When you enter the bustling business complex that houses DBS, Singapore’s largest bank, you weave through a multi-ethnic phalanx of workers scurrying to and from their lunch breaks. Though business is done in English, Singapore is a melting pot of Asian ethnicities and languages. Noodle shops and satay houses abound, and the ding of security badges opening turnstiles becomes background music.
That the bank’s Head of Consumer Banking Technology is a mom, a graduate of the Warsaw School of Economics and an avid kickboxer. A Polish female kickboxer driving banking strategy in Singapore? It all seems natural to Sonia Wedrychowicz. “There are many parallels between leadership and kickboxing,” says the executive, whose professional pedigree not only features management stints at Citibank and Standard Charter Malaysia, but appearances on industry “30 under 30” and “40 under 40” lists.
We meet in DBS’ Singapore headquarters the day after her team celebrates a major milestone: DBS’ rollout of the world’s largest API developer platform. While explaining APIs to C-level executives isn’t on most people’s to-do lists, Wedrychowicz was an early proponent. “We knew how this would make our customers’ lives better, and how it would drive value for our partners. DBS will be even easier to do business with,” she explains.
Our conversation starts with fintech (Wedrychowicz had just returned from a conference on the topic), branching out to artificial intelligence, chatbots, blockchain, and even life stage marketing (spoiler alert: Wedrychowicz isn’t a fan, preferring to analyze individual preferences and behaviors). Digital banking is a conversational anchor point. Prior to the groundbreaking API effort, Wedrychowicz helped lead DBS’ digital journey, literally. She traveled regularly to India for the Digibank program of branchless banking. Forbes has since heralded DBS “The Best Digital Bank in the World.”
But the afterglow of the prior day’s API launch—155 APIs and counting—still burns bright. Wedrychowicz lists how DBS’ new API portfolio drives value: customers accustomed to waiting for physical vouchers or e-gift cards can now redeem rewards points on demand, promising increased loyalty and transaction volumes. Those shopping for a new home can now get real-time loan qualification data on their smartphones. Even McDonald’s has signed up as a DBS “PayLah!” partner to speed up customer transactions across Asia. Noodle bars are sure to follow.
With the impact of this technical undertaking still fresh I assumed Wedrychowicz would have a command-and-control leadership style (though the image in boxing gear on LinkedIn might have instilled some bias). It turns out she’s not one for daily staff oversight, advocating initiative. She finds the right people, builds teams, and keeps them energized.
“My direct reports assure me that they’ll keep me in the loop,” she says smiling. “I tell them, ‘No! You don’t have to keep me in the loop! Just go get it done!’” And—perhaps conjuring images of their boss in the ring—they do just that.