Last nite was the 37th anniversary dinner of the Association of Banks in Singapore. I’ve been attending the annual dinners for longer than I can remember. For a decade at least.
But last nite’s at the Shangri La was surely the one that drew the highest number of guests with all the big shots from the banking industry present bar none. And no, they didn’t come to have a gawk at DBS’ new CEO.
Rather the big draw of the evening was Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. Who graced the evening with a short Q&A billed as a dialogue.
Dinner started earlier for the hoi polloi but after all of us have had our starter of a beautiful scallop “cake” (left) followed by a two-dumpling soup, MM Lee arrived to a heart-warming standing ovation. Most in the room were of the same mind as this blogger.
Then the big shots were served their courses while the rest of us began our main course of a ginormous cod steak.
The dialogue began soon after the main was finished with Patrick Daniel, the editor-in-chief of the Straits Times, as “moderator” who effectively was a “fire starter”, warming up the session with some gentle questions, such as one on the sartorial get-up of MM Lee.
The veteran politician was happy to share that his jacket of blue, with pink trimmed sleeves and frog buttons, was reversible, made to order in Beijing by a Singaporean woman entrepreneur who had a team of 2,000+ workers under her.
And MM made three worthy take-aways in response to questions or remarks from the floor, though not from the media who were sitting quietly attentive in a row in one corner of the banquet hall.
First is on consolidation of Singaporean banks.
“I don’t see three banks as capable of making that foray as two banks, maybe eventually one bank, I mean, you just look at the capitalisation of the big banks in the US and then you look here.”
Second relates to whether pay for bankers should be regulated. Mr Lee said that he expects bankers to continue to enjoy high pay when normalcy returns – because good CEOs are in short supply. A star performer will want to earn star pay, he added.
The third is about whether a bubble is building up in Singapore’s residential property market. He said that “there is real underlying demand”.
After the dialogue, Singapore’s founding prime minister stayed for the sweet ending, a light chocolate mousse surrounded by a variety of berries.
MM then left, again to standing ovation. That was followed by coffee, tea and chocolates for the guests who remained to network or watch the World Cup matches on the screens that had only recently beamed MM “live”.