Learning & Development Asia 2024
Snapshot: DBS Hong Kong's MD, Head of HR Betty Lam on the power of learning, trying, and embracing challenges

Snapshot: DBS Hong Kong's MD, Head of HR Betty Lam on the power of learning, trying, and embracing challenges


In sharing the bank's best practices, Betty Lam, Managing Director, Head of Human Resources, DBS Hong Kong, encourages everyone to “test & learn”.

Inspired by her early career adventure in Shanghai, Betty Lam believes that stepping outside of one's comfort zone and embracing challenges can go a long way toward personal and career growth.

Being a 20-year HR veteran in the banking and insurance sector, having tenured at HSBC, AIA, PepsiCo and Citi, Lam started a new journey at DBS Hong Kong, by taking up the role of Managing Director, Head of Human Resources, Hong Kong in August 2022.

She has since developed first-hand experience in the efforts DBS puts into employees’ learning and development, and how that contributes to a good onboarding journey. As the HR leader of the bank, she continues to work on empowering the workforce with a comprehensive suite of benefits, ensuring they feel supported, cared for, recognised, and valued.

For example, the bank has recently launched 'Maternity Care' to provide new parents with an additional fund to celebrate their bundle of joy, as well as a newly enhanced benefit programme 'iOK' to offer practical and emotional support to people and their dependents round-the-clock. Another key initiative to launch in 2023 is 'iFit', which aims to promote wellbeing from protection to prevention by giving out additional wellness dollars, namely 'iFlex$', to encourage employees in DBS to unlock curated wellness goals, such as undergoing health check-ups. 

"We regularly review our benefit programmes to ensure the support is competitive and can cater to their diverse needs," shares Lam. "I believe that with these various initiatives and programmes, our people can thrive at work and in life."

In this exclusive, the HR leader shares with HRO's Tracy Chan a moment which made her who she is today, and she equips and upskills her workforce for the future of work.

Q: Working in banking and insurance for more than 20 years, what do you see as the trends and challenges in terms of managing talent in these sectors?

As the job market evolves, I’ve noticed that talent at all levels now looks to have more freedom and options in their career development journeys as well as their personal lives, and places a greater emphasis on work-life balance. They are also more proactive and open to exploring different opportunities, such as in job mobility, where we see more talent being willing to consider working outside of Hong Kong.

All this leads to a new mix of requirements and expectations from talent, which in turn, means businesses now need to be more thoughtful and agile in their approach to both hiring and retention.

We at DBS are particularly proud to be recognised as a future-ready and progressive employer, with effective hybrid-work practices, and a holistic focus on employee progression and wellbeing.

In November 2020, we were one of the first organisations to implement a permanent hybrid work policy, where employees can work up to 40% of their time at home. We also offer flexibility for employees at different life and career stages. For example, parents with young children have the flexibility to work from home 100% for six months beyond their paid maternity or paternity leave.

As a result of our efforts to create a positive and engaging journey for our employees, we’ve been able to attract and retain talent across the globe. Our reputation as a different kind of bank and a great place to work has been recognised across the industry, and we were named ‘Best Bank in Hong Kong’ by four top-tier financial publications last year.

Q: Can you share a life moment which made you who you are today?

In my early career, I relocated to Shanghai to work in a global FMCG company. Though they were my first, and possibly my last, non-financial services employer, it was an inspiring and fruitful adventure.

Everything was new – the FMCG industry, competing for talent in one of the world’s fastest growing markets, speaking a different language, and experiencing a different culture. This precious adventure enabled me to grow and develop both professionally and personally.

I believe it is always the most effective to learn a new language when you live in its native country. After living in Shanghai for a few years, though my Putonghua was still not very fluent, I was able to convince an experienced taxi driver to concede to my recommendation of routes.

My China exposure equipped me with the confidence to take up the challenge of my next job, which involved strategic development in the Pearl River Delta Region and the Greater Bay Area. 

My advice is to dare to come out of your comfort zone, try something new, and challenge yourself. This will make you more ready for your next endeavour.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

As a leader, it is my job to set my team up for success. I encourage everyone to provide and receive candid and constructive feedback. I believe in the importance of being a role model and creating an environment of trust, where people feel safe to speak up, and are willing to take the time to listen to, as well as understand each other. I truly believe in partnerships where we work together for the greater good.

I always tell my team – there are no silly questions, please ask and speak when you do not understand or do not agree. I do not know everything and I am always learning and unlearning from my team every day.

