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OCBC's Wong reaffirms One Bank vision with eyes firmly on shareholders’ returns

Goola Warden
Goola Warden • 4 min read
OCBC's Wong reaffirms One Bank vision with eyes firmly on shareholders’ returns
Wong: Dividends to our shareholders is something that is very important to us because that is where the value is / Photo: OCBC
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Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp’s (OCBC) recent unveiling of its updated logo in Shanghai on Dec 6 aims to strengthen the One Bank approach under the leadership of group CEO Helen Wong. The rebranding signifies more than just enhancing brand equity or adopting a refreshed logo — it reflects a strategic reset communicated across OCBC’s key markets, including Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Wong is keenly focused on leveraging trade, investment and wealth movements between Greater China and Southeast Asia to generate substantial revenue, supporting her pledge to allocate 50% of the bank’s earnings as dividends. 

“We have a platform for colleagues to work together believing in the power of one bank,” she tells The Edge Singapore in a recent interview. 
It is no small task to get some 30,000 employees and the many OCBC divisions — including subsidiaries such as Bank of Singapore, the regional subsidiaries Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and China, along with OCBC Al-Amin — to move in lock-step. 

OCBC Indonesia has shed the NISP name. Likewise, in Hong Kong, Wing Hang has been omitted from OCBC Hong Kong after the legal consolidation of OCBC Wing Hang and OCBC’s Hong Kong branch.

During OCBC’s 2Q2023 results briefing, Wong had already outlined that her strategic reset aims to generate an additional $3 billion in revenue over three years, commencing with this year’s results. OCBC’s 3Q2023 earnings are ahead of its peers in that OCBC exceeded Bloomberg’s earnings estimates by 2.2%.

It reported a net profit of $1.81 billion in 3QFY2023, up 21% y-o-y and 6% q-o-q, the only bank to report net profit growth for both y-o-y and q-o-q. Net profit for the nine months of 2023 represented a 32% y-o-y growth to $5.4 billion.

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Wong is careful not to underestimate the competition. She says: “Risk management is very important to capture more customers. We still have loan growth and additional deposit growth. In this challenging environment, our employees learn to do more tasks more efficiently, from growing Casa to managing debt issuance and maximising capital management. Funding is about deposit growth. If we get more Casa, our net interest margin (NIM) is protected.”

Southeast Asia expansion
Despite China’s slowing economic growth, the banking group focuses on the country. Paradoxically, the economic slowdown in China is prompting its companies to expand into Southeast Asia, seeking opportunities for earnings growth in the region.

Wong, who spent much of her banking career in North Asia, Hong Kong and China, sees in Asean the potential that China once had. A young population with fast-growing digital natives and a rising middle class can complement China’s ageing but wealthier demographics.

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Historically, Southeast Asia served China as a source of raw materials and energy. However, the region now attracts Chinese investments as Chinese companies explore new markets.

Additionally, it is not only Chinese companies making moves into Southeast Asia. “Though Bank of Ningbo, we have gone quite deep into the Chinese market. We can service Chinese companies or MNCs adopting the China +1 strategy through our operations. We have won a major mandate for a US company in Singapore, and we can help them look after some of their needs in other Asean countries,” Wong says, but she refrains from disclosing the MNC’s name.

Moreover, Chinese companies can exploit the friend-shoring trend in Western developed markets. Friend-shoring economies in Southeast Asia include Malaysia and Indonesia, which are among OCBC’s major markets. The point of friend-shoring is for companies to diversify production from China into Asean countries.

Ultimately, One Bank is about generating better returns to shareholders. She adds: “Dividends to our shareholders are important because that is where the value is. If we can grow the banking group and have higher profits, our dividends should continue to grow, which has been reflected in the share price performance.”  

 

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