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UOB stays a step ahead of peers

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UOB’s penchant for acquisitions to expand its Asean franchise is paying off handsomely in Thailand, where the bank is preparing for an even bigger boom to its business.

In Thailand, UOB is giving new meaning to the old adage ‘watch what they do, not what they say’. Most regional banks like to claim that they take southeast Asia’s second-largest economy seriously. But Singapore’s UOB is one of the few that can back up the talk with some serious strides over the years – and profits to prove it’s a winning strategy.

Thailand is a tough place to navigate. Since 1999, when UOB entered the Thai market, there have been 11 governments, two coups, a change in monarch and more boom-busts than economists can recall. Yet the timing of UOB’s arrival in Bangkok 23 years ago is noteworthy.

The devaluation of the Thai baht in July 1997 kicked off the Asian financial crisis, but by 1999 the dust was just beginning to settle in Thailand. Sensing opportunity, UOB went against the tide of fleeing capital by acquiring local lender Radanasin Bank. UOB’s purchase enabled the Bank of Thailand to claim progress in its privatization efforts – a condition of the IMF’s bailout.

UOB has not looked back since. In 2004, it bought Bank of Asia and a year later integrated Radanasin and Bank of Asia to create UOB (Thai) Public Company.