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Gupta battles to make DBS’s pan-Asian dreams a reality

The DBS chief executive is developing a more focused take on his bank’s traditional pan-Asian aspirations. Singapore, India and Greater China are the key growth points, concentrating on commercial banking (especially for SMEs) and wealth management. Chris Wright reports.

DBS HAS LONG been the most outspoken of southeast Asian banks on the goal of being a regional player. For more than a decade, different chief executives have outlined their vision for a regional champion. Jackson Tai used to talk of a pan-Asian bank, headquartered in Asia, run by Asians for Asians; under Piyush Gupta, appointed in September 2009, the mantra has become "the Asian bank of choice for the new Asia". Much still has to be done before one could truly consider DBS the pan-Asian power it aspires to be. But the logic underpinning the idea looks better than ever.

"It’s quite clear to me that trade patterns within the region are on the verge of some profound changes," says Gupta, speaking on the 44th floor of the bank’s Singapore headquarters; out of the window the city’s vast container port, a visible barometer of the health of Asian trade, flits and buzzes in the background. Through the 1980s and 1990s, he says, the growth of Asia was built on the supply chain of manufacturing and exports, with Asean countries sending materials into China to be assembled and shipped out to the west; intra-regional trade in the strict sense of the term, but ultimately still reliant on a final export to Europe or the US.

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