UOB is one of Singapore’s most valuable brands and Brand Finance’s Alex Haigh looks at how the bank has maintained its position through regionalisation, customer experience and product innovation. Business of Brands is a mini-series that analyses the strategy of top-performing Asean brands and what marketers can learn from their growth story.

2023’s US regional banking crisis brought on by rising interest rates and slower economic growth saw the fall of many high-profile US banks. Despite facing unpredictable economic pressures, Singapore banking brand UOB remained resilient.

UOB has maintained its spot among the top three most valuable brands in Singapore for eight consecutive years since 2016, according to Brand Finance’s Singapore 100 2023 report, currently just behind DBS (brand value of US$10.5 billion) and ahead of OCBC (brand value of US$5.4 billion).

This is significant given that the Asean banking sector is marked by challenges and opportunities. The challenge of harmonising regulatory frameworks across different countries also offers opportunities for cross-border transactions.

In Asean, our research shows that the cumulative value of Asean banking brands is US$76 billion, under a quarter of that of banks from America (US$314.9 billion), while the cumulative value of European banking brands stands at US$218 billion. Notably, Asean banking brands recorded the highest performance in Vietnam with an average brand value growth of 24.6% in 2023, followed by Singapore and Malaysia.

Brand value of banking brands in Asean countries

Country

Banking Brand Value 2023 (USDbn)

Average Brand Value Growth in 2023

Number of Brands

Malaysia

11.5

12.1%

10

Singapore

21.6

15.5%

4

Vietnam

12.3

24.6%

17

Thailand

9.5

5.1%

9

Indonesia

14.6

-5.2%

15

Philippines

6.4

7.0%

9

Despite this landscape, UOB’s brand value increased by 2% to US$5.6 billion, according to Brand Finance’s Global 500 2024 report. It recorded a brand strength index (BSI) score increase of 0.5 to 80.5 out of 100 while maintaining its AAA brand strength rating. Driving UOB’s uplift in brand strength were score improvements in research metrics associated with ad recall and data security.

Brand value growth of UOB since 2015

Year

Brand Value of UOB (USDbn)

Global Brand Strength Index score (out of 100)

Brand Strength Rating

Brand Value Rank in Banking 500 Report* (among 500 of the most valuable banking brands in the world)

2024

5.6

80.5

AAA-

58

2023

5.5

79.9

AAA-

56

2022

4.9

82.4

AAA-

61

2021

4.0

81.0

AAA-

67

2020

4.7

81.0

AAA-

61

2019

5.7

84.7

AAA

55

2018

3.7

75.5

AA+

66

2017

3.6

77.9

AA+

66

2016

2.8

70.8

AA

79

2015

2.4

71.6

AA

85

Every year, Brand Finance ranks 500 of the most valuable banking brands in the world

How has it maintained a leading position as one of the most valuable banking brands in a highly competitive environment and what can other brands learn from what it has done?

In an interview with Brand Finance in 2023, UOB deputy chairman and chief executive officer Wee Ee Cheong spoke about how UOB has been actively building its strength and differentiation as the truly regional bank in Southeast Asia in the past few decades.

Differentiation through regionalisation

A core strength of UOB’s brand strategy is through regionalisation, supported by a seamless banking experience by consolidating various acquired banks and investments in technology and infrastructure.

UOB focuses on regional expansion by connecting customers across Asean, including along key trade routes like Asean-China. With an extensive presence in eight Asean countries, it offers specialised sector expertise. Through its foreign direct investment advisory team, UOB aids businesses in international expansion by connecting them with professional services providers and local government agencies while offering market insights.

To scale its regional retail banking business, UOB acquired Citi’s consumer banking business in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam in 2022. With this acquisition, the banking brand was able to accelerate its customer growth target by five years.

These regional and digitalisation efforts have paid off with our research indicating an increase in brand familiarity and brand consideration for UOB among regional markets, particularly in Singapore and Malaysia, as evidenced by the strong BSI score showings for these markets as mentioned above.

This approach has also enabled UOB to respond quickly to regional market demands, exemplified by the launch of its digital bank TMRW in Thailand and Indonesia.

Aligning with Asia’s growth story

UOB refreshes its brand image regularly to keep up with the changing times. In 2022, the banking brand launched its brand refresh campaign “Building the Future of Asean” to communicate the efforts of its internal transformation. Its refreshed brand identity was rolled out to its markets and offices, while its brand campaign was launched across seven key markets in Asia.

Recently, UOB launched its Building Asia series, a collection of inspiring Asian business stories and their economic impact in Asia, featuring brands like Lenovo and Haid Group, on Channel NewsAsia. The series exemplifies UOB’s regional expertise and establishes it as the ideal partner for growth in Asean.

Recognising its role as a catalyst in supporting customers’ transition to sustainability, UOB also considers the diverse economies and social needs in Asia alongside net-zero ambitions.

UOB is also committed to working with stakeholders so that emerging markets can de-carbonise while still developing socially and economically. In communicating its commitment to sustainable efforts well, positive perceptions from the public went up – UOB recorded an increased score on its commitment to the environmental (eg, climate change, avoiding pollution, etc) and social aspects of sustainability (eg, equality, diversity, health, etc), and if it is well-managed and governed (eg, has a competent, diverse and experienced leadership, treats customers and suppliers fairly, etc).

Brand building through customer experience, product innovation and loyalty

On digitalisation, UOB has maintained strong scores in our research on image attributes like “innovative” and “excellent websites and apps” this year. This is testament to UOB’s significant investments in technology and infrastructure, totalling S$2 billion since 2003.

UOB TMRW is UOB’s digital banking app. It works seamlessly with UOB’s offline touchpoints to establish a strong omnichannel presence and provide customers with a convenient and personalised banking experience. Since its launch, UOB TMRW has acquired more than one million customers digitally, with three-quarters being new-to-bank customers in Asean.

Using machine learning and AI to enhance user experience, the app supports customers across their different life stages and provides personalised solutions for savings, spending, borrowing, investing, protection and legacy planning.

Acting almost like a personal assistant, UOB TMRW uses data from customers’ past transactions and input to deliver valuable financial insights; customers can monitor and track their spending on a dashboard. Through its Rewards+ programme, UOB TMRW alerts users to region-specific deals based on their spending patterns and travel locations. In 2022, UOB TMRW served 113 million insights to over 2.5 million customers.

To enhance the security of its customers, UOB TMRW is rolling out new security features to prevent customers from unknowingly sharing their mobile screens with scammers when using the app and to restrict app access upon detection of suspicious apps with risky permissions on users’ devices.

What can other brands learn from UOB?

  1. UOB knows its brand. It strengthens its regional presence and differentiates itself in business banking by offering deep sector-specific knowledge and forms strategic partnerships to cater to the needs of its growing retail banking customer base.
  2. UOB keeps up a robust technology and IT infrastructure to support its digital banking offerings and omnichannel presence.
  3. Build a brand through a customer experience that supports customers not just through their banking needs but also on their sustainability journey.