SEOW Poh Leng 蕭保齡

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About SEOW Poh Leng 蕭保齡

Seow Poh Leng (b. 1883, Singapore - d. 1942, Singapore) was a prominent banker. He was one of the three pioneers of the Ho Hong Bank, which later merged with two other banks to form the Overseas-Chinese Banking Corporation. He was also instrumental in promoting international banking to the Chinese in Southeast Asia. Seow was first enrolled in a Chinese school and spent two years there. Thereafter, he was transferred to a school called the Eastern School. He completed his education at the Anglo-Chinese School (ACS). After he passed the Senior Cambridge examinations at the ACS, he decided to teach. He first taught at the Eastern School from 1900 to 1901. Between 1902 and 1904, he taught at the ACS and Raffles Institution. In 1902, he applied for the Queen's Scholarship but was unsuccessful. Seow's interesting career path included various different jobs such as a chemist's assistant, a law clerk, a stockbroker and an insurance agent. He was also, at one time, a clerk at John Little & Company. In addition, he was once briefly involved in the rice trading business. Seow entered the banking world when he joined the Chinese Commercial Bank (CCB). The Ho Hong Bank Seow subsequently left CCB to work at the Ho Hong Bank, which he co-founded with Lim Peng Siang and Dr. Lim Boon Keng in 1917. Lim was a rich Hokkien merchant and Dr. Lim was a well-known public figure. Seow was made the General Manager of the bank, and held this position until his retirement in 1932. The bank started with an issued capital of $3.5 million Straits Dollars, of which half was paid-up. By 1940, it had a fully paid-up capital of $4 million. The bank's main focus was to expand into Southeast Asia and China, particularly in foreign exchange transactions.

As a banker, Seow introduced the foreign exchange business to the Chinese banks in Southeast Asia. He also advocated the benefits of a limited liability company to many Chinese businessmen. He relied mainly on his own study and observations to educate himself on the various banking mechanisms.

The Ho Hong Bank soon became an important exchange bank in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Malaya. From 1925 to 1929, the bank had profits between $572,000 and $1,003,000. However, it suffered huge trading and foreign exchange losses during the 1930s economic depression. Its capital and reserves were valued at only $2.6 million in June 1932. On 31 October 1932, the Ho Hong Bank merged with the Overseas-Chinese Bank and the Chinese Commercial Bank to form the Overseas-Chinese Banking Corporation.

Theatre A theatre-lover, Seow took part in amateur theatricals in the 1930s. He adored Shakespeare. He named his seaside bungalow in Siglap "Titania and his house on Emerald Hill, "Oberon". He was an early resident of Emerald Hill, having purchased and lived in unit 117 shortly after it was built in 1902. After his death in 1942, his family continued to live there until 1957 when the house was demolished to make way for the present block of flats.

Seow often invited friends to Oberon for evening soirees. He enjoyed acting and singing. He once acted in a farce, In A Race For A Dinner. The aim of the performance was to raise funds to repair the roof of the Straits Chinese Recreation Club on Hong Lim. He also acted in another dramatic piece, Cherry Bounce, at Hong Lim Green on 18 February, 1902.

Public Role Seow was active in clubs and sports. He held several positions-

· Honorary Secretary to the Straits Chinese Recreation Club in 1905. · Honorary Secretary and Treasurer of the Singapore and South Malaya Boy Scouts Association. · Vice-President of Tanjong Katong Swimming Party.

Concerned with public welfare, Seow organised many charity and social concerts to raise funds for various causes. He also contributed articles to the Straits Chinese Magazine on issues regarding education and social reform.

Seow Poh Leng Medal The Seow Poh Leng medal was instituted in 1936 for the students of the ACS. It is awarded to the top student at the Senior Cambridge/GCE 'O' Level Examinations.

