OCBC may cut branch numbers as it reviews office space needs

OCBC will "certainly be moving towards" a hybrid model where staff can work from home and the office, says bank chairman Ooi Sang Kuang. His remarks came in response to a shareholder query on whether the bank will follow others around the world that
OCBC will "certainly be moving towards" a hybrid model where staff can work from home and the office, says bank chairman Ooi Sang Kuang. His remarks came in response to a shareholder query on whether the bank will follow others around the world that are slashing their physical footprint.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

OCBC Bank will review its office space needs and may cut down on branch numbers, said chairman Ooi Sang Kuang at its annual shareholder meeting yesterday.

His remarks came in response to a shareholder query on whether the bank will follow others around the world that are slashing their physical footprint.

Mr Ooi said OCBC will "certainly be moving towards" a hybrid model where staff can work from home and the office. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that not all staff need to be at the headquarters, he added, so branches will also be reconfigured. "We may not need so many servicing our customers."

DBS Bank is reportedly giving up a few floors in Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 3, as well as in Hong Kong, while Standard Chartered Bank, UBS, Citigroup and Mizuho Financial Group are making plans to trim central city space around the world.

Several shareholders at OCBC's virtual meeting also raised the issue of dividends and when they will return to pre-pandemic levels.

New chief executive Helen Wong said OCBC is awaiting guidance from the Monetary Authority of Singapore on the lifting of the dividend cap. "Whether a scrip dividend will be offered, or at a discount, will depend on OCBC's capital levels, the appropriate capital mix, and the requirements to support our business growth," she added.

Mr Ooi noted that the bank is closely monitoring the developments around cryptocurrency.

OCBC is evaluating cryptocurrency, including the tokenisation of financial and real assets, and will assess the suitability of such products for customers before adopting digital currencies, he said.

Ms Wong also used the meeting to lay out her areas of focus, which broadly include capitalising on Asean-Greater China flows, expansion of its wealth management franchise, accelerating digitalisation and building a regional sustainable bank.

OCBC will deepen its penetration into Asean markets, including Vietnam and Thailand, she said.

She also pointed to Greater China as an area of focus, as the bank sees "a lot of potential" in the Greater Bay Area on all fronts, including manufacturing, trading, technology, wealth and banking.

OCBC will boost its wealth management division by expanding its family business unit as it is seeing increasing wealth transfers across Asia. It will also expand its regional premier and wealth management business to capture strong growth in onshore wealth across Asia, such as in China, Taiwan, Indonesia and Malaysia, added Ms Wong.

THE BUSINESS TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 30, 2021, with the headline 'OCBC may cut branch numbers as it reviews office space needs'. Subscribe