Performing amid volatility
We began 2019 with a view that the year would present increased volatility and uncertainty. It proved so, marked by US-China trade tensions and with the tenor of the relationship affecting business sentiment and trade and investment flows into the region. Although 2020 had a promising start with the first phase of their trade agreement sealed, the deep-rooted differences between the world’s two largest economies will persist for some time to come.

The concern for now, however, is the COVID-19 contagion that from January 2020 has spread beyond mainland China to many markets worldwide and cast a long shadow on the global economy. Notwithstanding the efforts of governments and industries to help businesses and communities ride out these difficult times, the toll of COVID-19 on the world’s economies and livelihoods will be heavy. 2020 is proving to be more testing than the past year.

Even with the challenges of 2019, UOB achieved a record net profit of $4.3 billion for the full year, up eight per cent over the year before. Given the robust performance, the Board recommends a final dividend of 55 cents and a special dividend of 20 cents per ordinary share, in appreciation of our shareholders’ continued support.
Building on the region’s strengths
UOB, entering our 85th year, has seen through many economic cycles of uncertainty and volatility over the decades as we deepened our presence across the region. Despite the current gloom, UOB remains optimistic of the region’s future and steadfast in our support for our customers. Our long-term approach looks beyond the challenges of the present.

To help realise the potential of ASEAN, we draw on our network strengths and invest for the future. We navigate through the complexities of our disparate and diversified markets, operating environments and cultural nuances to help connect businesses and consumers to opportunities. We serve them in ways that matter to them through product innovation, sector specialisation, omni-channel experience and forging ecosystem partnerships. It takes commitment and commitment is core to UOB.

The Board and Management reviewed the Group’s progress on our strategic programmes at our annual offsite strategy meeting last August. To stay close to our markets, the Board also holds a country retreat every year. Last September, we spent time in Indonesia and gained valuable insights into the local operating environment, the challenges and our strategy to stay on course. Across the Group, we continue to see transformational change.
Transforming for the future
Enabling our transformation are technology and our regional platform. The year saw step changes made in the digitalisation of our processes and through our products and services such as UOB Mighty and, starting in Thailand, TMRW– the first mobile-only digital bank for ASEAN’s millennials.

We will continue to invest in capabilities to stay at the forefront of change and ahead of new entrants to the field. To help inform the Group’s transformation in the face of fast-moving digital and technology trends, a Technology Advisory Panel was set up for the Board and Management to tap the expertise and insight of the global industry leaders appointed to it.

2019 also saw the Remuneration and Human Capital Committee helping to steer our people agenda on talent management, succession planning and people development programmes such as Better U which encourages growth mindsets and enhances core competencies across the Group. Our service excellence training includes equipping our people with the skills to help the physically or mentally challenged or those who have special needs. Thus we extend our nurturing and inclusive environment from our colleagues to our customers.
Growing sustainably
In our collective responsibility for the long-term success of the Group, the Board oversees the embedding of a robust risk culture across the organisation and ensures that the Bank’s system of risk management and internal controls stay suitable and effective. The Board is mindful of the need for appropriate storage and use of customer information and data. A governance framework establishes our ethical, principled and structured approach in this regard. The Board also approved the targets for material environmental, social and governance issues with specific goals to be met.

We believe that growth must be sustainable and responsibly achieved. It is the manner in which UOB upholds our long-term commitment to our stakeholders. It is in keeping with our values.
Acknowledging contributions
On behalf of the Board, I thank Mr Willie Cheng for his nine years of strong engagement and contributions as director and welcome Mr Steven Phan to the Board. Thank you to Management and our people who have been united and unwavering in their pursuit of excellence throughout the year.

We are very grateful to our shareholders, customers, partners and the community for their continued trust in us. We wish the very best for all in the year ahead.
Wong Kan Seng
February 2020