UOB KayHian: OCBC’s fresh tech investments are a positive, can boost efficiency

OCBC branch in SingaporeOCBC branch in Singapore. Photo taken pre-Covid.

OCBC’s effort to establish an in-house unit to develop artificial intelligence (AI) abilities and other tech investments are a positive, UOB KayHian said in a note dated Thursday.

“We are encouraged to see OCBC embarking on many IT initiatives to improve operating efficiency,” it said, noting the initial investment in the in-house AI unit was S$10 million and was aimed at wealth advisory and loan financing.

The brokerage noted that OCBC’s AI-powered chatbot launched at the beginning of 2017 has since generated more than S$100 million of home loans.

It also pointed to other tech investments, including allowing retail customers to make day-to-day banking transactions and cashless payments using their voice.

“OCBC possesses the greatest potential to improve productivity by trimming its headcount of 29,174, the largest among local banks, with investments in IT and automation,” the note said.

UOB KayHian noted that OCBC’s income per employee and pre-provision operating profit (PPOP) per employee grew at a rapid compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.8 percent and 5.0 percent respectively over 2013-17.

The note also pointed to expectations that OCBC would unlock some value through the sale of a stake in its Great Eastern Life Assurance (Malaysia) unit, possibly through an IPO or trade sale; UOB KayHian estimated divestment gains of S$608 million in the fourth quarter of this year.

The brokerage kept a Buy call with a S$14.95 target price.

The stock was down 3.62 percent at S$12.78 on Friday at 1:42 P.M. SGT, slightly underperforming the Straits Times Index’s 2.36 percent drop amid a global market selloff.