DBS Group Holdings (SGX:D05) held its 22nd annual general meeting (AGM) yesterday (30 March 2021) afternoon, which I attended as a shareholder (the Singapore bank is in my long-term investment portfolio since Mar 2020 – so its a year since I’ve invested in it.)
The 1.5 hour meeting (held virtually due to the current Covid-19 measures) was a very informative one in my opinion. What impressed me the most was the ability for attendees to submit their questions during the meeting, along with the management (both the Chairman Peter Seah, as well as CEO Piyush Gupta) addressing them during the Q&A section.
In this post, you will find a summary of CEO Piyush Gupta’s presentation, questions submitted by fellow attendees during the meeting and responses by the management, as well as results of the 12 ordinary resolutions put to vote during the AGM:
CEO Piyush Gupta’s Presentation
Mr Gupta’s presentation covered 3 main areas – how the bank navigated through the crisis, highlights of its FY2020 performance, and the outlook ahead:
(i) How DBS Navigated Through the Crisis:
- Mr Gupta updated that 90% of DBS’ employees worked from home during the pandemic (even for the technology professionals), and that the entire work from home scheme was seamlessly executed, with no meaningful outage incidents reported. He was also encouraged by the positive feedback received by the bank’s employees on how their physical and mental well-being were well taken care of during this period.
- Additionally, he shared about how the bank’s employees are being upskilled during this period, where more than 18,000 of them are now equipped with the relevant cutting-edge skills in data management.
- Some of the support provided included loan moratoriums granted to 7,200 homeowners in Singapore and Hong Kong, along with a free Covid-19 insurance to all Singaporeans, which had more than 1 million signups.
- The bank also took steps to ensure that its customers were able to perform essential banking functions from the comfort of their home with its digital offerings, including the ability for new customers to open an account online within 3 minutes (which is the fastest in Singapore), as well as allowing customers to manage their wealth through its TeleAdvisory consultations with their Wealth Planning Managers. These digital initiatives have led to digital deposits going up by 12 percentage points (pp), auto loans by 24pp, general insurance by 27pp, and home mortgage by 31pp.
Community at Large:
- The bank provided assistance to government bodies to fast-track the deposit of S$1.3b in relief grants to Singaporeans.
- For the migrant workers who were confined to their dormitory bunks, the bank helped 600,000 open bank accounts over a 3 month period, to facilitate the deposit of their pay, as well as allowing them to easily remit money home via the bank’s mobile app.
- Jobs were also created for fresh graduates, including more than 1,000 new roles being created in the process, where the bank hired over 2,000 people in Singapore.
- Support (amounting to S$10.5m) was also provided for the hard-hit communities through the bank’s ‘Stronger Together Fund.’
(ii) Highlights of its FY2020 Performance:
- Total income remained stable at S$14,592m despite the Fed cutting interest rates 5 times in 4 weeks (and this had a material bearing on DBS’ financials), as the bank managed to offset the weakness in its net interest income with growth from loans, deposits (as a result of the digital solutions rolled out), and wealth management fees, along with the bank’s strong Treasury Markets performance, and gains from its investment securities (which Mr Gupta said the bank had built up over the years to guard against vulnerabilities.)
- While most of the companies struggled with expenses, Mr Gupta updated that DBS had managed its expenses well, and as a result, it went down by 2% compared to last year to S$6,158m (due to a decline in general expenses for travelling and advertising, along with a cut in the senior management’s renumeration – in particular, the CEO’s bonus was down by 27%, and other senior management’s median bonus was reduced by 17%.) This led to the bank’s operating profit edging up by 2% to a record S$8,434m.
- Out of the total allowances of S$3,066m, Mr Gupta explained that S$1,713m was set aside as a precautionary measure to guard against headwinds from the pandemic. He added that the provisions was likely to be a one-off, as he was of the opinion that the recovery may happen sooner.
