Meet the man who started a Singaporean bank in India

26 August 2021

“I joined DBS in 1989 when I was fresh out of school as an engineering graduate, and I just retired in June this year after 32 years with the bank. The bank was, and is still, very good in offering staff exposure to different job scopes and I was able to move between departments. I started in Consumer Banking, and then joined DBS Jurong Branch. It was where I met my wife! I then moved to the International Department in 1993, which oversaw all international operations within the bank.

Yin Chong and his colleagues at DBS Jurong Branch

I was only 29 years old when Chong Kie Cheong, then the head of the International Department, gave me an opportunity to set up DBS’ first office and branch in Mumbai [then known as Bombay], India as its first Chief Representative.

It was what I wanted – to 闯世界 (translation: make a mark on the world), and DBS offered that platform.

When I got this opportunity, my wife was pregnant with our first child and in her first trimester, so breaking the news to her was challenging. But we both knew that being in the International Department required us to travel. I was committed to and prepared for the task, not just for DBS but also for Singapore, as we wanted to have a presence in the major markets, including India.

In 1993, the trade flow between Singapore and India was USD 1 billion! It was evident in the 1990s that India is starting to relax more capital and investment controls. As the Chief Representative, I was to facilitate the business opportunities between DBS and clients within the India market, focusing on financing and capital market activities.

Of course, starting a new office in a foreign land was not without its initial challenges.

The opening of the DBS Bombay Representative Office in January 1994 saw ESM Goh Chok Tong in attendance

I remember we had only two months to plan the grand opening of the DBS Representative Office in Mumbai, where ESM Goh Chok Tong and other dignitaries were to be in attendance. It was really a two-men show back then – just me and my Head of Operations! I even had to hand-carry the door gifts and prepare the invitation cards. Thankfully, I had just planned my wedding the year before, so I was better prepared.

An invite for the official opening of DBS’ Representative Office in Mumbai, India

On 2nd January 1994, I packed three suitcases and boarded an Air India flight to Mumbai to prepare for the opening. Back then, there was limited internet access; we used typewriters for everything, and fax machines were the main mode of communication. There weren’t handphones then either, so detailed planning and guidance from my manager and team was vital for the trip.

We had to have patience too – I recall that our legal documents had to be hand-typed by typists. We had to join a queue for a pool of 12 to 16 typists and wait our turn if we needed any amendments, and each document could take up to a week to be typed out!

Yin Chong attributes much of his success to his supportive wife. Here she is gamely joining him during his foreign work posting while pregnant!

We started with only two major clients back then, so we had to rely entirely on our own resources and limited network to start the office and grow our presence with the local business communities. I always tell the Management Associates that join my team: we should not be afraid to do the grunt work as long as we have a purpose to work towards. That’s what makes us DBS.

As I reflect back with pride, we started out with a small office of just two people but we laid the groundwork, hired people for the branch and over time, built up that presence into an office of over 6,000 staff today.

After the opening, I was in Mumbai for 10 months getting the office up and running, and my wife and newborn daughter joined me along the way. We had our own apartment and had made wonderful local friends that we could count on. After India, we moved to Seoul, South Korea for my next role.

Yin Chong and his wife celebrating their first wedding anniversary in The Taj Mahal office in Mumbai

India continues to have a special place in my DBS journey. Even when I joined Syndicated Finance in 2001, I continued to support India’s nascent corporates and syndicated loans. The India market makes up some of our key global clients and DBS is still a top syndicated loan arranger to many of them. For example, the Reliance Industries Group has been a key partner since the early 2000s. Up until today, I keep in close contact with the Head of Treasury at Reliance Industries Group through WhatsApp. We’ve had many good memories working together.

At the signing of a USD 1.5 Billion Syndicated Loan deal with Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited in Ho Chih Minh, Vietnam in 2014

Looking back, I am really fortunate to have a very supportive wife. I was very committed to my work because I believed in the value of the work we were doing. There was a cause and purpose for me and my team to work towards. I believe this mindset also contributed to DBS’ Syndicated Finance being a leading loan house for the past 20 years. [Note: Boey Yin Chong was the Head of Syndicated Finance from 2010 to 2016]

Yin Chong (bottom row, middle) and his Syndicated Finance team at the IFR Asia Awards in 2015

One of the strengths of DBS is in having courage to lay new grounds and reach new milestones – we were not afraid to forge ahead and venture out there when we needed to and that has led us to have a strong regional presence now.

So, to the young and not so young ones: go ahead and 闯世界.”

- Boey Yin Chong, former Global Head of Shipping, Aviation, Logistics and Transportation, DBS Bank