Q: To navigate the digital era better, how do you upskill your workforce?

Long before the pandemic, DBS began its digital transformation journey in 2014, when we focused on cultivating a start-up culture among our employees. We wanted to make sure they would be future-ready by giving them the ability and resources to acquire new skills and knowledge to cope with the evolving landscape.

In 2017, we launched DigiFY, a mobile learning platform designed to transform our employees into digitally savvy bankers. The programme helps employees upskill for a digital age in areas such as work agility and digital technologies – which became even more crucial when the pandemic struck. Since then, some 90% of our DBS HK colleagues have completed at least one stage of the curriculum.

We also organise events such as FutureForward Week, a regional annual event that aims to reskill and upskill our employees across all markets. During the event, leaders, colleagues across the region, and external experts come together to share their insights and personal experiences on learning to thrive in the digital era.

We also have learning roadmaps in place, which are based on the projected future needs of different functions and businesses across the bank, designed to nurture the bankers of tomorrow. All this has culminated in a shift in skill sets across the bank. Today, DBS has twice as many engineers than bankers.

With COVID-19 upending economies and societies, it is our belief that we must be able to anticipate and lead change so our customers and the community at large can ‘Live more, Live better, and Bank less’.

By behaving more like a start-up, more like a techie, being more sustainability focused, and less like a “traditional” bank, we believe we can be a bank for the times.

Q: Is there a phrase/mindset that you believe HR professionals should do away with? And what should they replace it with?

The quote of “It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice” is always at the top of my mind. We all aspire to achieve and expect ourselves to outperform in our lives both personally and professionally.

While it is important to be successful, it is more important we treat everyone with respect and dignity. 

I am glad to have joined DBS whose culture and PRIDE! values I am truly aligned with. In DBS, we are clear about the “Purpose” of our business strategy and support functions. We deliver our strategies and objectives collectively by partnership and trust which is “Relationship-led”. We encourage each other to be “Innovative” and “Decisive” especially during challenging times. By doing all these, we hope to achieve and accomplish while making “Everything fun”.

Q: Before we conclude the interview, what's your vision to better prepare DBS for the future of work, workforce and workplace, and to propel the business forward?

Our vision for DBS is a positive, frictionless workplace based on trust, with a strong supportive culture, with employees doing meaningful work while having opportunities to grow. We co-create with our people new ways of working and with the aim of giving them the autonomy to do their careers’ best work.

When it comes to making the future of work (FoW) a reality, DBS is an early mover in creating effective hybrid-work practices. The practices are guided by employee feedback, from which we use our data analytics and tech capabilities to distill insights from. This approach was demonstrated in 2020, when recognised early that the pandemic would massively disrupt traditional workplace practices, hence we started a FoW taskforce involving units across the bank to understand new normal for working. We surveyed some 4,800 employees surveyed on hybrid work, then conducted experiments on remote working with 2,700 staff. From these findings, we were able to confidently announce our 60/40 arrangement in November 2020.

The above example also demonstrates DBS’ emphasis on “test & learn”, which is iterating and improving via a continuous feedback loop – data, insights and action, then rinse and repeat. We believe that having a “test & learn” approach is essential to optimising as well as curating the employee hybrid work experience. Simply settling on an arrangement is not enough to make hybrid-work effective. Continual refinement is important to ensure that our approach considers new needs, mindsets and leverages opportunities specific to hybrid work.

For instance, when we decided to create “ideation spaces” to maximise the effectiveness of face-to-face brainstorms, we needed to investigate and understanding why certain formats worked and why others didn’t via experimentation. The final iterations of ideation spaces were highly effective, with the quantity and quality of ideas increasing by 20%.

Some key learnings:

  • The approach to the future of work, workforce and workplace needs to work uniquely for your company – there is no “one size fits all”,
  • There is no replacement to “test & learn”,
  • Offices will never disappear – physical space is second to none when it comes to building connections.

This article first appeared in the Q4 edition of Human Resources Online's Hong Kong e-magazine. View the e-magazine here, where you'll find power-packed features and interviews with leaders from Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, the UK, India, and more!

hk 2022 q4 e mag

Image / Provided

Follow us on Telegram and on Instagram @humanresourcesonline for all the latest HR and manpower news from around the region!

Follow us on Telegram and on Instagram @humanresourcesonline for all the latest HR and manpower news from around the region!

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