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United Chinese Bank opens 1st Oct 1935

After the Great Depression, Chinese businessmen from Sarawak and Penang, who had built empires from trading in commodities such as rubber and pepper as well as shipping, pooled their resources to establish the United Chinese Bank (UCB) in Singapore. The Hokkien merchant network between Singapore, the Malayan peninsula and Sarawak provided a steady stream of customers for the bank.[1] With a paid-up capital of one million dollars, the bank opened for business on 1 October 1935.[2] It was the last bank to be set up in Singapore during the pre-war years.[3]

Despite being a family-controlled bank, the UCB was run like a corporate entity as practically all of its management team had prior professional experience in managing older Chinese banks, in particular the Oversea-Chinese Bank and the Ho Hong Bank.[4] The bank continued to adopt sound banking practices and embarked on an aggressive growth through a combination of innovative financial services, and through a series of mergers and acquisitions from 1964. The bank’s expansion was led by its new managing director, Wee Cho Yaw, who was the son of Wee Kheng Chiang, one of the founding pioneers of the bank.[5] In 1965, the UCB changed its name to the United Overseas Bank (UOB) and opened its first overseas branch in Hong Kong. The bank was renamed to avoid a clash of names with an existing bank in Hong Kong.[6]

Today, the UOB Group is a leading bank in Asia with more than 500 offices in 19 countries and territories in Asia Pacific, Western Europe and North America.[7]


1. Tan, E. L. (1953, July). The Chinese banks incorporated in Singapore & the Federation of Malaya. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 26, 1 (161), 132. Retrieved from JSTOR; Tai, Y. (2010). Chinese capitalism in colonial Malaya, 1900–1941 (pp. 492–493). Retrieved January 18, 2014, from: http://hub.hku.hk/bitstream/10722/137064/3/FullText.pdf
2. Tan, Jul 1953, p. 132; Lee, S. Y. (1966). The development of commercial banking in Singapore and the States of Malaya. The Malayan Economic Review [Microfilm: NL 29196], 11(1), 90. Call no.: RCLOS 330.9595 MER; Untitled. (1935, September 30). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Lee, K. H. (2003). Establishing an enduring business: The Great Eastern-OCBC group. In H. Dahles & O. van den Mujizenberg. (Eds.), Capital and knowledge in Asia: Changing power relations (p. 163). Call no. RSING 338.095 CAP.
4. Tan, Jul 1953, p. 132; Lee, 2003, p. 163.
5. Tai, 2010, p. 493.
6. Lee, 2003, p. 162; Tai, 2010, pp. 471–472; Steady growth hallmark of the UOB story. (2003, October 20). The Business Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. UOB. (2014). Our Corporate Profile. Retrieved March 26, 2014, from United Overseas Bank Limited website: http://www.uobgroup.com/about/story/our_corporate_profile.html


The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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