Staff-in-confidence matters should be kept that way, DBS

I am appalled that DBS is airing in public what should be a staff-in-confidence matter. Yesterday, they issued a statement to the Straits Times — which I understand was unsolicited — stating that they disapprove of their Vice President of Credit Cards, Josie Lau, taking up the presidency of women’s group AWARE.

Today, when asked by TOC, they stated that they were “disappointed that Josie knowingly disregarded DBS’ staff code of conduct twice”, adding that Lau had not sought approval for either running for the AWARE exco or standing for nomination as AWARE president.

Why does this need to be aired in public? This brings back memories of another organisation in Singapore which hung a former employee out to dry when he was attempting to run for public office.

In any case, since DBS is prepared to be so “transparent” about its internal policies, allow me to comment on these policies.

If their staff code of conduct really states that all staff must seek permission before taking on any “external appointments”, then I think this is overly controlling. What constitutes an “external appointment”? Usually this refers to for-profit employment, not volunteer work.

DBS has over 14,000 staff. Has every staff who volunteers and takes on leadership positions sought permission? If so, their HR either has a lot of paperwork to clear, or the volunteerism rate in DBS is extremely low.

Is it really necessary to regulate what staff do in their own time? Can’t staff be judged by their productivity in the office and the results they achieve? If a staff performs poorly because they are too involved in “ECAs”, then by all means sack him or her. But don’t assume that a staff’s outside activities will encroach on her work. And so what if the staff seeks approval? Is HR going to decide based on how much time they think the staff is going to spend during their free time? I don’t think they are qualified to make that sort of judgement.

Most importantly, I wonder if this so-called rule is applied uniformly. If Josie Lau ran for, say, PAP Women’s Wing chairmanship, would she have to ask for approval too? In fact, I know someone who was a VP in DBS and at the same time in the Young PAP exco. Whether he asked for permission or not, I don’t know.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

19 thoughts on “Staff-in-confidence matters should be kept that way, DBS”

  1. Agree wholeheartedly. It’s a real abuse of the Employee Code. AWARE is a civic society and in fact employees should be encouraged to contribute to society in their time outside of work. DBS’ management’s own political leaning is not only too clear but also the one which is inappropriate here – as a PRIVATE, for-profit company that thus should not hold any political stance in the society where it runs its business.

  2. Uh, EXACTLY because it’s PRIVATE company, DBS has every right to hold any political stance or leaning it chooses. PUBLIC organisations can’t do that. You don’t seem to get the distinction.

  3. This is part of the compliance code of conduct that most staff in most banks need to adhere to. Whether or not its a for or not for profit organisation, all major associations must be declared and agreed by the bank (I believe this is derived from MAS requirements) in case there are conflict of interests with clients or the bank itself.

    I doubt the bank would bother too much if you are a forum member or even moderator in hardwarezone, but being an exco in an official society it should be treated with equal risk as other organisations since it will get media coverage, amongst others.

    I guess this is made more important for someone in a senior position in the bank as this will impact client perception as well

  4. Perhaps (yes this is speculation) Josie Lau was actively involved in getting DBS involved in that trouble with Focus to the Family. If so, you could argue that she had already been mixing business and personal life, and DBS wants her to draw clear lines between those two spheres.

  5. To Kelvin Wong,
    Not to pikc a bone, but don’t you think something funny here?

    “Mr Liang Eng Hwa is the Manageing Director of the Treasury and Markets Division of DBS bank. He joined DBS in 1993 and became a PAP MP in 2006.”


  6. Hi Gerald,

    As a ex-DBS staff,first of all,there is a banking code of conduct where all employees of the bank,regardless of position & appointments have to declare any involvement with NGOs’.This is part & parcel of the bank’s practice,the problem is the line drawn is a thin thread,shades of gray,i strongly feel it has something to do with internal conflicts,Josie is one of the most hardworking,competent,reliable & dynamic VP whom i’ve heard is one of the best the bank has in a leadership position,compared to other VPs’,she is one of the very few individuals who has proven her track record time to time.

    To me,it is not surprising she was elected as the Indian chief of AWARE,her hubby is also an associate member of AWARE,a devout christian,a doting wife & a devoted mother,these are the exact words i would use to describe her,sad to say,DBS only sees things from a monetary point of view,their main concern is not that she was elected as a President,that is just a smokescreen,other factors are also @ work,its only been a week since Richard Stanley passed away,there is a power struggle going on right @ the heart of the bank,i know for sure,i’ve seen it while i was there for almost 2years.

