DPM Teo Chee Hean at launch of Commemorative Book on OCBC's history

SM Teo Chee Hean | 31 October 2017

DPM and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Teo Chee Hean, at the launch of the Commemorative Book on OCBC's history on 31 October 2017.


A Bank Firmly Grounded by its Values; Prepared for the Digital Future

Mr Ooi Sang Kuang, Chairman, OCBC,

Dr Lee Tih Shih, Director, OCBC,

Mr Samuel Tsien, Group CEO, OCBC,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good afternoon,

I am happy to join you at your book launch and pleased to see many old friends today, including Mr Nan Jang and family members of my father’s colleagues from his days at the bank. It always gives me a sense of nostalgia to be here in this building, on this site.

Memories of OCBC

I have fond memories of the old China Building, here on this site at Chulia Street.  My grandfather worked for the bank before the Second World War. He didn’t survive the war. Both my mother and my father also worked in the China Building where they met. I still recall from my childhood days, there was the OCBC “piggy bank”, which was a plastic replica of the China Building, that children could save a few coins in.

In 1970, my father brought me to see the big move. OCBC’s shift to its temporary premises at Upper Pickering Street while the old China Building was demolished to make way for this new OCBC Centre to be built. It was quite a sight, with huge cranes that lifted and transported huge safes out of the building, and hoisted them to the temporary premises. It took six years to complete the current OCBC Centre, where we are here now today.

In July 2015, I also was invited by Samuel and the bank, to take part in the re-opening of OCBC’s new Yangon branch. This also had some nostalgia for me. The branch is located now in new premises. The Oversea-Chinese Bank [1] which was one of the three predecessors of OCBC, had a Myanmar branch in 1923, but it was closed in 1963 when the banking sector in Burma was nationalised. My father was sent there by the bank to close the branch, and to hand it over. So it was quite nostalgic for me to be able to reopen the bank’s branch, in a new premise in Yangon. The former premises are now being used by the Myanmar Economic Bank, and after reopening the new branch, we went to the old premises to have a look at it. One can still see the OCBC’s logos on the grills of the doors and windows there. I first noticed this when I went to Yangon in the early 2000s. The memories remind me of those times, when my father was away for a few weeks, winding up the affairs of the branch.

Founded on Values

While building façades and the banking landscape may have changed with time, OCBC has stayed true to its values of prudence, integrity and reliability. Successive generations of dedicated staff have been guided by these values as the bank matured and grew.

The bank has also shown its resilience over the decades, in the face of volatility and crises that have affected the banking sector. OCBC has acquired a solid reputation, in fact, a reputation for being as ‘Solid as a Rock’. This is because the bank is known to emphasise steady and sustainable growth, and to look after the interests of its depositors, customers and partners. It also has a good reputation for fair dealing with its customers, and valuing and treating its staff with respect. These are high standards that the bank has set for itself, which it has to work hard to maintain.

These humble yet motivating principles have guided OCBC to become a key player in the financial markets, and a trusted member of society and the business community. Through the decades, OCBC’s leaders have done well to live by these values and inspire their employees to do the same.

The launch of the OCBC book today celebrates the bank’s rich history - the trying circumstances in 1932 which led to the merger of three of the largest Hokkien banks [2] to weather the financial storm during the Great Depression, surviving the Second World War, and overcoming the difficulties in our early days of Independence - coming out stronger after each crisis.  The stories of the local banking pioneers in this book reflect the verve and spirit of our founding generations in building a modern and prosperous, multi-racial and multi-religious Singapore.

Prepared for the Digital Future  

Today, Singapore ranks among the top five financial centres in the world and is the third largest foreign exchange centre [3].  The financial services sector is a key pillar of our economy, contributing 13 per cent of GDP and providing good jobs for more than 200,000 people in a wide range of services such as wealth management, investment banking and treasury services.

We can expect good prospects for the financial services sector even as technologies such as Big Data, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence are rapidly changing business models and ways in which banking, insurance and professional services are digitised and delivered.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore, and our banking and financial institutions have embraced technology and innovation, and are working on deepening the skills of our workforce to prepare for the opportunities in a Digital Economy. One example is OCBC’s The Open Vault Innovation Centre, which works with fintech start-ups to bring more innovative solutions to market, raise productivity and develop capabilities to address challenges such as financial crime prevention. These efforts will help grow the fintech industry in Singapore and provide more good jobs for new entrants as well as professionals already in the sector.


Before I end, I would like to pay special tributes to Mr Tan Chin Tuan and Mr Lee Seng Wee, outstanding leaders who have contributed immensely to OCBC’s success.

Mr Tan Chin Tuan began his career at the Chinese Commercial Bank in 1925 as a clerk, even before OCBC was formed. After the merger, he stayed on and rose through the ranks, becoming Chairman of the bank in 1966. When Mr Tan Chin Tuan retired in 1983, he had served the bank for a remarkable 58 years, and became synonymous with the bank, being referred to simply as “The Rock”. Mr Chin Tuan helped to steer the bank through the post-war years and early days of our independence, creating a conglomerate with stakes in some of the biggest companies in our region and contributing to the growth of our financial services sector.

Mr Lee Seng Wee was always the strong, steady, silent force behind the bank. He stepped forward to chair OCBC from 1995 to 2003. He led OCBC to become the second-largest financial services group in Southeast Asia by assets. Not only was Mr Seng Wee a successful banker, he was also a generous philanthropist who contributed much to society. He initiated programmes and scholarships through which OCBC and its staff could contribute to enhance literacy, support those in need and advance the arts. It is heartening that his legacy lives on today, with the OCBCCares Programme which provides funding and volunteer support to 15 charities in Singapore.


As one of the oldest and largest financial institutions in Southeast Asia, OCBC plays a key role in contributing to Singapore’s growth as an international financial centre. Its strong values of prudence, integrity and reliability, coupled with its spirit of innovation, will continue to stand OCBC in good stead for the future. It is for the present generation – its management and staff, to build upon the legacy of OCBC and its values, to take OCBC onto greater heights. I wish OCBC, and all its stakeholders, management and staff, past and present, who have contributed to OCBC’s success, all the very best for the years ahead.

[1] Oversea-Chinese Bank, Chinese Commercial Bank and Ho Hong Bank merged in 1932 to form Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC).

[2] Chinese Commercial Bank, Ho Hong Bank and Oversea-Chinese Bank

[3] Source: MAS website: http://www.mas.gov.sg/News-and-Publications/Speeches-and-Monetary-Policy...