Transcript of speech by PM Lee Hsien Loong at DBS's 50th Anniversary Musical, delivered on 4 Aug 2018.
Chairman Mr Peter Seah, CEO Mr Piyush Gupta, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, a very good evening to all of you.
I am very happy to be here with you today to celebrate DBS’s 50th anniversary. This is the third golden jubilee that I am attending this year. Yesterday, I was at Keppel Corporation’s 50th anniversary dinner. And earlier this year, I attended JTC’s 50th birthday celebrations.
Fifty years ago, 1968, was a year of great uncertainty and anxiety for Singapore. We had separated from Malaysia three years earlier, and had lost our Common Market and hinterland. The British had just devalued the pound, the economy was on the rocks, and they announced that they would withdraw their troops from Singapore, three years ahead of plan. They could not afford it anymore. It was a serious crisis for Singapore. Not only was our economy in jeopardy, but our security and survival were also put at risk.
To maintain confidence and show the world that Singapore was a safe and attractive place to invest and do business, Dr Goh Keng Swee, who was then the Finance Minister, established three new public institutions to support our industrialisation programme. DBS was one of them, set up to provide financing for industries. The other two were Jurong Town Corporation and the International Trading Company, called Intraco, formed to find new export markets for Singapore. All three were to be run commercially, and yet at the same time, they understood their national purpose.
DBS played a crucial role in our early industrialisation. It provided companies with financing on attractive terms, and convinced multinational corporations (MNCs) to set up manufacturing facilities in Singapore. It took risks, and absorbed the downside as many investments benefited the country but not necessarily the bank itself. For example, one of DBS’s earliest projects was persuading Rollei, a German camera company, to shift its production facilities to Singapore in 1971. Rollei was a famous camera brand, but it was facing steep competition from Japanese low-cost camera manufacturers and eventually Japanese high-quality camera manufacturers, and it was looking to shift its factories out of the UK. DBS took a risk on Rollei. It offered attractive financing and investment terms, to get Rollei to set up operations. Rollei came to Singapore but ten years later, it was not successful, it folded, and DBS took losses on the deal. But Rollei created much needed skilled jobs for Singaporeans, and its factories as well as training centres helped us build up a cadre of highly skilled workers in precision machining and manufacturing. Years later they would become invaluable when we got into hard disk manufacturing and wafer fabrication.
Similarly, when we strove to make Singapore an international financial centre, DBS was one of our anchors. We set up the Singapore-based Asian Dollar Market in 1968. In 1971, DBS was the first local bank to seek long term financing through an Asian Dollar Bond Issue of US$10 million. As Mr Howe Yoon Chong who was the former Chairman said, “even though it is not the cheapest source of funds, (DBS’s move) is motivated by its intention to take the lead to further the establishment of Singapore as an international financial centre”.
Fast forward to 1998, DBS faced yet another major period of transformation. This was during the Asian Financial Crisis. MAS decided to reform and liberalise the financial sector. The banking industry was progressively opened up to more international competition. MAS promoted greater innovation and efficiency in our banks and in our financial institutions, to better serve consumers and businesses. The more competitive environment spurred our local banks to upgrade, consolidate and grow their operations.
Soon after, DBS merged with POSB. Now DBS had to take on a full spectrum of customers with differing needs, from school children to high net-worth customers, and from SMEs to MNCs. It had to raise service standards, digitalise its operations and grow its external business.
It was a very challenging period for DBS, which plunged resolutely into its own transformation. There were missteps and setbacks along the way. But DBS learned from these setbacks and emerged smarter and tougher.
Today, DBS is more than holding its own in a much more bracing environment, operating and competing at a totally different level, giving both customers and shareholders reason to be satisfied. On good days, they will admit that they are pleased. Besides being named “Asia’s safest bank” , DBS has built on its technological capabilities to be recognised as the “world’s best digital bank” twice. DBS is now one of the top forty banks in the world by market capitalisation. It has established an extensive network of operations in Asia with a presence in 18 markets. In Hong Kong, after a difficult initial period, DBS now has the largest operation after Singapore, which accounts for nearly one quarter of the net profits before tax last year. DBS had the vision to open its first representative office in Beijing in 1993, long before China liberalised its banking sector. Subsequently, DBS became the first Singapore bank to incorporate in China, in 2007. Recently in April, I was very happy to celebrate DBS’ 25th anniversary in China, when I visited Shanghai.
Domestically, DBS has always focused on bringing greater value to customers, and supporting the nation’s development agenda. When DBS merged with POSB, you continued POSB’s social role of promoting national savings as the People’s Bank. You kept the POSB brand name and re-launched the POSB National School Savings Campaign. You even updated this with the POSB Smart Buddy, a wearable digital payments and savings device that allows students to make cashless payments at school canteens and bookstores. You have made the bank more inclusive by waiving the account balance fall-below fees. This has helped children, the elderly, full-time National Servicemen and recipients of public assistance have access to banking services.
I am glad that DBS continues to innovate and transform itself to prepare for the future. The banking sector faces significant disruption in the coming years, especially with Fintech. In India, you have successfully launched Digibank, India’s first mobile-only bank, which is branchless, paperless and signatureless. Digibank has acquired 2 million customers, and allowed you to tap India’s fast moving financial market. In Singapore, you have “PayLah!”. I just asked Piyush, he said it has 1 million customers and it is growing rapidly. I told him I am one of the customers and the app has improved considerably.
DBS has built on the work of your founding fathers, Chairmen and Board members, past and present. Several are here tonight, including Mr S Dhanabalan and the family of the late Mr Hon Sui Sen. You continue to aim high and execute resolutely, as you seek to build a bank equal to the best anywhere in the world. DBS will continue to play an important role in the Singapore economy, supporting the growth of Singapore companies and flying the Singapore flag high.
I hope that in 50 years’ time, when DBS celebrates its centenary, it will have built up a venerable tradition and yet kept itself current with the times. I do not expect to be attending your celebrations myself, but I hope that by your centenary year, we will not just be celebrating the centenaries of long established companies in Singapore. We should also be celebrating companies who are today still small and unnoticed, or perhaps not even born yet, who over the next half century will become great companies too and even unicorns, helped by DBS along the way.
I wish DBS every success in the years ahead. May you continue to make banking simple, effortless and seamless. So that we can all truly ‘Live more’ and ‘Bank less’!
Happy 50th anniversary!
Thank you very much.
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