, the canvas you start with is relatively similar.

In Asia, it’s very different. The region is much more complex in its diversity of culture, media, consumer behaviour, variances in market maturity, political and regulatory contexts – it’s a completely different ball game.

There are similarities to be sure, but there are more differences. What that means from a marketing perspective is that you need to be more fluid in your thinking, you need to adapt and bend, otherwise you snap.

The other big difference is the energy and vitality – in the whole, Asia is still growing, there is a sense of ambition and sense of ‘moving forward’ that is quite different to Australia.

– What has surprised you about the market since moving to Singapore? 

Two big surprises. The first is adapting to the cultural differences and approaching the business differently.

The culture, engagement protocols, styles are quite different. What is discussed overtly versus what is implied; an idea may take time to ‘brew’ to be truly accepted vs being accepted on the surface but not really; the importance of earning trust and building relationships – all of these bear a lot more weight here.

I was surprised at the magnitude of this. You need to respect this difference and work with it. I’ve actually found this really interesting and loved the challenge. I’m still learning.

I’m also pleasantly surprised at the talent here. Not that there is talent but that it’s different; resourceful, insightful and problems are often approached from a perspective that make you think ‘wow, I didn’t think of it from that point of view’.

– Do you think marketers coming from western markets understand the intricacies of Asia? 

If it’s your first time in Asia, no. I don’t think you can be expected to really understand.

It’s like driving a car for the first time, you can read all about it and learn all the rules but until you get behind the wheel you really have no idea.

If you’ve only worked in Western Markets, its highly likely that you’ve been brought on board because you’ve got something from that background that your new company wants, but you need to balance that with an open mind on how you apply those skills and experience here.

You need to realise its not the same as ‘back home’ and you need to be open minded. Remember that you are the odd one out, not everyone else!

– Do too many marketers and agencies treat the region as one market rather than a number of different and distinct markets?

I don’t think they do and I’ve certainly not seen it. You might need to pull someone up every now and then if it’s an agency or a team who only works in one country.

However, if you have a regional role or are working on a business across the region, you soon realise that you can’t treat Asia as one market.

You can have regional objectives, regional strategies but if there is not enough in-country adaptation you break a key rule of marketing, which is to be relevant to your consumer.

– What are the biggest challenges facing the banking sector in Asia from a marketing point of view? 

Consumer wealth in Asia is growing faster than any other region.

There are many predictions such as Asia will have 65 per cent of the world’s middle income earners by 2030 vs the current 28 per cent – that’s an amazing shift. According to DBS Group Research, the Asian economies are growing at a pace that equates to growing a ‘Germany’ every three and a half years.

The rate of growth and the rate of change is the biggest challenge for banks in the region.

The ground rules have changed and banks have to adapt quickly.

Major shifts in economic and political shifts also has implications on how banks operate; major changes in purchasing power of the consumer has implications on how banks provide their services.

The consumer is demanding mobility, performance, and access on a completely different scale. Those that lead in this environment will be customer focused, will be fast to market and will be digitally minded.

– How are you developing your mobile strategy both for the Singaporean market and also for the region? 

Mobile is a critical part of our strategy, the adoption rate of mobile banking has been amazing.

We released our mobile banking application in Singapore in 2010 and today we process an average of 300,000 mobile transactions per day and makes up 40 per cent of our electronic banking activity – the demand is certainly there.

But beyond the standard banking function, we have customer-focused applications that go beyond like our Home Connect App with augmented reality that helps you search for your new home and gives you on the spot pricing on the most recent purchase and rental prices simply by pointing your phone at a property; we have an amazing Optical Recognition Application that will automatically populate a personal loan application form when you take a picture of your business card and ID.

The most recent release is DBS PayLah!, which is a peer to peer payment app, the take up rate has been amazing which is a testament to its simplicity and ease of use. Our strategy is to continue to innovate on this front.

But it’s not only mobile, we’re thinking digitally in many aspects of our business and we’re serious. For example we recently announced alliances with A*STAR, a public sector research and development agency and with IBM on Watson, a cognitive computing innovation, to shape the future of banking.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella Asia newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing