Rich List: A gilded age for Singapore bankers

Singapore is home to the highest percentage of millionaires anywhere in the world.
Lee Seng Wee
Lee Seng Wee

According to research by the Boston Consultancy Group, Singapore is home to the highest percentage of millionaires anywhere in the world. As many as one in six households have a disposable income of $1 million, and that excludes the value of their properties. Unsurprisingly, earlier this year Singapore was ranked the happiest country in Asia in a United Nations survey.

If not the most cheerful, certainly the richest family are the Lees, coming in 22nd on FinanceAsia's 2015 Rich List, who control Overseas-Chinese banking Corp. (OCBC). The lender’s former chairman Lee Seng Wee died in August after fifty years on the OCBC board and his three children will inherit his holdings.

Another banker, Wee Cho Yaw, who with his family own 11% of United Overseas Bank (UOB) is the citystate’s second wealthiest. He is followed by property tycoon Robert Ng (31) whose Sino Group and Far East Organisation nevertheless suffered a drop revenues due to a stagnant property market.

On the other hand, Kwek Leng Beng’s (75) City Development achieved record revenues in 2014, advancing about 17% on the previous year because of higher earnings from its overseas properties. Noble Group has a torrid past few months as an alleged disgruntled ex-employee, short-sellers and brokerages have criticized the commodity trader’s accounting practices. Meanwhile it has had to cope with falling commodity prices and heightened competition from Chinese oil traders such as Chinaoil and Trafigura.

Yet, Noble boss Richard Elman (77) remains buoyant and wealthy, continuing to earn strong dividends from the company he founded nearly thirty years ago.

Examining dividend income to determine rich list

FinanceAsia analyses the publicly listed assets of Asia (ex-Japan)’s leading business families and aggregates the dividends paid to them through their shareholdings or to their trusts or charitable foundations.

This methodology provides a more dynamic picture of wealth in the region than can be achieved by estimates of net worth, but clearly underestimates the fortunes of individuals and families whose wealth is mainly derived from non-income earning or wholly private assets. We identify a large universe of companies with large or controlling shareholders and gather information on ownership stakes and dividend payouts based on statements made to stock exchanges, newswires and, in the first instance, declarations made in annual reports.

Some holdings are opaque because of complex cross-shareholding structures such as the Lee family’s control of
Samsung and the Keswick’s control of Jardine Matheson, so there are inevitable instances of under-reporting of some tycoon’s wealth.


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