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The Oversea Chinese Bank Building / The Bank Of Malaya Ltd
The Oversea Chinese Bank in Hugh Low Street was the most popular bank with immigrant Chinese in Ipoh in the early days.
The Singapore-based bank was originally founded in 1919 and then due to the Great Depression was forced to merge with two other banks, the Chinese Commercial Bank (1912) and the Ho Hong Bank (1917) in 1932. The new bank carried almost the same name - The Oversea Chinese Banking Corporation, OCBC. All three banks had been founded by Hokkien-speaking Chinese and the new bank became the ‘de facto’ bank of choice for this community. However it is recorded that many of Ipoh’s Hakka population also preferred to bank here.
The bank's name is often mistakenly thought to be incorrectly spelled, but is in fact a predominantly British usage of the word more commonly spelled as "overseas".
The bank building is undergoing restoration by our donor and the photograph shows one of the iron grilles over the windows. It can be seen that at one time the medallion carried letters that read "Bank of Malaya".
The Bank of Malaya Limited was founded by Bastianpillai Paul Nicholas, a man of foresight and strong principles. He came to Malaya from Ceylon as a young man in 1892 travelling from Ceylon to Penang by sailing boat and then on to Klang (Port Swettenham) in Selangor. He received his early education in Singapore and was employed in various Malayan states with the Federal Engineering Company becoming the accountant of the Penang branch. B P Nicholas, as he preferred to be called, was an entrepreneur driven by a strategic vision and who, single-handedly, overcame obdurate hurdles and colonial prepotency to found his bank.
Initially he entered into business with a close friend, Mr Kock, a contractor in Ipoh and then, between the years of 1918 and 1920 started his first (money lending) business, providing personal financial services in Ipoh, thus effectively becoming one of the early Asian bankers in the history of British Colonial Malaya.
This led to the establishment, in 1920, of B P Nicholas and Sons, whose Head Office was at No 2 Foch Avenue, (Now Jalan Cheng Lock) Kuala Lumpur.
In 1936 he succeeded in obtaining a Colonial License to open the Bank of Malaya Ltd. An illustrious title for such an enterprise by a foreigner! The bank was incorporated on December 31 1936 with its head office at Mountbatten Road, Kuala Lumpur and Branches/Agencies in Colombo, Jaffna, Klang, Seremban and Ipoh. The bank was capitalised at $180,000 and the Bank of Malaya Limited held its first meeting on January 9, 1937.
The main proportion of the business was limited to handling remittances by the members of the Ceylonese community working in Malaya, who gave the bank their firm and solid support. He later acquired the Bank of Jaffna in Sri Lanka in 1938.
In its second year of operation, the Bank of Malaya actually reported a net profit of $16,085. In late 1938, the bank was advised by the government to change its name to the Oriental Bank of Malaya Limited. The crucial reason being the British banks were unhappy over the use of the name as it lifted up the profile of the real status of the bank and the original name helped attract business, not only from the Tamil community but also from some established local businessmen.
The Japanese Occupation of Malaya affected so many families, one being the demise of the visionary B P Nicholas. He died on 20th October 1942. His eldest son Edwin, who was a young maturing man in his thirties and had been a director since 1936, was appointed chairman. As the founder was not on the scene, the bank had to operate on a reduced scale and Edwin trained all his young brothers. Albert, Cyril, Alfred and Victor then assisted in the operation of the bank. But chaos followed the Japanese surrender and the banking business had to be suspended - it officially recommenced on September 15, 1945.
The family continued to run the business successfully through many troubled years, but in 1968 a Malaysian-born entrepreneur, Cho Jock Kim, approached the family and offered $1-60 a share to buy out the family’s controlling 52% share. Consequently, in 1969, the vision of B P Nicholas who founded the one-time ‘Nicholas Bank’, as it was popularly known among older clients, came to an end.
Exactly when the Oversea Chinese Bank became the Bank of Malaya Limited, but the best guess would be 1937 as the bank was renamed Oriental at the end of 1938.
Much of the above information is taken from http://genforum.genealogy.com/.
To see a procession passing the Oversea Chinese Bank in Hugh Low Street, click here.