Just over 50 years after the Diners Club Singapore brought the first credit card to Singapore, the company finds itself in a state of flux.
For while that original concept – an exclusive franchise of the Diners Club International (DCI) scheme – pioneered cashless payments in the city state, competitors have rapidly caught up, with the company losing ground over the last decade.
The accolade of being one of the oldest DCI franchises proved to be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it had positioned itself at the forefront of cashless payments in Singapore, but on the other, it had become so entrenched in its traditions that overhauling the system was a tall order.
Now, in the year of its golden jubilee, a sweeping business transformation is breathing new life into the organization.
In 2022, it rebranded as DCS Card Centre, evolving into a fully fledged payments fintech that issues cards not only with DCI, but also with the likes of Mastercard and Visa, offering innovative payment solutions to consumers and businesses alike.
In need of a leader to oversee this dramatic – and critical – transformation, DCS Card Centre welcomed Karen Low as CEO that same year. Formerly a senior executive with Citibank, DBS, Prudential and Maybank, among others, she was well-placed for the challenge.
“I’d spent more than 25 years in banking,” Low tells The CEO Magazine. “It’s an established environment with longer runways taken to implement new initiatives or deliver new products, particularly compared to fintechs.”
Keen to try something new and future-centric, she parted ways with stability and joined DCS Card Centre. “It was a very bold move,” she says.
“Clarity was the most important ingredient.”
And from the beginning, boldness was required. “We had to migrate to a new system, which involved digitizing our old portfolio and system configurations and then bringing them over,” she says.
“For a bank, actually for any company, to do a major system migration can easily take two years or more.”
With Low at the helm, the organization managed to complete the migration within a year. “We had several town hall discussions so I could share my vision and show how we could achieve the goals we’d mapped out,” she says.
“Clarity was the most important ingredient.”
It made sense to Low to recruit a new leadership team made up of industry veterans who had the expertise to aid her strategic plans. Partnering with innovators such as Any Technology was also key to steering its new course.
“We want to provide a one-stop solution that will allow us to consolidate embedded finance solutions for our customers.”
In addition to the digital transformation, those goals included three pillars Low established for the business. “Expanding products and services to existing customers and helping onboard them to our newest offerings is important,” she says.
“Then there’s ecommerce, which is a new way of growth. During the COVID-19 pandemic, buying behavior shifted from retail to online, which has become a critical channel for us.”
This includes DCS Card Centre’s expansion into card and wallet as a service solution.
“This is something very new in Singapore, and South-East Asia, for that matter,” she says. “We want to provide a one-stop solution that will allow us to consolidate embedded finance solutions for our customers.”
Finally there’s the pillar of incubation. “We want to sponsor the many ideas fintechs and individuals alike bring to us,” Low says. “Through the DCS platform, we could join forces on new business ventures.”
So far, the plan is off to a strong start.
“We also managed to wire up a few new payment networks into the company at the same time, such as MasterCard, UnionPay and Visa,” she says. “This is a very big milestone for the company, and it proved the strength and credibility of the new leadership team at DCS Card Centre.”
The business transformation also set the stage for the ambitious rebranding of DCS Card Centre.
“We’re back and we’re ready to go. You’re essentially looking at a new company,” Low says. “We’ve a very different entity from what we were 50 years ago, or even what it was when I joined a year ago.”
“We’ve a very different entity from what we were 50 years ago, or even what it was when I joined a year ago.”
The new face of DCS Card Centre reflects the need for continuous evolution within the sector.
“One of our latest innovations is creating virtual accounts tagged to credit card accounts,” Low says. “This allows you to transfer any funds from another bank into the virtual account, thereby increasing the spend limit on your credit card.”
Helping matters in this regard is the fact that DCS Card Centre is uniquely placed as a non-bank financial institution, which is licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore under the Banking Act to issue credit cards despite not being a bank.
“As a non-bank financial institution, we operate more nimbly, similar to fintechs. Yet being licensed under the Banking Act gives us a competitive edge against fintechs that are mostly licensed under the Payment Services Act and operate within a narrower scope of payment activities,” she says.
“Now, firmly repositioned as a fintech, DCS Card Centre is the only fintech with a credit rating. This is a huge advantage.”
This point of difference has enabled DCS Card Centre to roll out industry-leading payments propositions including the introduction of DCS Tokens, a payment token that can be used to facilitate payments across Web2 and Web3 environments.
“Having brought in global payment networks like UPI and Mastercard, and with plans to work with others like Visa and JCB, we are now able to offer our customers a greater variety of choice with their credit cards in ways that cater to their lifestyle preferences,” Low says.
The organization has taken a mobile-first approach with the introduction of the DCS Cards app, which it will continuously update with additional integrated payment solutions.
One of the services Low has taken online is new customer onboarding, which used to be a manual and paper-based process.
“It was a process that used to take up to two weeks,” she says. “We managed a major overhaul whereby the approval process is now instant via the app.”
“We want to challenge the status quo and push boundaries to best serve our customers.”
The work of Low and her team has ensured not only a bountiful future for DCS Card Centre, its 300,000 cardholders and partners, but for reimagining the next generation of payments as the 21st century rolls on.
“Innovation is not just about adopting technology; for us it’s our driver. We want to challenge the status quo and push boundaries to best serve our customers,” she says.
“It’s only through innovation and collaboration with key partners that you can deliver that kind of success.”