Wee Cho Yaw, former UOB chairman and one of Singapore’s richest men, dies aged 95


SINGAPORE: Mr Wee Cho Yaw, the former chairman and CEO of Singapore bank UOB, has died at the age of 95.

Mr Wee is one of Southeast Asia’s most successful businessmen, having helmed UOB Group for more than 60 years before he retired from the board in 2018.

He was also chairman of real estate developer UOL Group.

UOB announced his passing on Saturday (Feb 3), describing Mr Wee as a “visionary banker, celebrated businessman and community pillar” who was “pivotal to UOB’s development as a leading bank in Asia”.

UOB is Singapore’s third-largest bank by market cap. Mr Wee had stayed on as its Chairman Emeritus and Honorary Adviser after retiring from the board.

Born in Kinmen in 1930, Mr 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).

Under Mr Wee’s leadership, the bank grew from one branch to a regional bank in 19 countries and territories, UOB noted.

One of Singapore’s wealthiest men, the banking veteran consistently appeared 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$7.1 billion. He was Singapore’s richest man in 2011, with a fortune of US$4.2 billion.

WEE CHO YAW’S LEGACY

Mr Wee has five children. His eldest son, Wee Ee Cheong, is the current deputy chairman and CEO of UOB. 

“My father has left an indelible mark in Singapore and the region,” said Mr 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 dealmaking 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 Wong Kan Seng also paid tribute to the late banking tycoon, saying he is “without doubt” one of Singapore’s most successful entrepreneurs.

“His towering presence can be seen across Singapore through the many industries, businesses, individuals and communities that UOB has supported over the years,” Mr Wong said.

“He has also made many important contributions to the development of Singapore as a global financial centre.”

Beyond business, the late Mr Wee was passionate about education and giving back to the community.

He headed 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) from 1985 to 2010, 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 Mr Wee as a “prime mover” behind the non-profit self-help group. 

“He led the Fund Raising 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,” Mr Lee said in 2012.

After Nanyang University was merged with the University of Singapore in 1980, Mr 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 Mr Wee for his contributions.

In 2015, UOB also set up the S$50 million Wee Cho Yaw Future Leaders Award scholarship programme to help provide financial assistance to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.



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