Singapore banking tycoon Wee Cho Yaw, former UOB chairman, dies at 95

In a statement on Saturday, UOB said: “It is with deep sadness that UOB announces the passing of Dr Wee Cho Yaw, Chairman Emeritus and Adviser to the UOB Group at the age of 95.

“Dr Wee, a visionary banker, celebrated businessman and community pillar, was pivotal to UOB’s development as a leading bank in Asia.”

Born in Kinmen in 1930, Wee moved to Singapore as a child amid the Sino-Japanese war.

At the age of 28, he became the youngest director on the board of United Chinese Bank which his father Wee Kheng Chiang co-founded in 1935.

It was later renamed United Overseas Bank (UOB), and under Wee’s leadership, it became Singapore’s third-largest bank by market cap.

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One of Singapore’s wealthiest men, the banking veteran consistently appears on Forbes’ rich list.

In 2023, he was eighth on the Forbes list of Singapore’s 50th richest people, with a net worth of US$7.2 billion.

Wee’s eldest of five children, Wee Ee Cheong, is the current CEO of UOB.

“My father has left an indelible mark in Singapore and the region,” said Wee Ee Cheong.

“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.”

UOB chairman Wee Cho Yaw (centre) at a press conference in Hong Kong in 1989. Photo: SCMP

The late Wee’s contributions to Singapore extend beyond business.

He led the Hokkien Huay Kuan – one of Singapore’s largest clan associations – from 1972 to 2010. He was also the founding president of the Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA), the umbrella group for local Chinese clan associations.

As then-president of the SFCCA, he was instrumental in the formation of the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC), which was founded in 1992 to help less fortunate Chinese families and academically weaker students.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his speech to mark the CDAC’s 20th anniversary, described Wee as a “prime mover” behind the non-profit self-help group.

“He led the fundraising Committee and donated generously to the Endowment Fund, helping to raise more than S$10 million. He helped introduce many CDAC programmes, like the CDAC-SFCCA Hardship Assistance Fund, the Bursary Schemes and many others,” Lee said in 2012.

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After Nanyang University was merged with the University of Singapore in 1980, Wee was invited to become a council member of the newly formed National University of Singapore (NUS).

He later became pro-chancellor of the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2004.

Both universities had conferred an honorary doctor of letters on Wee for his contributions.

This story was first published by CNA

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