At the start of the 20th century, the rubber industry brought great wealth to Hokkien businessmen in Malaya. Due to the large-scale involvement of the Hokkien community in rubber planting and its associated manufacturing industries, the economic interests of the Hokkien merchants grew and they soon realised the need for their own banks. Hokkien banks featured prominently in Singapore during the interwar years and most had the backing of rubber magnates. Although this relationship resulted in the banks becoming financiers of the rich, the Hokkien banks were, nevertheless, well-used by other Chinese traders and the general population. The banks thus encouraged the spread of banking habits among the Chinese in Singapore.
In 1917, Lim Peng Siang established the second Hokkien bank, the Ho Hong Bank, with Lim Boon Keng and Seow Poh Leng. Lim was already managing his own oil and rice mills, shipping as well as cement works under his own company, the Ho Hong Company, and had earlier founded the first Hokkien bank, the Chinese Commercial Bank, in 1912. Lim relied on the Ho Hong Bank to raise capital for the Ho Hong Company, which was then the largest local shipping company in Singapore. Other shareholders of the Ho Hong Bank included rubber and tin pioneer Lee Choon Guan and Tan Cheng Lock. After the founders had gotten investors and business associates to sink capital into the Ho Hong Bank, it was registered on 15 January 1917 with a paid-up capital of $1,750,000.
The Ho Hong Bank became the first Chinese institution in Singapore to go global, opening branches all over Malaya, as well as in Burma, Batavia and China. By 1921, the bank had become the largest in Singapore in terms of capitalisation and the number of its branches and agencies overseas. The bank had its head office at Raffles Chambers. Its aggressive expansion could be seen by the span of its agencies worldwide in cities such as Hong Kong, London, Paris, New York, Madrid, Amsterdam, Peking and Shanghai. The bank was also heavily involved in foreign exchanges. However, the devaluation of the pound sterling in September 1931 proved fatal to the bank’s business.
The economic difficulties for the Ho Hong Bank started in 1921 when Singapore was hit by a severe economic slump. The prolonged Great Depression from 1929 onwards took a further toll on the bank. In a bid to overcome the economic crisis, the bank merged with two other Hokkien banks – the Chinese Commercial Bank and the Oversea-Chinese Bank – in 1932 to form the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation.
1. Yen, C.-H. (2006). The role of Hokkien Chinese in the history of Malaysia and Singapore. Journal of Malaysian Chinese Studies, 9, 86. Retrieved February 20, 2014, from Centre for Malaysian Chinese Studies website: http://huayan.gokaki.com/UserFiles/File/journal9/jn9_chyen.pdf
2. Huff, W. G. (1994). The economic growth of Singapore: Trade and development in the twentieth century (pp. 233–234). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Call no.: RSING 338.959570094 HUF.
3. Huff, 1994, p. 233.
4. 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. 160). Call no. RSING 338.095 CAP; Tan, E. L. (1953). The Chinese banks incorporated in Singapore & the Federation of Malaya. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 26, 1 (161), 119. Retrieved February 20, 2014, from JSTOR.
5. Yong, C. F. (2004, June). Lim Peng Siang and the building of the Ho Hong empire in colonial Singapore. Asian Culture, Vol. 28, 5-6, 16. Call no.: RSING q950.05 AC.
6. Lee, 2003, p. 160–161.
7. Yong, Jun 2004, p. 18; Lee, 2003, p. 160.
8. Yong, Jun 2004, p. 17.
9. Lee, 2003, 160, Yong, Jun 2004, p. 21.
10. Yong, Jun 2004, p. 17
11. Yong, Jun 2004, p. 18.
12. Yong, Jun 2004, p. 18.
13. Yong, Jun 2004, p. 20.
14. Lee, 2003, p. 161.
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.