    Washing dirty linen in public has been DBS style,the flak will be dealt with by the management,the only thing that matters to them is Josie must resign from her post(been getting updates via email by some of my trusted ex-colleagues),i know that Josie is strong-willed to handle this blizzard,the only thing that remains is how DBS handles this so-called sensitive & delicate situation,to the bank,profit comes first,its just business.Let’s not forget even chairman Koh Boon Hwee is also holding executive appointments with other sectors as well,so why target Josie?Is it because she’s a woman?No.A staunch christian?No.Her appointment & power is the main problem.

  7. The point (or spirit) of the code of conduct is to avoid conflicts of interest. DBS never said that Josie Lau’s appointment was a conflict of interest. It said that it is because she won’t have time for it.

    Well, obviously Josie Lau has got much poorer time management than Liang Eng Hwa.

  8. I do find it quite interesting that DBS chose to air such private matters in public and I personally find it quite distasteful. Mr Parthi’s speculation about internal politics is quite plausible.

    Nonetheless, I think Josie deserves to be reprimanded at the very least. (A less charitable person might even suggest dismissal) She chose to defy her company’s wishes and unfortunately for her, she seems to have pissed a few people off in her firm, hence the decision to prevent her from running as President of AWARE.

    I also think her role in the Focus to the Family debacle must have made quite a few of her bosses very cross. What a PR disaster. I think what she did was very sneaky. Why should my $300 of purchases lead to a donation to a cause that I do not believe in.

    I don’t know if she has any affiliation to FTTF and yes it could just have been an innocent mistake but I am inclined to believe that her views played a role. At the very least, she showed very poor judgment, hence I’m not sure why James Parthi seems to speaks so highly of her.

  9. Righteous Singa,

    In case you noticed,i was a DBS staff a couple of years ago,Josie Lau was my VP when i was working in Shenton Way,i noticed how the way she handled herself,i’ved worked side by side with her & other VPs’,i have nothing against her,well,for instance,she may have made a rash decision or a silly mistake,i choose not to condemn or flame a person online just because she made a mess of the entire situation,i strongly believe the bank’s management is definitely not happy with her,its personal & i know it,if you have worked in the banking & financial sector,you know what i’m talking about.

    In life,we can’t please everyone all the time,we do things that we feel is right for us,for every action,there has to be a reaction,what Josie has done,she has to be answerable & responsible for her actions,if she chooses to keep mum about the situation,we have to respect that as well,she doesn’t owe any explanation to anyone of us,she need not defend her decision in public,her only choice now is to keep a low profile.

  10. Fascinating episode. Lets not forget the real issue – the takeover of AWARE (thru legal means) by a bunch of people who are reticent in revealing why they are taking over AWARE – I think its become clear that they have an exclusive agenda, and this is unhealthy for Singapore society – regardless what that agenda is. The new exco seem to want a rank that allows them to behave like moral policemen. Their actions in taking over AWARE the way they did, lack of openness and transparency are a precedent for future conduct.

    DBS’ actions need to be seen in this light. While I agree in principle, there is no need to air one’s dirty laundry in public, in this instance, I think DBS has a larger objective in mind, in light of the FoF episode. Personal agendas getting involved -something any private or public employer should eschew. Koh Boon Hwee or Liang Eng Hwa’s work as Directors in other companys or their party responsibilities are red herrings and provide no basis for comparison.

  11. PS – Have you considered the possibility that the new exco’s agenda is to focus Aware back on its original mandate — which is to fight for women’s rights, not to rights of men? In this light, it is possible that they saw the old exco as having that exclusive agenda which they needed to counter. Of course my guess is as good as yours, since I don’t know any of them.

  12. Thanks for enlightening me on the bank’s policy. Even though I am a supporter of gay rights, I also think that we could run in danger of being too presumptuous about Josie mixing work with personal views and agenda. Firstly, if you are in a position to fundraise for an NGO, would you go to the one which YOU BELIEVE has a worthwhile cause? Secondly, the choice to support a pro-family group should not automatically make one anti-homosexuality. If I support SPCA, it doesn’t make me anti-Mankind. What I cannot understand here is, how an intelligent woman like her who has made it to her present position would (1) lack the tact in considering the repercussions of getting her company to support an organization with a cause that has increasingly gained more supporters, and (2) after the first episode, unable to learn from the lesson and even openly defy the explicit directives of her company to be AWARE’s president? She is either (a) not really intelligent, or (b) wants to pursue her cause more than she wants her job.

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