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Acceptance speech by Mr Wee Cho Yaw, chairman, UOB Group, for Lifetime Achievement Award presented by The Asian Banker on 10 May 2009, Beijing

Mr David Eldon, Chairman of The Asian Banker’s Advisory Council,
Mr Emmanuel Daniel, President & CEO of The Asian Banker,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

A very good evening to all of you.

I am deeply honoured to be presented with this Lifetime Achievement Award by The Asian Banker.  I also want to thank Mr Daniel for giving me such a glowing citation.  To be honest, all I have done in the last 51 years is to follow my passion in building upon the bank founded by my father!

Ladies and gentlemen, let me start by saying that the 2008 financial turmoil is the worst I have encountered in my five decades of banking career.

The financial tsunami has wracked havoc to the global economy, leading to a recession in almost all parts of the world. As a consequence the banking fraternity is right at the bottom of the totem pole in so far as public respect and trust is concerned.   
Since we are honouring leadership in the banking industry this evening, I would like to spend the next few minutes on the subject of regaining public trust and confidence.

When my father started UOB in 1935 and until recently, bankers were held in high esteem in the business community. They were trusted because they were the custodians of public funds; they were respected because they were important cogs that moved the real economy.

It was with great pride that I joined the banking profession. It is, therefore, very painful to me to hear and read the adverse comments leveled at bankers these days.  I believe that, as members of the banking fraternity, all of us here this evening must urgently rebuild public trust and confidence. 

First I would suggest a review of the current compensation framework which encourages greater risk taking for short-term gains.  Because financial rewards are based on short-term targets and profitability, there is an insatiable urge to derive greater profits every year at the expense of longer-term downside risks, such as investment products like Collateralised Debt Obligations (CDO’s), Credit Default Swaps (CDS’) and Accumulator.  There is, therefore, a need to factor in attendant risks in the compensation system.

It has generally been acknowledged that an important strength of family-owned enterprises is the preference to forego short-term gains for long-term interests. They are, therefore, less inclined to take great risks for short-term benefits. Family-owned companies also tend to manage their capital and assets judiciously.  Perhaps, we should see how the banking industry can take a leaf from such companies.


Going forward, I believe that there is a need for bankers to re-visit the primary roles and functions of banks.  As we all know, shareholders’ funds generally only comprise 10% of a bank’s capital; the remaining 90% of a bank’s assets is derived from external funds.  Bankers have a social obligation to manage such funds responsibly.

In the wake of the financial crisis, more rules and regulations are being introduced to improve corporate governance and risk management.  But I believe that the battle to win back public confidence ultimately lies on the shoulders of all of us here this evening. 

In Chinese we have this saying, “if the main beam is not straight, the supporting beams would be crooked”. As leaders of the banking sector, we must lead by example.

It is my hope, therefore, that the leaders of the banking fraternity will revive the high moral and ethical standards that once distinguished this sector of the economy.  If we can focus on long-term interest rather than short-term benefits, refrain from solely thinking of personal gain and instead give greater attention to improving the bank’s reputation as well as contributing towards market efficiency and a stable economy, I believe that the best is yet to be for bankers in the Asia Pacific and the rest of the world.

Thanks you.

The Asian Banker reserves the right to change the topics, format and speakers.

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Notes for Intervention: Malcolm D. Knight, Vice Chairman, Deutsche Bank Group
Acceptance speech by Mr Wee Cho Yaw, chairman, UOB Group, for Lifetime Achievement Award presented by The Asian Banker on 10 May 2009, Beijing

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