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OCBC Bank Tells the 85-Year Story of its People and Ethos with the Launch of "Wind behind the Sails"

OCBC Bank Tells the 85-Year Story of its People and Ethos with the Launch of "Wind behind the Sails"

  • 31 Oct 2017

Singapore, 31 October 2017 – In February 1985, OCBC Bank made history by becoming the first Singapore bank to gain a full banking licence in Australia. But problems at its subsidiary, Bank of Singapore (Australia) (BOSA), started to bubble up by the second year of its operations. The challenge of competing effectively against the domestic banks, a lack of credit discipline and a severe recession would result in a downsizing of its operations in the 1990s in order to stop the bleeding. By 1994, BOSA turned profitable again but it was clear by then that the Australian venture was not a successful one and the subsidiary was finally wound up in 2003. It was an overreach by OCBC Bank at the time but in many ways, it helped to reorientate the bank and taught it to be more careful in its growth plans overseas. This is why, since then, its major overseas moves have been successes.


In August 2001, OCBC Bank successfully acquired Keppel Tatlee Bank but made it clear that it was not about one bigger bank swallowing a smaller rival. Instead, OCBC Bank was looking to partner someone to grow together. For instance, when deciding on job allocation during the integration of the banks, each OCBC Bank and Keppel TatLee Bank employee was given a chance to show why he or she deserved the job. Where there was job duplication, the job would go to the best person, regardless of affiliation.


These stories and others, the details of which were not made public at the time of their occurrences, are now chronicled in "Wind behind the Sails: The story of the people and ethos of OCBC". The book is written in a compelling and unvarnished manner that does not just speak of the bank’s triumphs, but also its setbacks, missteps and the lessons it learnt.

The book is launched today, the anniversary of OCBC Bank’s incorporation on 31 October 1932, by Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean, OCBC Bank Chairman Ooi Sang Kuang and OCBC Bank Group CEO Samuel Tsien. The unveiling ceremony was attended by more than 50 current and former board members, management, staff and guests.

Building on the narrative of "Solid as a Rock", the first book commissioned by the bank detailing its first 40 years and published in 1972; "Wind behind the Sails" charts OCBC Bank’s 85-year journey to date and goes beyond being a historical recounting. The story provides insights into the bank’s early years but goes on to unfold against the backdrop of Singapore’s growth as a nation and the development and transformation of its financial sector. It recounts the challenges the bank has navigated in the more recent years and the strategic moves it has made to address new business and economic realities. More importantly, the book brings to life how the values of OCBC Bank – integrity, prudence and having a long-term view – have enabled it to survive and emerge stronger from the many crises it faced. The bank’s leaders, from Mr Lee Kong Chian, Mr Yong Pung How, Mr Teo Cheng Guan, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam and Mr Lee Seng Wee to Mr David Conner and Mr Samuel Tsien, steadfastly espoused these values as they steered the bank through its defining moments over the generations. In a changing world of increasing complexity which has led to intensified regulatory scrutiny, these values remain as relevant, if not more than ever before, in anchoring the bank and ensuring its long-term sustainable growth.

If OCBC Bank can be likened to the hardy Chinese sailing vessel at the heart of its iconic logo, then the title of the book captures the conviction – enshrined since the earliest days – that it is people and values that determine success. The leaders and employees of OCBC, along with the shared values to which they hold fast, are the strong "wind" that propel the OCBC ship forward. By upholding their ethos, the team makes purposeful headway in seas both choppy and calm.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who penned the book’s foreword, wrote: "Over the 85 years of its existence, OCBC has evolved to become a reputed bank in Asia, with operations in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Greater China, and a trusted partner for small and medium enterprises as well as large corporates… The stories told in this book are an honest appraisal of not only OCBC’s successes, but also how it transformed its failures into lessons and new opportunities."

At the book launch, Mr Ooi Sang Kuang, Chairman of OCBC Bank, said: "Our 85-year journey has not always been smooth-sailing. Our success was not pre-ordained. We were severely tested in many ways. We had to navigate the hardship and ravages of the Second World War, and the dislocation brought about by the Asian Financial Crisis and the Global Financial Crisis. We have also had to adapt quickly to the rapidly evolving geopolitical, banking and regulatory landscape. We surmounted each and every one of these challenges, not merely surviving but emerging stronger from them.

Prudence, integrity, taking a long-term view; these values have been OCBC’s guiding lights and will ever continue to anchor our conduct as we move forward. We have been privileged to have had leaders and employees who took these values to heart."

As part of the book launch, OCBC Bank is hosting a public exhibition on the book in its branch at OCBC Centre from today till 10 November 2017. The exhibition uses a 3-D model, photographs, and sketches of prominent figures in the bank’s history, hand-drawn by an artist based in Paris, to illustrate key highlights from the book.

Published by Straits Times Press, "Wind behind the Sails: The people and ethos of OCBC" is not for sale but will be made available to OCBC staff, and presented as a commemorative gift to selected customers. Copies of the book will be donated to public libraries and members of the public will be able to borrow these by the end of December.


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