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Prominent banker Elizabeth Sam has passed on at 84

Sam became the first female board member of a Big Four bank in Singapore when she joined OCBC's main board in October 1996.

Elizabeth Sam, one of Singapore’s top bankers, has passed away on Sept 11.

Born in 1939, Sam was considered to be a trailblazer within the finance industry during her lifetime.

Sam started her career at the Ministry of Finance in 1963 when it was located at the former Fullerton Building. At the time, she was among one of the three lady recruits who joined the ministry’s administrative service when it was under Dr Goh Keng Swee, who was the Minister for Finance between 1959 and 1965.

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She joined the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in 1971 when it was established. Sam was promoted to chief manager in 1976, and left subsequently in 1981. Sam was a main board member of the Mercantile House Holding from 1981 to 1987 before joining Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) in 1988 as executive vice president.

When Sam was appointed to OCBC’s main board in October 1996, she became the first female board member of a Big Four bank in Singapore at the time.

In the same year, she was awarded Singapore’s Public Service Star (BBM) for her work and contributions to Singapore’s financial sector. International financial magazine, Euromoney, also voted her as one of the top 50 women in finance around the globe.

In April 2008, Sam was appointed as non-executive and independent director of Singapore Exchange (SGX)-listed Straits Trading. At the time, she was already on the boards of Banyan Tree Holdings, Thai bank, Kasikornbank, SC Global Development and Australia-headquartered company AV Jennings Development.

During her tenure in both the ministry and Singapore’s central bank, Sam oversaw the development of the financial markets in Singapore especially the Asian Dollar market and the foreign exchange market. She was also instrumental in the development of the futures market and was chairperson of the Singapore International Monetary Exchange (Simex) for two terms.

Sam was also the character referee for presidential candidate Ng Kok Song during the 2023 Presidential Election. She was also his first boss.

“I will always treasure the memory of this marvellous lady. She gave me the big break in my investment career,” said Ng in a Facebook post.

Ong-Ang Ai Boon, director of The Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS), recalls her interactions with Sam in her book, It's Not Me: 40 Years as Director of The Association of Banks in Singapore.

"Another delightful and significant takeaway for me during my time at MAS was the experience of working with Mrs Elizabeth Sam, then chief manager and second only to the managing director of MAS, Mr Michael Wong Pakshong. She played a key role in the growth of Singapore as a financial centre, and in particular the development of the Asian Dollar Market and the foreign exchange market," wrote Ong-Ang.

"Still new to the working world then, I was struck by how Mrs Sam was always elegantly dressed. She came to work in beautiful gowns with coordinated jewellery. Yet her stylish image belied her professionalism as a top career woman whose competence and strong negotiating skills regularly disarmed suave bankers and rugged rubber brokers alike," she continued.

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