How Singapore’s Biggest Banks & Sovereign Funds Acquired Powerful Stakes in China’s Financial Industry

China’s Rapidly Growing Financial Industry Attracts Singaporean Investors

China’s banking system is one of the most promising investment destinations around the world. The country, with more than a billion people, an ever-increasing middle-class and an economy that is booming, has led many investors globally to acquire stakes in China’s financial system. This leaves no other country to do so than Singapore.

Singapore is basically one of Asia’s international banking powerhouses. It holds stakes in some of the most important areas in the continent. Of course, one of them is China. Singaporean money has been actively seen wide and around China for decades, helping build out the country’s private sector to public utilities.

But just how big is Singapore’s investment in China’s financial system? Is it enough to say that the tiny Southeast Asian country holds vast powers in China’s most important sector? Well, you may actually be surprised just how involved Singapore is in China. To understand these, we will look at the involvement of Singapore in China’s financial industry – where are they, what companies have they acquired, and just how big these companies are.

DBS Bank – Singapore’s Largest Lender Has Been in China Since 1993

To begin, let us first start with one of Singapore’s darling banks; DBS. DBS has been involved in China’s financial sector since 1993, when it first established a representative office. Since then, DBS China has grown massively, operating out of 12 branches, and 21 sub-branches and has a staff strength of over 1,900.

But this is not what makes DBS’ presence in China substantial. It is in fact that it has held stakes in some of China’s private sector. One of them occurred just recently in 2021. According to a report published by the StraitsTimes, DBS had acquired a 13 percent stake in Shenzhen Rural Commercial Bank for over 5.29 billion Chinese yuan or 1.08 billion Singaporean dollars, its biggest acquisition in China.

The Chinese bank is reported to have over 170,00 active customers and total assets of over 519 billion Yuan, at the time of the acquisition. Fast-forward to 2023, there are several reports that DBS is even more keen to increase its stakes. Regardless of any potential increase, it was also reported that in 2021, when DBS acquired its stakes, it actually became the largest shareholder in the company, meaning they hold a considerable sway in the bank.

United Overseas Bank (UOB) – A Long History in China Since 1984

UOB, another banking giant from Singapore, has been making its own moves. UOB China has been in China since 1984, and since then grew to over 16 branches. UOB China’s acquisition throughout the years was quite a story.

One of its initial forays started in 2008, when it acquired a 15 percent stake in China’s evergrowing bank for a small sum of 780 million Yuan, or 114 million dollars. Another bank, Hengfeng bank, was also in the fray. UOB has helped acquire some stakes of the bank after it had spelled trouble.

Finally, OCBC is not far behind. Like the other two, OCBC has been in China for quite some time. Back in 2006, it also made its own acquisition into Ningbo Commercial Bank. OCBC acquired about 12 percent of the company, for 570 million Yuan Or 120 million dollars.

OCBC Bank – Majority Owner of Hong Kong’s Wing Hang Bank

But what makes OCBC special, however, is that it is not only a huge acquirer of Chinese banks. It also has huge stakes in Hong Kong Banks. These Hong Kong banks have a presence in China, big, big presence.

In 2014, OCBC made a bid for over $5 billion dollars to buy Wing Hang Bank. Since then, Wing Hang Bank has changed its name to OCBC Bank Hong Kong Limited. But what this meant was that OCBC Bank now had a huge opportunity to enter both Hong Kong and Chinese markets.

According to its 2022 annual report, OCBC Wing Hang, the company has over 339 billion Hong Kong dollars in total assets! It is a massive banking institution with presence all across China, from Shenzhen to Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing and so on.

Temasek & GIC – Singapore’s Sovereign Wealth Giants

Now, as we move forward, these three banking giants of Singapore obviously have a big presence in China. However, we are still missing two important figures; Temasek and GIC. The two prime Singaporean sovereign wealth funds are key figures in the entire financial industry of China.

Let’s first begin with Temasek Holdings. It is known that they own stakes in AIA Group Limited, a Hong Kong-based insurance company, Ping An Insurance Group, another insurance company, Industrial and Commercial bank of China Limited, ICBC For short, also known as one of China’s giant financial companies, and China Construction Bank Corporation.

These names are by far no small names. ICBC, which stands out amongst the rest, is a bank that has total assets of more than 6 trillion dollars! And one of its shareholders is Temasek Holdings. However, the stake held is merely small at only 2 percent as of Temasek’s official report. But, it was previously known that Temasek held larger stakes, as nearly 10 percent in ICBC.

Further, Temasek Holdings is also a key owner of some Singapore assets which also have big business in China. For instance, it is a shareholder of companies like, DBS Group, Standard Chartered, Blackrock, and so on.

GIC, likewise, has a lot of investments in the Chinese economy. However, GIC’s investments, over history, are quite unknown, as it is commonly known to be a secretive fund. But regardless, we can go on and on and talk about the many different investments they made.

One thing should stand clear, Singaporean money reigns big in China! Also, we should not forget about other facts out there. We have missed out on several information that includes; asset acquisitions, for instance, when Australia & New Zealand Banking Group sold off its retail and wealth management business in East and Southeast Asia, DBS Group took it over.

DBS also acquired Societe Generale’s operations in Hong Kong and Singapore, and OCBC’s Barclays wealth and investment management business in Asia. Now you get it, Singapore’s banking giants and sovereign wealth funds are hungry for China’s banking potentials.

How These Investments Benefit Both Singapore & China

Now, understanding this, however, is one thing, but another important aspect to understand is the impact on Singapore and China.

First, the impact on Singapore is very big. Financial investments such as these help strengthen the bilateral relations between the two countries, paving the way for collaboration in other areas such as trade. Trade is a big deal between China and Singapore, as the two countries exchange hundreds of billions of dollars every single year.

Secondly, By investing heavily in China, Singapore positions itself as a significant player in the Asia-Pacific region. This increased influence can be leveraged in regional negotiations and partnerships.

Finally, there is also the presence of diversification. For Singapore, investing in China allows its banking giants and sovereign wealth funds to diversify their portfolios. Finally, of course, we should not forget about the benefits of return. Investing in China, a promising country, gives a big economic return to Singapore.

For China the impacts are also spectacular. First, we can already imply a vote of confidence to this matter. The presence of established banks like DBS, UOB, and OCBC provides confidence to other foreign investors. Following that, Collaborating with a globally recognized financial hub like Singapore aids China in integrating its financial markets with global norms and practices. This helps in the modernization of its financial systems.

And of course, a big supply of foreign investments will likely boost the country’s economy over the long-term.

Potential Risks & Challenges

However, while the mutual benefits are clear, the close financial ties also mean that any instability in China’s banking and financial sector could ripple through to Singapore’s institutions. Economic downturns, banking crises, or significant policy shifts in China could impact Singaporean investments.

Conversely, any economic issues in Singapore or shifts in its investment strategies could affect the financial sectors in which it has invested in China. This has been an ongoing issue with China’s real estate sector, where many analysts have stated that the problem is pouring out not just in Singapore, but all across the world.

Furthermore, geopolitical tensions in the Asia-Pacific region, trade wars, and other external challenges could also influence the dynamics of this relationship. The strategic partnership between the two countries, built on mutual trust and benefits, will need to navigate these challenges carefully.

The Future of Asia’s Financial Industry

In conclusion, Singapore’s strategic investments in China’s banking sector paint a picture of a future where Asia plays an even more significant role in shaping global finance. The ripple effects of these investments will be felt far and wide, marking a pivotal chapter in the annals of international banking.

For now, all eyes are on these two Asian titans, as they navigate the complex waters of global finance, forging a path that many might soon follow.