Awards for Excellence 2021: Best bank and best investment bank in Singapore
Best Bank: DBS
Best Investment Bank: DBS
All of Singapore’s three banks responded exceptionally well to Covid-19; both UOB and OCBC deserve great credit for strong management. But only DBS somehow turned the whole thing into an opportunity.
It’s not just that, in the review period the bank managed to increase operating profit before allowances by 2% to a record S$8.43 billion ($6.36 billion), helped by the excellence the bank now has beyond interest-related business. Wealth management, transaction banking, SME business, institutional and consumer all contributed to a broad-based performance.
When tasked with helping the country come out of Covid stronger, DBS launched first a digital asset exchange, then (with Standard Chartered, Temasek and the SGX) a pioneering carbon exchange. Where most sought stability, DBS looked for new ideas and executed them.
Under chief executive Piyush Gupta, DBS has become a bank whose embrace of disruptive forces allows it to find momentum even when the world seems to be going backwards.
When Covid is all over, the deal that will be remembered the longest in Singapore will be the S$8.8 billion equity fund raising and rights issue for Singapore Airlines. It came early in the Covid crisis, when it was becoming clear how bad things were going to be, especially for an airline from a country so small it has no domestic routes to fall back on and that had suspended 96% of its capacity by the end of March 2020.
It’s hard for those outside the region to understand just how important the airline is to Singapore. The entire national brand rests upon it and there were fears it could become unviable. Temasek’s decision to stand behind the rights issue was of course crucial and one can argue that, with Temasek as a shareholder, DBS was the only bank that was ever going to get the sole financial adviser mandate on the deal.
But it still had to do it right, using all its tech experience to allow locked-down retail investors to apply for rights through the PayNow digital channel. And DBS did do it right, both then and in the Sembcorp Marine S$2.1 billion rights issue that followed it. After that, it felt like Singapore was going to be OK.
There were a host of other notable deals. There were benchmark fixed income deals in their usual abundance, not just cookie-cutter raisings but corporate perpetual securities deals such as Olam and STT; sustainable and ESG financings; advisory work on acquisitions, buyouts, recapitalizations, demergers and Reit mergers involving groups such as Keppel, Sembcorp, Hopu, Frasers and Blackstone. DBS might be a safe choice given the nature of its deal flow, but it still has to execute.