Banking: Why everyone wants a piece of Taiwan
DBS’s purchase of Citi’s local consumer business in January was a timely reminder of Taiwan’s allure. Yes, the island lies on a geopolitical fault line and the banking sector is crowded. But it’s also profitable and now welcomes digital disruption.
In January, after signing off on the purchase of Citi’s local consumer business in Taiwan, DBS chief executive Piyush Gupta called geopolitics the “single largest question” the board faced in its deliberations.
He explained the base case was that Chinese influence in Taiwan would grow, but that its impact would be “insidious” and “non-violent” – a grinding process of charm and attrition aimed at reclaiming the island over time, in instalments if necessary.
Gupta declared the Citi deal “an acceptable and meaningful risk” to take.
The Singapore lender agreed to pay a premium over the net asset value of NT$19.8 billion ($678 million) for the US bank’s local consumer business. Local media reports put the final deal value at NT$60 billion.
Gupta was a Citi stalwart, joining the US bank in 1982 and leaving to head DBS in 2009. His final role at Citi was southeast Asia chief executive and, while Taiwan wasn’t part of his remit, he clearly remembers the local franchise with great fondness.