How DBS reimagined its annual conference for the virtual world

Flagship event of Singapore’s largest bank featured notable speakers and attracted a global audience.

An immersive online platform was created for the event, and DBS Group CEO, Piyush Gupta, interviewed former US vice president Al Gore.
An immersive online platform was created for the event, and DBS Group CEO, Piyush Gupta, interviewed former US vice president Al Gore.

DBS Asian Insights Conference (AIC) began in 2011 as a market-focused banking event. Held biennially, it has grown over the years to feature a global panel of notable speakers sharing their views on the future across a multitude of sectors, markets and demographics.

The invitation-only, topflight audience from the private and public sectors in Singapore and overseas gathered for two days of stimulating presentations and networking.

AIC 2020 was scheduled for 23 and 24 July. But travel was curtailed from March onwards, as most national borders closed due to the global pandemic. Then in early April, large gatherings were banned in Singapore. Covid-19 was changing the way businesses and societies function; yet many were also seeking ways to get around the challenges in a post-pandemic world. So, as the saying goes, DBS decided “the show must
go on”.

DBS realised that a crisis of this magnitude would lead people around the world to review their priorities and purpose, as economies and businesses begin to reopen and build back better. With ‘Navigating a post-pandemic world’ as this year’s theme, speakers could give insights on a variety of topics including economics and markets, food security, health and how to leverage technology as a force for good.

“The conference content was curated with the aim to provide actionable views which will help governments, businesses and individuals work towards a more resilient future,” said Timothy Wong, head of group research, DBS Bank.

As DBS is recognised as a world-leading digital bank (Euromoney), at the forefront of leveraging digital technology, it made sense to extend this prowess to an event in the digital space. Pico Singapore was tasked to design and deliver the elements of a conventional conference in the first virtual edition of AIC as it had successfully supported clients through its innovative virtual event solution, leveraging its experience in organising creative physical events.

The virtual conference comprised keynote conversations, CEO forum and panel sessions featuring business leaders, policymakers and academics discussing major risks, various scenarios in the current crisis, business and social disruptions and new technologies for future growth.

A highlight was the dialogue on ‘Climate Change and the Great Reset’ hosted by DBS CEO Piyush Gupta with former U.S. vice president Al Gore who has been “a resolute voice of reason on the need for business, government and consumers to act now in order to head off a future global climate change crisis,” said Wong.

The other standout was a keynote plenary with Singapore senior minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and professor Raghuram Rajan on the economics of the pandemic.

In the production of impactful webinars, green screens were deployed to ‘stage’ speakers delivering presentations that were visually appealing. “For AIC 2020, some speakers were pre-recorded in a studio and streamed at precisely the right moment to ensure flawless delivery,” said Chan Wee Teck, VP of Pico+.

“We ensured the backdrop, framing and seating facilitated professional production and smooth communication between speakers, as it might have been the first virtual conference of this scale for many speakers,” he added.

Attendees could navigate and participate in an immersive experience of watching, listening, posting questions to speakers and chatting with fellow delegates. Apart from the Main Stage, users could explore other spaces, which included a 360-degree rendered Lobby and Learning Hub where exclusive content could be accessed and downloaded.

The Learning Hub contained session podcasts, presentations on economies and markets by DBS subject specialists, economic-sector insights and ‘smart investing’ by country and asset class.

Attendees were also given an overview of social causes supported by DBS Foundation and the work of selected social enterprises. A section, ‘Portraits of Purpose’, told stories of courage, perseverance, generosity and hope.

“Virtual networking enabled interaction and exchange of ideas on navigating the next normal in this pandemic. Although many delegates could initiate one-to-one connections with fellow participants, our team was always on hand to assist,” said Chan.

While Zoom was used to manage and capture speakers, other types of software were also utilised to create a memorable experience for the audience. AIC 2018 in Singapore had about 1,000 attendees. The first virtual edition this year drew an audience of more than 2,200 delegates comprising government leaders, top business executives and investors from both public and private sectors from around the world.

Chan said: “Pico was well equipped to support DBS in creating an immersive digital conference that was relevant and compelling in content. Developing and managing the virtual platform was challenging but it positioned DBS as a thought leader and seamlessly connected industry leaders, partners and policy-makers with its clientele.”

• More than 2,200 unique attendees on 23-24 July
• Average length of stay: approx. 2 hours
• 48 speakers and moderators across 14 topics

• Continually learn what works/doesn’t work to improve the user interface and functionality for a wide spectrum of user sophistication
• Allow enough time for planning and stakeholder briefings to ensure a professional and polished final product