United Overseas Bank’s regional ambitions were underlined in April when the Singapore lender priced a three-year, renminbi-denominated bond, raising S$208.6 million ($150 million). The bond issue, which was oversubscribed 2.86 times, was the first financial bond printed in China by a southeast Asian institution using Beijing’s Bond Connect scheme, which gives foreign investors access to the mainland’s debt markets.
Peter Foo, president and chief executive of UOB (China), says the proceeds would be put to use in belt-and-road projects, allowing the bank to tap into the growing commercial and financial connectivity between China and the Asean region, with its favourable demographics and large and competitive labour pool.
UOB is increasingly seen as a go-to bank for southeast Asian corporates looking to push into China and for Chinese firms looking to head the other way. Group head of the foreign direct investment advisory, Sam Cheong, tells Asiamoney that UOB is “aggressively” setting up Mandarin language support services at many of its 600 branches to support mainland clients.
Since forming its FDI advisory unit in 2011, the bank has helped at least 500 Chinese companies deploy upward of S$60 billion in southeast Asia. And UOB’s bonds with China continue to grow. In the middle of this year, it became the first Singaporean lender to get approval to open a fully owned subsidiary in Vietnam, enabling it to serve mainland clients in the fast-growing frontier market.
In November 2017, it opened a branch in the southwest Chinese city of Kunming, taking its total number of offices in the mainland to 17. That move will help it to benefit from growing cross-border trade between southwest China and Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, all key links in the new Silk Road.