Marriage into the 'Tan' Family Seow's family lived in a shophouse along Emerald Hill Road opposite the house of Dr. Lim Boon Keng. When Dr. Lim heard that Lilian Tan's family was looking for a prospective groom for her, he recommended Seow. Tan was the great-grand daughter of Tan Tock Seng (an early pioneer of Singapore). Despite its wealth and status, the Tan family accepted the recommendation. They only wanted a kind and good man for Tan. It did not matter that Seow was from a humble background.

Like Seow, Tan was very involved in charity work. She was a member of the Chinese Women's Association. During the First World War, she helped to raise funds for the war efforts.

When the first influenza epidemic hit Singapore, Tan succumbed to the virus and died at a young age of 32 years. To comply with her wish for a Christian burial, Seow asked a pastor to baptise her. She was then buried at Bidadari, the Christian cemetery.

Seow remarried a few years later. His second wife was Tan Boo Liat's daughter, Polly Tan.

Family Wife: Lilian Tan Lark Neo (alias Lilian Tan Luck Neo), Polly Tan Poh Li. Son: Duke Seow Siew Jin (alias Seow Sieu Jin) and Seow Eu Jin. Daughters: Amy Seow Guat Cheng and Betty Seow Guat Beng

•Death: 1942 in At sea •Occupation: Banker and Entrepeneur •Note: Poh Leng SEOW (1883 - 1942) Seow Poh Leng, the second son of Seow Chye Watt was born in 1883. He was for many years the cashier at John Little & Co. Ltd., from which position he later resigned to enter into the rice business. After spending two years in a Chinese school, he was sent to Eastern school and finished his schooling at the Anglo-Chinese school which had absorbed the latter institution. He competed for the Queen's Scholarships in 1902, but although he stood high among the candidates, he failed to win the much-coveted prize, and attributed his failure to the fact that he had to divide his time between his duties as a pupil teacher and preparing for the examinations. After a somewhat varied career as a chemist's assistant, a schoolmaster, a lawyer's clerk, a stock-broker and insurance agent and company liquidator, he helped to promote the Eastern United Assurance Corporation Ltd., the Chinese Commercial Bank and the Ho Hong Bank, which last named institution had secured his services as General Manager. The Chinese merchants of Singapore were slow in appreciating and adopting the advantages and protection of limited liability trading, and the formation of the three above-mentioned companies with paid up capitals aggregating $5,000,000. marked a new era in the commercial life of the Singapore Chinese. The Ho Hong Bank, the first Chinese institution to enter the field of world-wide banking, having established connections with London, New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Batavia and many other widely separated points, in order to facilitate direct trade between the Chinese in Malaya and people in other parts of the world. In club life Seow Poh Leng was a familiar figure. He served as Hon. Secretary to the Straits Chinese Recreation Club in 1905. He was a fine performer on the football field and in club sports, a keen tennis player and a stiff opponent on the chess-board. He was one of the early members of Tanjong Katong Swimming Party, since developed into the Chinese Swimming Club, of which he held the office of vice-president. During the early years of the Volunteer movement, he served in the ranks and was one of the group frequently seen on the canteen concert platform. He was connected with the Singapore and South Malaya Boy Scouts Association since its inauguration, holding the position of Hon. Secretary and Treasurer and did much to interest parents in the movement which guided and shaped the character and physical and mental well-being of future manhood of the country. His other activities included organising charity and social concerts and entertainments. The "Oberon Concerts" which he used to hold at his residence brought together a large number of people of both sexes at Chinese New Year Season. His contributions to the Straits Chinese Magazine dealt with such subjects as Education and Social Reform. Extract from; Pg 474 - 475 (ONE HUNDRED YEARS' HISTORY OF THE CHINESE IN SINGAPORE' by Song Ong Siang) •Change Date: 2 SEP 2010 at 15:41:16

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SEOW Poh Leng 蕭保齡's Timeline

January 23, 1907
Age 24
Age 25
Age 27
November 14, 1920
Age 37
July 4, 1922
Age 39
Age 59