OCBC Bank has appointed Helen Wong Pik Kuen as its new group chief executive officer.

Wong’s appointment will be effective from April 15.

She will be the bank’s first female CEO, and the first woman to head a Singapore bank.

Wong, who was the former chief executive at HSBC Greater China from July 1992 to January 2020, re-joined OCBC Bank in Feb 2020 as deputy president and head of global wholesale banking.

Notably, Wong began her banking career with OCBC Bank in 1984, and was the bank’s first China desk manager.

In her previous roles, she has also worked in several capacities in investment banking and corporate banking, and held various board appointments. Notably, Wong served as the chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Banks in 2015.

OCBC, in a statement via SGX, says the appointment was made following an “extensive search” that was conducted among external and internal candidates.

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Ooi Sang Kuang, chairman of OCBC Bank, congratulated Wong on her new role, saying “We had looked at candidates internally in OCBC, and within and outside Singapore before we agreed on Helen as the best qualified person”.

“Helen’s experiences and expertise extend beyond corporate banking, Greater China and North Asia… We are confident that Helen will be able to lead the OCBC Group to greater heights in an increasingly complex and challenging environment,” he adds.

Wong will be replacing outgoing CEO Samuel Tsien.

He will be retiring on April 15, which marks the ninth anniversary of his appointment.

In a statement released by OCBC, Ooi also thanked Tsien for his contributions.

“The Board and I thank Sam for his outstanding contributions to OCBC. In his nine years as the croup CEO, Sam has significantly built the OCBC franchise into a much more diversified and resilient business,” he says.

“He has strengthened the risk culture and internal processes, and instilled a set of solid corporate values to guide the team in doing business in a sustainable way. On behalf of the Board, Management and staff of the OCBC Group, we wish Sam a delightful retirement,” Ooi adds.

Tsien joined OCBC Bank in July 2007 as the global head of global corporate bank and was appointed group CEO on April 15, 2012.

Under Tsien, the bank saw a significant strengthening in its capital, liquidity and technological capabilities.

Through his leadership, the bank also expanded its presence, in particular in the Greater China region, with successful acquisitions including Hong Kong’s Wing Hang Bank.

In 2019, OCBC Bank achieved a record net profit of $4.87 billion, more than doubling 2011’s net profit of $2.31 billion. Its total assets grew to $492 billion in 2019 from the $278 billion logged in 2011.

On her new role, Wong says she is “deeply honoured to be succeeding” Tsien, and that she has witnessed Tsien’s “sound judgement and worked hand-in-hand with many talented and like-minded individuals”.

“Although Covid-19 struck fiercely at the economy and impacted many lives and livelihoods, we navigated the storm deftly thanks to Sam’s leadership, the team’s united efforts and the Board’s guidance.”

“The team and I will now continue to build on OCBC’s strong foundations to further entrench it as a leading and progressive regional financial institution,” she adds.

In her statement, Wong also thanked the board for the “confidence and opportunity”.

On his retirement, Tsien says the opportunity to serve as the bank’s group CEO for the past nine years was “humbling”.

“I have found it a truly fulfilling and rewarding experience to be able to build on the firm foundations laid by my predecessors, and to take one of Asia’s most iconic organisations to new heights,” he says.

“Attributed to my team, we have collectively made OCBC Group more resilient, more regional and diversified, and with stronger fundamentals in capital, funding, technology and people resources as we continue to position for future growth.”

“I am very grateful for the firm support that the Board and our shareholders, customers and colleagues have always provided. My sincere thanks go to all our customers, for trusting OCBC and allowing us to serve you and meet your needs,” he adds.

“I am fully confident that OCBC will continue to do well and do good under Helen’s leadership, creating sustainable value for all stakeholders.”

Shares in OCBC closed 41 cents higher or 4.0% up at $10.73 on Jan 8, prior to the announcement.