SINGAPORE: The Chinese Offshore Banking Corporation has appointed Helen Wong as the bank’s first CEO in Singapore, making her responsible for leading the island nation’s second largest lender through the severe economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The bank said in a statement to the stock exchange on Friday that Wong, 59, would replace Samuel Tsian, who will retire in April after operating OCBC since 2012.
She joined OCBC last year from HSBC Holdings Plc as she managed the Greater China operations of the British bank.
The change in leadership at OCBC, Southeast Asia’s second-largest lender by assets, comes as lenders around the world struggle to contain the impact of the pandemic on global economies.
In Singapore, banks will soon be competing with tech companies that have just won licenses to run digital banks. OCBC’s quarterly earnings have contracted for three straight periods, in line with two other major banks in Singapore.
“We have looked at the candidates internally at OCBC, and inside and outside Singapore before agreeing on Helen as the best qualified person,” Ooi President Sang Kuang said in a statement.
“Helen’s experiences and expertise extend beyond corporate banking, Greater China and North Asia.”
Wong, who is now the Head of Global Wholesale Banking, is currently responsible for Cash and Trade Management within the Transaction Banking and Investment Banking business.
She started her banking career at OCBC in 1984 before moving to other lenders. Soon after returning to Bank of Singapore in 2020, she helped lead a team to review and redefine OCBC’s strategy and operating model.
Kevin Kwik, an analyst at Sanford C Bernstein in Singapore, said the new designation would signal the OCBC’s continued focus on China.
“Wong as HSBC’s Greater China CEO focused on the Pearl River Delta for growth, the same goal of OCBC when current CEO Samuel Tsien acquired the Wing Hang Bank in Hong Kong to advance China’s Greater China strategy.”
Under Tsien’s leadership, OCBC expanded strongly in Hong Kong with the growth of the bank’s wealth management business.
It spent US $ 5 billion in 2014 to acquire Wing Hang Bank in Hong Kong. Two years later, Wealth operations in Singapore and Hong Kong bought Barclays plc, helping Bank of Singapore become the sixth largest private bank by assets in Asia excluding China.
Tsien, 66, joined OCBC in July 2007 as President of Global Corporate Bank before taking office in April 2012.
OCBC shares closed nearly 4% higher at S $ 10.73, just above the 3% gain for the Straits Times Index for the day.