- Mr Gupta further elaborated on the bank’s allowances and moratoriums, particularly on how loans from moratorium have declined significantly from respective peaks, where:
- The amount under moratorium for Singapore Housing have significantly reduced by 90% from S$5.0b as at 31 December 2020 to S$0.6b as at 31 January 2021
- The amount under moratorium for Singapore SMEs have gone down by 75% from S$4.6b as at 31 December 2020 to S$1.1b as at 31 January 2021
- The amount under moratorium for large corporations and SMEs in Hong Kong have decreased by 50% from S$6.6b as at 30 June 2020 to S$3.2b as at 31 December 2020
- Addressing the concerns by some shareholders on the bank’s 9.1% Return on Equity, Mr Gupta shared that it was higher compared to most of its peers in other countries.
- Lastly, on dividend payouts for the year ahead, Mr Gupta said that as many regulators around the world have relaxed the restrictions surrounding dividend payouts as well as share buybacks by the banks, he was of the opinion that the MAS is likely to take a similar view and allow the bank to resume their dividend payout to pre-Covid levels.
(iii) Outlook Ahead:
- Mr Gupta is of the view that interest rates are very likely to be subdued at close to zero going forward for a prolonged period of time. As such, he added that the bank will need to look into other opportunities to grow, such as in the areas of retail wealth management (where the bank have over S$1b worth of assets under management currently), supply chain digitalisation (where the bank plans to build on their momentum in China, as well as in India.)
- Elaborating on the bank’s growth in China, Mr Gupta shared that the bank will be participating in the capital markets through a Securities Joint Venture, which is currently pending approval and will be launching in a few weeks time. Mr Gupta also shared about the bank’s plans to expand into consumer finance with a wholly-owned business (the bank currently has a 15% stake of a consumer finance joint venture with Postal Savings Bank of China.)
- On the bank’s growth in India, particularly on its amalgamation with Lakshmi Vilas Bank (LVB), Mr Gupta explained that the bank had been exploring into a few options to expand its India franchise over the last few years (and the amalgamation of LVB was one of them.) Hence, when the opportunity to do so came, it responded swiftly. He also expressed his confidence in the DBS being able to overlay its digital capabilities with LVB’s customer base and network to accelerate its retail and SME businesses in India.
- Another area which Mr Gupta touched on was in the area of tokenisation, where it is becoming increasingly popular in many industries. He shared that the bank had launched a digital exchange (in December 2020) to tap onto the possible opportunities which he described as a ‘whole new universe.’ He also added that the bank will soon be announcing more about how they will be leveraging on the use of blockchain to enhance efficiency of wholesale payments.
- In terms of the bank’s sustainability agenda, Mr Gupta shared that the bank have been actively pushing for new ‘green’ financing, for example, electric cars and renewable energy deals, and that they had raised their sustainable finance target to S$50b by the year 2024.
- Finally, on the future of work, Mr Gupta shared that the bank is allowing their staff to work from home up to 40% of the time, and it will continue to reskill and upskill their employees. He also expressed his confidence in the bank’s ability to emerge as one of the winners from the pandemic.
Questions by Shareholders, along with Responses by the Chairman and CEO
Attendees of the AGM were allowed to submit their questions during the meeting, with the management providing their responses during the Q&A session:
- A question on whether or not the bank’s profits are expected to recover in FY2021 was raised, to which Chairman Peter Seah is of the view that the year ahead looks much more promising compared to the previous one. As such, he expressed his optimism on the bank’s profits recovering.
- One shareholder asked whether or not there are any plans for the bank to expand beyond Asia. In response, Mr Seah explained that even though the bank’s focus is in Asia, but many of their customers do businesses all over the world. Hence, technically speaking, the bank has a global coverage. On the topic of expansion, he added that the bank have no plans to have physical locations out of Asia.
- Another shareholder was concerned on whether the bank would be faced with any liquidity issues, to which Mr Seah gave his assurance that the bank’s liquidity is very strong, and that there are no issues facing it.
- On a question pertaining to expected profits for 2021, Mr Gupta responded that the expected profits for 2021 will very much depend on a few factors, including how the pandemic rolls out, loan moratoriums, along with their credit portfolio.
