Billionaire Wee Cho Yaw’s United Overseas Bank Doubles Down On Retail Expansion And Digital Play
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This story appears in the September 2023 issue of Forbes Asia. Subscribe to Forbes Asia
This story is part of Forbes’ coverage of Singapore’s Richest 2023. See the full list here.
Turbocharged by its S$4.9 billion ($3.5 billion) acquisition of Citibank’s consumer banking business in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, billionaire Wee Cho Yaw’s United Overseas Bank is pushing ahead with expansion in Southeast Asia. The Singapore lender says it will have nearly 8 million customers once the deal is completed by year’s end, which will add an estimated S$1 billion to UOB’s top line.
Plans to build on that momentum include exclusive membership offers, like presale tickets to Taylor Swift’s concerts being held in Singapore next year. New credit card applications at UOB jumped region-wide in June ahead of general sales for the American singer’s sold-out shows. UOB’s net profit in the first six months soared 53% year-on-year to S$3.1 billion (minus expenses related to the Citibank acquisition), bolstered by a rise in its net interest margin on higher interest rates, and an increase in trading and investment income. The banking veteran is No. 8 on the list with a net worth of $7.1 billion.
“With expectations of further Fed rate hikes, net interest margins should continue to be higher for longer,” Maybank Securities analyst Thilan Wickramasinghe, wrote in a research note in July. The brokerage projected UOB’s net profit will rise 19% to a record S$5.7 billion this year.
The Singapore bank, helmed by Wee’s eldest son, Ee Cheong, meanwhile is stepping up its digital investments. This includes earmarking S$500 million to build a tech hub in the city-state and partnering with e-tailer Lazada to develop digital payments and financial services across Southeast Asia.
The Wees also control listed property developer UOL Group and its hotel operator, Pan Pacific Hotels. While UOL continues to benefit from the post-pandemic tourism rebound and resilient housing demand in Singapore, soaring interest rates resulted in a 64% drop in net profit in the first half to S$135 million as finance charges doubled. In July, Pan Pacific agreed to sell its Parkroyal hotel in Singapore’s Little India area for S$525 million to hotel tycoon Choo Chong Ngen (No. 17).
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