Former POSB chief executive Bertie Cheng dies of Covid-19 at 84

Mr Cheng (pictured above, at his wake) was waiting for "version 2.0 of the vaccine", said son Melvin Cheng. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Mr Bertie Cheng Shao Siong, who was the chief executive officer of POSB for 23 years, died on Friday (Oct 22) morning from Covid-19. He was 84.

He was unvaccinated against the coronavirus, his elder son Melvin Cheng, 46 told The Straits Times.

"It was not that he was against vaccines altogether. He was worried about the potential side effects and wanted to wait for version 2.0 of the vaccine to emerge… when the kinks of the first version had been ironed out," he said.

"My brother and I had urged him to get vaccinated as we were worried. But I could understand where he was coming from and did not want to force him," said Mr Melvin Cheng, who works in the financial industry.

His death was an unexpected blow to his family. Mr Melvin Cheng said his father rarely fell ill and had cut back on going out during the pandemic.

"Despite being in his 80s, he was able to drive, exercise and was mentally sharp," he said.

Mr Cheng had tested positive for the virus late last month after getting a sore throat and was sent to National University Hospital when his oximeter reading fell dangerously low. He was in the hospital for three weeks before he died at 1.45am on Friday.

He had pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

"It has been very difficult for my mother as they were very close. They've known each other since they were teens," said Mr Melvin Cheng.

He said his father was a hard worker who never neglected his family. "He always came back late on the weekdays, but on the weekends, he devoted himself to the role of a father. He often brought us swimming and golfing when we were kids."

His father was not one to scold or put pressure on his children, he added. " "He motivated me by telling me his experiences growing up. When he saw that I was stressed out, he would buy me a burger to cheer me up.

"After my sons were born, my father doted on them. He frequently brought them out to restaurants and never forgot a birthday."

Mr Cheng's daughter-in-law Ms Len Lau, 48, said he was a humble man who treated everyone with respect. "Even if he was the most important person in the room, he was able to make everyone feel comfortable."

"He didn't hesitate to help others and never felt the need to be recognised for his good deeds," she added.

Mr Cheng had joined the Postal Services Department in 1961, after graduating from the then University of Singapore with an Honours degree in economics.

He became involved with the savings bank in 1966, when he was picked to lead a team of 30 to the joint POSB headquarters in Petaling Jaya to bring back the ledger accounts of Singapore POSB.

Mr Cheng became the bank's general manager and CEO in 1976, a role he held till his retirement in 1997.

As POSB chief, Mr Cheng introduced several new initiatives such as Giro payment, the popular Save-As-You-Earn scheme and Credit POSB, a subsidiary that helped finance the homes of many Singaporeans.

In 2010, DBS appointed Mr Cheng as adviser to POSB at a time when the bank had lost customers to rivals. Its POSB network had been plagued by long queues at bank branches and ATMs.

DBS CEO Piyush Gupta had expressed confidence that Mr Cheng would help POSB build on its heritage as the "People's Bank" and "further entrench itself in the hearts and minds of generations of Singaporeans".

DBS chairman Peter Seah said Mr Cheng will be remembered as one of the pioneers who built Singapore and created a key institution.

"He is truly Mr POSB and has shared his experience most generously with us. We in DBS owe him a big thank you."

Adding that he has known Mr Cheng for a long time as a good friend and colleague, Mr Seah said: "He will be missed for his friendship and wonderful sense of humour."

Head of POSB Yeo Wenxian said Mr Cheng was unwavering in his belief that being the "People's Bank" meant always doing the right thing by customers and employees.

Mr Cheng also held directorships in several companies including Hong Leong Finance, seafood firm Pacific Andes Resources Development and Brunei bank Baiduri.

He is survived by his wife and two sons.

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