- There was a question raised about LVB – particularly whether or not the bank will have to bear any additional financial losses, and the merger’s negative impacts on the bank’s P&L statement. To which, Mr Gupta said that for the former, the bank had already set aside a goodwill to acquire branches, and that sufficient allowances have been provided for. For the latter, Mr Gupta expressed his confidence in the merged entity achieving positive P&L figures in the next 12 to 24 months.
- Pertaining to a question on how the new digital banks in Singapore will impact the bank’s operations, Mr Gupta responded that the bank is wary of all competitions, and at the same time expressed his confidence of the bank being able to hold their own with the suite of products available.
- On a question relating to the bank’s digital strategy for the future, Mr Gupta explained that it is a journey, not a destination, where investments into data and artificial intelligence, along with infrastructure and people, will continue to play a big role of the bank’s overall strategy. He also expressed his confidence in the bank’s ability to stay ahead of the curve with blockchain and tokenisation, and also in the areas of 5G and Internet of Things technology.
- Finally, a shareholder was concerned as to whether the CEO would be retiring in the near-term, to which Mr Seah responded that there are currently no retirement plans for the CEO. On the question relating to succession planning, Mr Seah shared that it is always in the bank’s plans to groom individuals, not just for the position of the CEO, but for other important positions as well.
Results of the 12 Resolutions Put to Vote during the AGM
- Ordinary resolution 1 on the adoption of Director’s statement, audited financial statements and Auditor’s report was passed with 99.96% (or 1,723,509,570) of the votes for, and 0.04% (or 641,762) of the votes against.
- Ordinary resolution 2 on the declaration of final dividend on ordinary shares was passed with 99.39% (or 1,714,577,624) of the votes for, and 0.61% (or 10,530,528) of the votes against.
- Ordinary resolution 3 on the approval of proposed Director’s renumeration of S$4,101,074 for FY2020 was passed with 99.79% (or 1,721,505,908) of the votes for, and 0.21% (or 3,597,885) of the votes against.
- Ordinary resolution 4 on the re-appointment of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP as Auditor and authorisation for Directors to fix its renumeration was passed with 98.55% (or 1,700,048,138) of the votes for, and 1.45% (or 25,062,397) of the votes against.
- Ordinary resolution 5 on the re-election of Mr Piyush Gupta as a Director retiring under article 99 was passed with 99.44% (or 1,715,496,508) of the votes for, and 0.56% (or 9,611,998) of the votes against.
- Ordinary resolution 6 on the re-election of Ms Punita Lal as a Director retiring under article 105 was passed with 99.57% (or 1,717,600,575) of the votes for, and 0.43% (or 7,500,926) of the votes against.
- Ordinary resolution 7 on the re-election of Mr Anthony Lim Weng Kin as a Director retiring under article 105 was passed with 99.58% (or 1,717,934,263) of the votes for, and 0.42% (or 7,164,061) of the votes against.
- Ordinary resolution 8 on the authority to grant awards and issue shares under the DBSH Share Plan was passed with 93.65% (or 1,615,685,334) of the votes for, and 6.35% (or 109,473,944) of the votes against.
- Ordinary resolution 9 on the authority to grant awards and issue shares under the California Sub-Plan to the DBSH Share Plan was passed with 93.75% (or 1,617,386,130) of the votes for, and 6.25% (or 107,757,417) of the votes against.
- Ordinary resolution 10 on the general authority to issue shares and to make or grant convertible instruments subject to limits was passed with 92.56% (or 1,596,810,465) of the votes for, and 7.44% (or 128,346,325) of the votes against.
- Ordinary resolution 11 on the authority to issue shares pursuant to the DBSH Scrip Dividend Scheme was passed with 98.21% (or 1,694,173.712) of the votes for, and 1.79% (or 30,931,654) of the votes against.
- Ordinary resolution 12 on the approval of the proposed renewal of the Share Purchase Mandate was passed with 99.16% (or 1,709,767,789) of the votes for, and 0.84% (or 14,451,320) of the votes against.
- Questions (by SIAS and fellow Shareholders) along with Responses by the Management in Relation to DBS Group Holdings’ Annual Report for FY2020
- Outcome of the 22nd Annual General Meeting held on 30 March 2021
Disclaimer: At the time of writing, I am a shareholder of DBS Group Holdings Limited.