Singapore is a financial powerhouse and is home to over 100 banks; these include 6 local banks, 24 banks from overseas, 40 wholesale banks and 42 offshore banks.
The Big Three
Originally the United Chinese Bank (UCB); the renamed United Overseas Bank (UOB) opened its first branch in in 1965. It is famous for its five barred gate logo which symbolises security and unity and is based on the traditional Chinese way of counting in fives.
Established in 1968, the aim of the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) was to help the nation of Singapore develop itself following independence. It merged with the Post Office Savings Bank (POSB) in 1998 and as a result became the nation’s most commonly found bank.
The merger of the Chinese Commercial Bank, Ho Hong Bank Limited and Overseas-Chinese Bank Limited resulted in the formation of the Overseas-Chinese Bank Corporation Limited (OCBC). It has developed into one of the largest banks in Singapore.
In the 19th Century foreign banks dominated Singapore; the Union Bank of Calcutta became the first bank to operate in Singapore in 1840. The Mercantile and Chartered banks followed suit with others like the First National City Bank of New York arriving in 1902.
In 1903, the first local bank was founded by Wong Ah Fook and was known as Kwong Yik Bank (Cantonese Profiting Bank); it collapsed a decade later because of financial difficulties however.
Sze Hai Tong Bank
Sze Hai Tong Banking and Insurance Company was formed three years later in 1906. The bank went through several expansions into Thailand and Hong Kong and traded successfully up until 1998 when it merged fully with OCBC.
Three Hokkien banks, namely Chinese Commercial Bank, Ho Hong Bank and Overseas-Chinese Bank, emerged from 1912 to 1919. In order to compete against the bigger rivals, the three banks merged to form Oversea-Chinese Bank Corporation in 1932 (see OCBC above).
Post – WWII Banks
Post-war Singapore saw several new local banks form as the rapidly growing economy demanded it.
The Chung Khiaw Bank (CKB) opened in 1947 with its hugely successful “piggy coin bank” innovation. Overseas Union Bank followed suit in 1947 and Industrial and Commercial Bank followed in 1953. Bank of Singapore, Far Eastern Bank and Asia Commercial Bank popped up in 1954, 1958 and 1959 respectively.
Rules governing overseas banks in Singapore were relaxed in the 1970s and ATMs started to crop up everywhere making it more convenient for people to access their cash.
Tat Lee Bank was founded in 1973, merged to form Keppel Tat Lee Bank with Keppel Bank in 1998 and eventually was taken over by OCBC; at this point it ceased to operate.
Keppel had acquired Asia Commercial Bank in 1990 and rebranded it; Keppel was of course a government-run organisation.
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