Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Singapore's local banks facing crisis LKY warned of in '99,when he warned also of local banks clinging to their Chinese culture

by Ganesh Sahathevan

The Australian Financial Review published an op-ed on 10 February 2016 which declared.
Forget about Europe, investor tips Singapore banking crisis.

While this may be news to analysts and policy makers whose perception of Singapore goes no farther than its clean streets, ,it was none other than Lee Kuan Yew himself who warned in 1999  that the country's locally owned banks (private and government) were "headed down the hill".

His stinging rebuke of the country's bankers was delivered  in a speech to the Singapore  parliament on  6 May1999, the  best parts of which are reproduced here: 

 So where is the ability of the Singapore Government to protect our four big banks? It will be gone in 10 years or less. So unless we move forward, and fast, we are wiped out. We will be marginalised, and marginal players in our own domestic base.
We will be like New Zealand. They have been wiped out. There is not a New Zealand-owned bank that can back the New Zealand economy if it runs into trouble.

...... to play in this global market, you must have talent of a global standard.  
 Yes, we have good bankers. But....... Singapore banks are thriving (not) because they are wonderful bankers (but because)  I protected them .... I prevented the foreign banks from opening branches and having ATMs, and allowed Singapore banks to place their ATMs and their branches throughout all the HDB estates, and they grew. And now they have become important financial international institutions for us. But if they continue to play in that league, we will be wiped out.

I have spoken to the bankers for the last six, seven years to move, but they have run in the same old way, too comfortable, please give us more time. And they did nothing in that time until we decided to move and we said, "Right, we will move. DBS and POSBank with the top management will take over your business." That forced OCBC to start looking, to upgrade it management. It wanted a Chinese because it thinks it is important that the Chinese culture in the bank must not be upset; hunted and found Mr Alex Au, who made Hang Seng Bank a success in Hong Kong, and was taken by StanChart in London. They brought him back here. But it is more than one man. Neither Alex Au nor Mr John Olds can succeed unless they find a team to inject into every department the level of expertise that we will require to meet the competition. Ten years ago, if you had asked me, I would say we were doing not badly in banking. Now I am convinced we are headed down the hill.


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