Key figure in Singapore’s growth as a global financial centre
Elizabeth Sam is one of Singapore's best-known female bankers. She became the first female board member of a big four bank when she was appointed to the main Board of the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) in October 1996. Her illustrious career spanned over 40 years, with the first half of it spent in the public sector where she played a key role in the growth of Singapore as a global financial centre.
Elizabeth obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Economics (Honours) from the University of Singapore and joined the Ministry of Finance in 1962 as an administrative officer. She held various positions in the Ministry including Deputy Secretary in the Economics Development Division, Deputy Controller of Foreign Exchange and Director of Overseas Investment. She then joined the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in 1971 when it was established. By 1976, she was promoted to Chief Manager. She left MAS in 1981.
During her tenure at the Ministry of Finance and the MAS, she was responsible for the development of financial markets in Singapore - in particular the development of the Asian Dollar market and the foreign exchange market. She also played an important role in the development of the futures market, and was Chairman of the Singapore International Monetary Exchange for two terms.
In the male-dominated financial industry of the 1960s and 1970s, her success was significant. A fellow banker described Elizabeth as being "A good administrator and a manager of people. Many women in the 1970s were still quite submissive, she was bold and assertive.” Foreign bankers, who referred to her as “Ms. MAS”, favoured her liberal views on regulation.
From 1981 to 1987, Elizabeth was a main Board Director of Mercantile House Holdings PLC. She joined OCBC Bank in January 1988 as Executive Vice President. In October 1996, she became the first woman to be appointed to the main board of a big four bank. In 1997, she was recognised as one of the top 50 outstanding women globally in finance by Euromoney.
In 1996, Elizabeth was awarded the Public Service Star (BBM), Republic of Singapore, for her contributions to the nation’s development as a global financial centre.
When she retired, Elizabeth took up ballroom dancing and regularly participates in ballroom dance competitions.
Elizabeth was Her World magazine’s “Woman of the Year” in 1997.
"Nothing can protect a firm from itself. Following every financial mishap, there are calls for greater regulation. It's a mistake to think greater regulation is a panacea for all ills."