Sze Hai Tong Banking & Insurance Company Limited
by Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia
Sze Hai Tong Banking & Insurance Company Limited, one of Singapore’s earliest banks, was established on 7 January 1907. It was founded by members of the Teochew community, including Tan Teck Joon (managing director), Ng Song Teng (assistant manager), Na Kim Seng, Yeo Lee Chiang and Liaw Chia Heng.1 The bank occupied 57 and 58 Kling Street (renamed Chulia Street on 1 January 1922) before it moved into a four-storey building costing $180,000 at the junction of Chulia Street and Phillip Street in 1938.2
The bank was staffed mainly by Teochews, and attracted customers with its cosy, homely atmosphere, which brought the bank many loyal customers.3 The bank later expanded overseas and set up branches and agencies in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Swatow (Shantou) and London.4
The bank was managed with much conservatism, which helped it to survive during difficult times. Despite the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the bank continued to attract new customers. When the uncertainties escalated into a bank run in Singapore, Sze Hai Tong was able to meet withdrawal demands with its strong cash reserves. The Teochew business community also stood by the bank. Confidence in the bank was bolstered when Low Peng Yam, a director and its largest shareholder, injected $500,000 into the bank.5
Name change and acquisition
In May 1957, Sze Hai Tong Banking & Insurance Company Limited was renamed Sze Hai Tong Bank Limited.6 As foreign customers and business contacts found it difficult to pronounce its name, however, the bank officially changed its name to Four Seas Communications Bank Limited in July 1964.7
On 15 December 1972, the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Limited (OCBC) acquired a majority interest in Four Seas Communications Bank at a takeover price of one OCBC share for every three Four Seas share. Following the acquisition, Four Seas became a subsidiary of OCBC, but it continued to enjoy autonomy in its daily operations.8 In December 1985, OCBC acquired the remaining shares in Four Seas and the latter became a fully owned subsidiary of OCBC.9 When OCBC changed its name to OCBC Bank and took on a new corporate identity in May 1989, Four Seas Communications Bank became known as Four Seas Bank.10
Merger with OCBC
On 1 July 1998, OCBC Bank was merged with Four Seas Bank to consolidate its operations to meet the higher minimum capital funds of S$1.5 billion required by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.11 Following the merger, Four Seas Bank was renamed FSB Holdings Limited, and its banking operations were ceased.12
Joshua Chia Yeong Jia
1. Tan, C. H. (1984). Financial markets and institutions in Singapore. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 19. (Call no.: RSING 332.1095957 TAN); Page 10 advertisements column 3: The Sze Hai Tong Banking and Insurance Co., Ltd. (1907, December 10). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; 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, 26(1)(161), 113–139, p. 116. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Sim, V. (Ed.). (1950). Biographies of prominent Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Nan Kok Publication Company, p. 7. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.05957 SIM)
2. Page 10 advertisements column 3: The Sze Hai Tong Banking and Insurance Co., Ltd. (1907, December 10). The Straits Times, p. 10; Page 16 advertisements column 5: Municipal notice. (1921, August 1). The Straits Times, p. 16; $180,000 building. (1937, January 25). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Hock, L. S., & Loh, H. Y. (2001, July 7). Why is DBS Bank so unpopular? The Business Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Page 11 advertisements column 2. (1924, January 12). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 11; Page 6 advertisements column 1. (1938, September 19). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Song, O. S. (1984). One hundred years’ history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 512. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS])
6. Page 13 advertisements column 7. (1957, June 3). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Page 17 advertisements column 1. (1964, August 12). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation: Announcement to the shareholders of Four Seas Communications Bank Limited. (1973, April 28). New Straits Times, p. 27. Retrieved 2019, July 30 from Google News website: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1309&dat=19730428&id=K90qAAAAIBAJ&sjid=HXwFAAAAIBAJ&pg=5230,7267585&hl=en; Johnson, B. (1972, December 16). OCBC takes over Four Seas. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. OCBC to buy up shares in subsidiary banks. (1985, October 3). The Straits Times, p. 19; OCBC takeover. (1985, December 31). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. OCBC changes its name and logo. (1989, May 9). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Page 16 advertisements column 3. (1998, July 1), The Straits Times, p. 16; Tay, A. (1996, May 6). Only Big Four meet criterion; Keppel, Tat Lee may raise funds. The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Warner, A. (1998, August 1). Bracing for harder times. The Banker, 148(870), 61–62. Retrieved from ProQuest via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
12. Four Seas Bank now FSB Holdings. (1998, December 5). The Business Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at July 2019 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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