Seow Sieu Jin

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Seow Sieu Jin (23 Jan 1907 – 13 July 1958) was a prominent and successful Singaporean banker brought up in a banking family, trained in China and England and was an important contributor to the growth and development of the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) during its early years.[1][2]

Seow Sieu Jin's great-grandfather was from Jinjiang, China and his grandparents from Malacca but his father, Seow Poh Leng and mother Lilian Tan Lark Neo (also spelt Tan Luck Neo), great-granddaughter of philanthropist Tan Tock Seng, were both brought up in Singapore.[2][3][4]

Early years[edit]

He was born in 1907, grew up at 117 Emerald Hill, and in his early years, was educated at home. He went on to study at the Anglo-Chinese School and then the Raffles Institution, graduating in 1923.[1] He made some good friends at Raffles. Raffles Institution's history records that on the 1924 Armistice Day, Seow Siew Jin, Wee Seong Kang and David Saul Marshall laid a wreath at the Singapore Cenotaph.[5] In 1925 he was made head prefect.[6]

His father then took him to Shanghai, there to be rigorously trained at the Shanghai Commercial and Savings Bank under his father's friend, K. P. Chen, the founder of that bank, into whose care he was entrusted.[1][4]

After three years of training and a short visit with his family in Singapore, his father took him to London where he simultaneously joined the Midland Bank as one of its staff and took up the banking course at the Institute of Bankers.[1][4]

Anyone who had passed all the banking courses offered by the English Institute of Bankers had the best qualifications in the banking profession and Seow Sieu Jin was one of the first in Singapore and Malaysia to have acquired these qualifications.[1][4]

He also received training at the most modern commercial bank in China at that time, the Shanghai Commercial & Savings Bank, and he received the guidance of his banker father.[1][4]

Banking career[edit]

Four years later, around 1930 or 1931, he graduated and returned to Singapore and in 1931 or 1932, he joined the Ho Hong Bank which had been founded by his father, Seow Poh Leng, together with Lim Peng Siang, Dr Lim Boon Keng and others.[1][4][7][8]

After its amalgamation with the Chinese Commercial Bank and the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Ltd (OCBC), Seow Sieu Jin continued to work at the new bank. He was manager of the Seremban branch (1935 to 1936), manager of the Ipoh branch (1937 to 1941), manager of the Penang branch (1946 to 1954). He is credited with bringing back the "premier branch" status to the Penang branch, outstripping the performance of the Shanghai and Hong Kong branches.[1][4][8]

From 1954 to 1958 he was made Regional Manager of the Hong Kong Branch with K.C. Chen, Lo Sek-Tean and Chew Chin-Bee to assist him.

He then returned to the head office in Singapore in 1958.[1][4][8] Upon his return to Singapore he collapsed during lunch, was operated on for colon cancer, but died ten days later, at the age of fifty-one, due to post-operative pneumonia.[1][4][8]

Seow Sieu Jin achieved his ambition, the highest goal in the banking profession at that time, general managership, when he was young, but he was a modest and unassuming man. He referred to himself as "third-class" when lamenting the loss of "first-class" talented people who had left Singapore, creating a brain drain at the time.[1][4][8]

He was popular everywhere and was remembered after his death as being co-operative with his colleagues and kind and generous towards his subordinates.[1][4][8]

The sportsman[edit]

Seow Sieu Jin learned more than banking from his father, he also learned the game of tennis and for many years both these gifts were interconnected. His game skills had improved greatly by the time he took charge of the Seremban and Ipoh branches. He even represented and held his own at Negri Sembilan and Perak inter-state matches.[1]

In 1938 and 1939, he won the Perak Open Doubles Championship partnering Leong Choon Kheam and Lim Thiam Tet respectively and the Perak Singles Open Championship in 1940. After the war, he turned to golf with a relish, making rapid progress and reducing his handicap to 9. He was captain of the Penang Golf Club.[1]

The performer[edit]

Both his parents, were musically accomplished, so it followed that he and his brothers and sisters were gradually influenced, and most of them were good at singing and playing musical instruments.[1][2]

At the Peace Celebrations held on 11 November 1918, Seow Sieu Jin and his younger sister, Betty Seow Guat Beng (later Mrs Lim Koon Teck), sang "If you were the only girl in the world and I was the only boy!" then a popular song, at the "Victoria Theatre". Their beautiful voices and excellent performance won the applause of the audience.[1][2][9]


On 5 February 1932 Seow Sieu Jin married an Englishwoman, Margaret Gwendoline Simkin, in Singapore, who later gave birth to three boys and a girl:

  • Gordon Seow Li Ming
  • Rodney Seow Kok Ming
  • Jacqueline Seow Mei Yuk
  • Philip Seow Chung Ming

Seow Sieu Jin was a member of the Rotary Club in Ipoh and Penang and was very active in social work.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Chen Wei Long, A Second Generation Banker, Sin Chew Jit Poh, 26 July 1971
  2. ^ a b c d Betty Lim Koon Teck, A Rose on My Pillow—Recollections of a Nyonya, Armour Publishing, Singapore, 1994
  3. ^ Seow Poh Leng
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society By Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland Malayan Branch Published by The Branch, 1923; Item notes: v.26 1953; pp. 120–123
  5. ^ A History of Raffles Institution, 1823–1963 By Eugene Wijeysingha Published by University Education Press, 1963; pp. 119, 174.
  6. ^ The Eagle Breeds a Gryphon: The Story of Raffles Institution, 1823–1985? – Page 344 by Eugene Wijeysingha, 1989, 354 pages.
  7. ^ One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore By Ong Siang Song Published 1923 by J. Murray
  8. ^ a b c d e f Readings in Malayan Economics By Thomas Henry Silcock Compiled by Thomas Henry Silcock Published by Published by D. Moore for Eastern Universities Press, 1961; pp. 461–464
  9. ^ Emerald Hill, the Story of a Street in Words and Pictures: The Story of a Street in Words and Pictures By Kip Lin Lee, National Museum (Singapore), National Museum (Singapore Published by National Museum, 1984

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