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Business Banking In Singapore: Then And Now

As Singapore celebrates her 53rd birthday this week, we take a walk down memory lane and look at how financial services has evolved over the years.

This article was written in collaboration with OCBC. All views expressed in this article are the independent opinion of

Around the world, the Singapore Story is synonymous with miraculous growth. A nation without any natural resources other than the grit and ingenuity of her people, transforming in a few short decades into a clean, bustling, modern metropolis.

Banking has also been integral to Singapore’s development. Even in the early days, before smartphones and before the internet, banks have been serving customers– albeit in a fashion that we are not used to today.

Lending to merchants formed a big part of the banking business back then given Singapore’s position as a bustling entrepot trading hub. And till this day, lending to businesses is a key thrust for many banks.

But how does business banking today compare to business banking in the past?  To celebrate our 53rd National Day, we are taking a walk down memory lane to take stock of how far we have come.

“What is a Computer?”

Such a question may seem silly now, but it was a completely legitimate question when banks started computerisation processes in the 1970s.

The latest in technology is a matter of perspective. What computerised service at an OCBC Bank counter looked like in 1978 is vastly different from digital banking through mobile apps today.

The computers we use most often now fit in the palm of our hands – our mobile phones. They are not at all like the giant computers from decades ago! Mobile banking applications like OCBC Business Mobile Banking have biometric capabilities like fingerprint and facial recognition for convenience and added security, and allow you to use your voice to check account balances and initiate funds transfers – even if you’re halfway across the world. This is a boon for busy business owners.

In the not-so-distant past, sure, you could still use your voice to make account enquiries – if you picked up the phone and called your bank. SME owners also had to go to the branch much more often for their business banking needs.

Cash Is King?

Maybe that was so in the past. Many people, including SME owners, relied on ATMs to draw and deposit cash. When they started mushrooming around the island in the 1980s, it took some time for people to adapt to such cutting-edge technology.

They are now everywhere in Singapore. But these days, there are numerous ways for businesses to collect cash from customers, and to make payments to their suppliers and vendors. Many do not even require the use of cash.

Have you seen an old ATM? This is a 1988 version outside the SLF complex along Thomson Road. But the rise of e-payments will reduce cash use.

GIRO and FAST have been around for some time, but PayNow for businesses is the latest move by the financial industry that figures to be a game-changer. With this, all kinds of businesses will be able collect easily and pay securely using their Unique Entity Number or QR code.

No More Paper Cuts

We are all familiar with account opening forms. Most of us would have grown up knowing nothing else.

Over the decades however, what it means to sign up for an account has changed. Hardcopy forms are not used as often – actual pen-to-paper signatures are sometimes not even necessary!

For instance, existing OCBC Bank customers can open business banking accounts virtually, with verification done via telephone or video. In addition, new business banking accounts can be created in 30 minutes using interactive applications on tablets – customers just need to sign once, instead of signing multiple times on the hard copy forms.

You could expect paper-based application processes and a bit of a wait when opening an account in the 1980s. Today? Faster more convenient digital account opening.

What Does The Future Have In Store?

Singapore’s pioneers might not have been able to predict all the changes which our nation has undergone in just a few decades. Similarly, the future holds exciting possibilities that are perhaps unimaginable today.

The Industry Transformation Maps (ITM) gives a glimpse into the future economy of Singapore. In particular, the Financial Services ITM has set out the vision for Singapore being the leading global financial centre in Asia.

Against this backdrop, business banking services will continue to evolve to support the ever-changing needs of enterprises going forward.

Thanks to a comprehensive suite of products and services and its dominant presence in Asia, OCBC Bank has been recognised many times over as the best SME bank.

If you’d like to find out more about what they can do for you and your business, today and for years to come, visit their website and get in touch.

Need A Loan For Your Expanding Business?

Find financing solutions for your business needs through OCBC Business Banking today.

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