It is with deep sadness that UOB announces the passing of Wee Cho Yaw, chairman emeritus and adviser to the UOB Group at the age of 95.
Wee, a visionary banker, celebrated businessman and community pillar, was pivotal to UOB’s development as a leading bank in Asia.
In the more than five decades under his extraordinary leadership, UOB grew from a one-branch bank to a regional bank in 19 countries and territories. Through his unwavering focus on prudent, disciplined and sustainable growth, UOB assets increased from SGD 2.8 billion ($2.08 billion) to more than SGD 253 billion ($187.9 billion) at the time of his retirement as chairman in 2013. As at 30 September 2023, UOB’s assets have grown to SGD 516 billion ($383.3 billion) and the bank is rated among the world’s top banks: Aa1 by Moody’s Investors Service and AA- by both S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings.
While recognised globally as an astute and decisive businessman, it was in Singapore where Wee’s legend as a consummate dealmaker was forged. While early acquisitions of Chung Khiaw Bank, Lee Wah Bank and Industrial and Commercial Bank gave an indication of his extraordinary dealmaking skill, it was the acquisition of Overseas Union Bank in 2001 that catapulted Wee to one of Singapore’s foremost businessmen.
Wong Kan Seng, chairman of UOB said: “Without doubt, Wee Cho Yaw is one of Singapore’s most successful entrepreneurs. Through hard work, determination, decisiveness and strong Asian values, he built UOB into one of the world’s most admired banks. His towering presence can be seen across Singapore through the many industries, businesses, individuals and communities that UOB has supported over the years. He has also made many important contributions to the development of Singapore as a global financial centre.”
Wee Ee Cheong, deputy chairman and CEO, and son of Wee said: “My father has left an indelible mark in Singapore and the region. He has been a source of inspiration for me in all aspects of my life. Much will be said about his business acumen and dealmaking but it will be the values of honour, enterprise, unity and commitment that will be the legacy he leaves us at UOB. Whether it is through thinking for the long-term, the importance of deep relationships, doing the right thing or giving a helping hand to those in need, the influence of my father and his values will endure at UOB.”
Wee also believed in the importance of education and giving back to the community. He was founding president of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA) from 1985 to 2010. He also headed the Hokkien Huay Kuan from 1972 to 2010. To help build bridges between Singapore and China, he founded the Wee Cho Yaw Singapore-China Banking Forum. In 2015, UOB also set up the SGD 50 million ($37.1 million) Wee Cho Yaw Future Leaders Award scholarship programme to help provide financial assistance to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Wee received many accolades over his career including the Distinguished Service Order (Singapore’s highest National Day Award), ASEAN Business Advisory Council Legacy Award for Singapore and Honorary Degrees of Doctors of Letters from the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University.
UOB under Wee Cho Yaw
1949 – Joined Kheng Leong, a family business trading in commodities
1958 – Appointed to UOB Board
1960 – Appointed managing director (Datuk Wee Kheng Chiang stepped down)
1965 – Opened first overseas branch, in Hong Kong
1971 – Acquired majority stake in Chung Khiaw Bank
Opened Tokyo branch
1973 – Acquired Lee Wah Bank
1974 – Appointed UOB chairman and CEO
1975 – Opened London branch
1977 – Opened New York agency
1980 – Opened Los Angeles agency
1983 – Opened Seoul representative office
1984 – Opened Beijing representative office
1985 – Expanded in Sydney and Xiamen
1986 – Expanded into Vancouver
1987 – Acquired majority interest in Industrial & Commercial Bank in Singapore
1992 – Opened representative office in Vietnam
Opened representative office in Taipei
1994 – Opened representative office in Yangon
1997 – Merged UOB Malaysia subsidiary with CKB Malaysia subsidiary
1998 – Opened Shanghai branch
1999 – Acquired Westmont Bank in the Philippines
Acquired Radanasan Bank in Thailand
2001 – Acquired Overseas Union Bank in Singapore
2004 – Acquired 96.1% in Bank of Asia Public Company in Thailand
2005 – Increased controlling stake of PT Bank Buana in Indonesia to 61.1%
2007 – Stepped down as CEO (Wee Ee Cheong appointed CEO)
2009 – Opened Mumbai branch
2010 – Merged PT Bank UOB Indonesia with PT Bank UOB Buana
2013 – Stepped down as chairman, appointed chairman emeritus and adviser
2015 – Completed full acquisition of Far Eastern Bank
2018 – Retired as UOB board director
Re-disseminated by The Asian Banker