SINGAPORE: United Overseas Bank announced on Saturday (Feb 3) the passing of Dr Wee Cho Yaw at the age of 95. Dr Wee led UOB, now Singapore’s third-largest bank by assets, for over fifty years before retiring in 2013. At the time of his death, he was Chairman Emeritus and Adviser to the UOB Group.

The bank hailed Dr Wee as “a visionary banker, celebrated businessman and community pillar,” noting that he had been pivotal to UOB’s rise over the years.

“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 $2.8 billion to more than $253 billion at the time of his retirement as Chairman in 2013,” it noted.

His father, Mr Wee Kheng Chiang, co-founded the bank in 1935. Dr Wee became its youngest director when he was only 28, when the bank was still known as United Chinese Bank. In 1965, it was renamed as United Overseas Bank.

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Today, his oldest son, Mr Wee Ee Cheong, is the deputy chairman and CEO of UOB.

One of the richest men in Singapore

The banking tycoon had been among the wealthiest in Singapore, with Forbes listing his assets at $7.2 billion. Dr Wee was listed as the eighth richest individual in Singapore for 2023, and the 325th wealthiest around the globe.

Kheng Leong, the property arm of the Wee family, owns 45 apartments in luxury condo The Nassim, which it bought for $290 million. The family also has a controlling stake in Haw Par, the maker of Tiger Balm ointment.

One of Dr Wee’s grandsons, Mr Wee Teng Wen, co-founded the Lo & Behold Group, the owner of the Warehouse Hotel and over a dozen restaurants.

UOB shelled out a cool $3.6 billion in 2022 in an agreement to buy Citibank’s consumer banking business in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Dr Wee’s legacy

The announcement from UOB noted that the late tycoon had been a firm believer in the importance of education and giving back to the community, having founded the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA) and the Wee Cho Yaw Singapore-China Banking Forum.

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He also established the $50 million Wee Cho Yaw Future Leaders Award scholarship programme, which provides students from disadvantaged backgrounds with financial aid.

Among the many awards Dr Wee received in his long career are the Distinguished Service Order (Singapore’s highest National Day Award), the 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.

“He has been a source of inspiration for me in all aspects of my life. Much will be said about his business acumen and deal-making, 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 thorough 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,” his son, Mr Wee Ee Cheong, said in a press statement. /TISG

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