Wealth management emerged as the shining star in the first quarter for local banks after OCBC Bank - the final bank to report - turned in stellar results yesterday.
All three local lenders are riding on the swelling wealth in South-east Asia and China, despite a tough regulatory environment.
OCBC chief executive Samuel Tsien told a results briefing: "Wealth management income has performed extremely well, not only because of the integration of Barclays' wealth management business into our first full-quarter results. It is also due to the organic growth of Bank of Singapore's regional customer base."
OCBC bought the wealth and investment management business that Britain's Barclays Bank had in Singapore and Hong Kong last year.
In far better than expected results, OCBC said net profit jumped 14 per cent to $973 million, thanks to factors such as sustained growth in wealth management income.
This easily beat the $845 million average forecast in a Bloomberg survey of seven analysts.
OCBC's quarterly wealth management fee income rose 70 per cent in the three months to March 31, "to a new high of $215 million", compared with a year ago, noted OCBC chief financial officer Darren Tan.
OCBC's fee and commission income climbed 29 per cent to $481 million.
It was similar for DBS Bank, which said net fee and commission income rose 16 per cent to $665 million, led by "a 26 per cent increase in wealth management fees to a quarterly high of $222 million from stronger sales of unit trusts and other investment products".
United Overseas Bank's (UOB) fee and commission income grew 17.5 per cent to $508 million, also driven by higher fund management and wealth management income.
OCBC's first-quarter total income rose 9 per cent to $2.25 billion.
Quarterly net interest income dipped 3 per cent to $1.27 billion, as net interest margins - the difference between interest income generated and the amount of interest paid to lenders - was 1.62 per cent, down from 1.75 per cent, partly owing to lower customer loan yields.
Net interest income at DBS was stable at $1.83 billion, and UOB's increased 2.3 per cent to $1.3 billion.
OCBC's quarterly loans grew 8 per cent to $225 billion in constant currency terms, "with the largest increases coming from housing and other consumer-related loans, and loans to financial institutions, investment and holding companies".
At DBS, quarterly loans rose 7 per cent to $298 billion in constant currency terms as corporate, trade and Singapore housing loans grew, while UOB's loans rose 9.4 per cent to $229 billion as at March 31.
OCBC's first-quarter non-performing loan ratio was 1.3 per cent, UOB's was 1.5 per cent and DBS 1.4 per cent.
Banks say the loans situation is stable now but were hesitant to say it has totally turned around.
Mr Tsien said: "The situation for the oil and gas portfolio has stabilised but oil prices continue to be in a depressed state. At this point in time, I'd not say that recovery is in the make."
The banks are keen to focus on wealth management, in the race to grow assets under management.
Mr Tsien said OCBC is looking to set up a private banking arm in Indonesia and has 400 relationship managers at its private banking unit Bank of Singapore, compared with "slightly over 300" a year ago.
And DBS noted it is now the fifth-largest private bank in the Asia-Pacific based on AUM (assets under management), while UOB Private Bank "had a stellar year in 2016" as AUM surged 25 per cent.
OCBC's quarterly earnings per share was 92.9 cents, up from 82.2 cents a year ago, while net asset value was $8.67 a share as at March 31, compared with $8.49 as at Dec 31.
OCBC shares jumped 16 cents higher to $10.46 yesterday, after the results briefing.