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UPDATE 2-OCBC's Wong to be first woman CEO of Singapore bank

(Recasts with comments and details of OCBC)

SINGAPORE, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Singapore’s second-largest lender, Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp (OCBC), appointed Deputy President Helen Wong as group CEO, succeeding Samuel Tsien who is retiring after nearly nine years.

Wong, 59, will become the first woman to head a Singapore bank and among the few to lead an Asian bank. The appointment is effective April 15, OCBC said on Friday.

In September, Citigroup named consumer banking head Jane Fraser as its next CEO, making her the first woman to lead a major Wall Street bank.

Wong’s appointment comes as local banks are battling low interest rates and weak growth in pandemic-hit markets. Lenders are also soaking up bad loans as regulators prepare to ease conditions for billions of dollars in lending moratoriums.

Kevin Kwek, senior analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, said that given Wong’s China experience, he expects OCBC, Southeast Asia’s second-largest bank after DBS Group Holdings, to retain its focus on the world’s second-biggest economy.

Wong joined OCBC in February 2020 from HSBC Holdings , where she ran the bank’s Greater China operations, and had been widely viewed by analysts as a frontrunner for Tsien’s role. She had spent 27 years at HSBC.

“Helen’s experiences and expertise extend beyond corporate banking, Greater China and North Asia,” OCBC Chairman Ooi Sang Kuang said in the statement.

Wong will now lead a bank where she started her banking career in 1984 as a management trainee in Singapore.

Tsien, 66, who joined OCBC in 2007, led the bank to boost its presence in Greater China with a $5 billion acquisition of Hong Kong’s Wing Hang Bank in 2014.

Under his tenure, OCBC also expanded its wealth management business by buying Barclays’ Singapore and Hong Kong wealth business operations in 2016.

OCBC more than doubled its net profit to S$4.87 billion ($3.68 billion) in 2019 from S$2.31 billion in 2011.

$1 = 1.3243 Singapore dollars Reporting by Anshuman Daga. Editing by Jane Merriman and Louise heavens

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