Purpose, profit and impact

Cheryl Ng

10 minute read

As an Assistant Vice President at DBS Bank in Singapore, ANU College of Business and Economics (CBE) alumna Cheryl Ng recently made a bold move away from the business to join the bank’s philanthropic arm, DBS Foundation. Her reason? To pursue a new purpose at work and champion social enterprises across the region to drive greater social impact.

She completed a Bachelor of International Business (First Class Honours) and has had her research paper titled “Distressed and drained: Consequences of intimate partner aggression and the buffering role of supervisor support” published in a leading peer-reviewed academic journal, Journal of Vocational Behavior.

In this interview, Cheryl shares her professional trajectory and unique CBE experiences as a Student Ambassador and tutor.

Q. Can you tell us about your career path and what led you to the role you're in today?

After completing my Honours year at The Australian National University (ANU) five years ago, I decided to return to Singapore and work with DBS. I never saw myself joining a bank, but like many new graduates, I was unsure about what I really wanted in my job and where my passion lies. DBS’s two-year Management Associate (MA) program then appealed to me, as it allowed bank-wide rotation across functions. I gained exposure in investment banking, consumer digital banking, internal audit and corporate credit risk management. Upon graduating the MA program, I still did not know exactly what role suited best. However, I emerged with clarity on what I enjoyed doing – working in an area that related to people and their lives.

I joined the DBS Consumer Bank to work on digital customer journeys, hoping to improve our customers’ interactions with the institution. This quickly led to a related project around customer engagement. I led this initiative to build online communities, with the goal of bridging the communication gap between the bank and our customers. I wanted a completely new area of engagement for our customers to reach the bank; to create a safe space to have conversations around lifestyle and personal finance with the bank and their peers. Over the past three years, I hired a small team to build up our bank’s community management expertise. We operate two communities, consisting of around 30,000 members, with the purpose of educating, engaging and empowering customers to make better personal-finance decisions through conversations. 

When I became a first-time mum last year, the trade-offs of how I spent my time became very salient. I decided that I wanted to continue full-time work, but I wanted to focus my time professionally in an area that would drive impact to society and have a lasting positive impact for future generations. I turned to the philanthropic arm of DBS and made a switch to join DBS Foundation to champion social entrepreneurship across the region.

Q. You’ve worked on several innovation projects on building consumer engagement and trust in the banking system and platforms. What are the key drivers of success in these projects?

I think there are three key ingredients to any successful project:

1) Collaboration – work beyond your own team to join the dots between various stakeholders in the business and find win-win solutions, so that they are all on-board to reach the same vision.

2) Clarity – understanding what the job-to-be-done is and remaining focused on the end goal, because it is easy to get distracted by competing priorities within the business. It is also important to be clear in your communication of the vision and listen to what is really being said by others, so you have clarity on how to navigate the situation.

3) Credibility – championing new initiatives is not easy, so having a personal reputation that is credible and seen as trustworthy by your colleagues is important. You can build credibility by being a dependable worker, contributing actively and constructively in meetings and forums and helping others in the organisation without any ulterior motives. Credibility also comes from senior-management sponsorship, which is important for projects to move forward. 

The insight I gained in my fields through my university education [at CBE] gave me a good starting point in my career.

Q. Social enterprises are integral to the culture and operations of DBS. What are you hoping to achieve in order to facilitate the diverse visions of social entrepreneurs across Asia? 

By leveraging my community-building expertise, I bring social enterprises working across various layers of society together in conversations to strengthen their network and capabilities. In addition to financial support through the DBS Foundation’s flagship grant program, my team and I also focus on providing strategic advisory to support social enterprises, help them overcome challenges, and operate more effectively, so they have a chance to survive the competitive business landscape and scale their social impact.

My vision of success in this space is to see more businesses understand the concept that operating a for-profit business does not need to be in isolation from social causes. In other words, businesses can find ways to be purpose-driven and have a dual bottom line for profits and impact. If more businesses think this way, the compounding impact to society will be meaningful enough to effect change at scale.

Q. Why did you choose to study at CBE and how have your degrees prepared you for the workforce?

I thought CBE’s International Business degree was a unique one, in that it provided broad exposure, beyond finance and accounting, to language, culture and humanities, which are critical in developing a well-rounded foundational understanding of business. In retrospect, I still believe the insight I gained in these fields through my university education gave me a good starting point in my career, as I was able to view things from a broader perspective and see how my role fits in the big picture. 


Q. What were the highlights of your CBE experience?

I distinctly enjoyed two particular experiences I had with CBE during my studies. First, I was part of the CBE Student Ambassador program, which led to some good friendships that I still maintain today, and allowed me to share my experiences with prospective students hoping to make a good choice regarding their tertiary education. Second, I was a tutor in a first-year management course. In addition to the interaction with academic staff, I thoroughly enjoyed the teaching experience.  That was where I first had to practically learn how to motivate people more intrinsically, rather than by using a carrot-stick approach, which benefitted me greatly when I hired and led my own team.


The ANU College of Business and Economics offers an extensive range of specialised programs. Click here for more details.