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On August 6, 1935, businessman Wee Kheng Chiang, along with six other friends, established the bank after raising S $ 1 million. The bank was named United Chinese Bank (UCB) to emphasize its links with the Chinese population in Singapore. In October 1935, UCB opened for business in the three-story Bonham Building. In 1965, the bank was renamed United Overseas Bank and opened its first overseas branch in Hong Kong.

In 1970, UOB was quoted on the Singapore and Malaysia Stock Exchange, at which time Singapore did not have its own stock exchange. After it was listed, the bank went through a series of specific acquisitions. The bank first acquired the Chung Khiaw bank in 1971, which expanded its domestic presence and also gave bank offices in Malaysia and Hong Kong. In 1973, UOB acquired Lee Wah Bank, which served in Malaysia and Singapore. In that same year, the bank built a new 30-story office tower instead of the Bonham Building, which was named the UOB Building (now known as UOB Plaza 2). The company continued with acquisitions, with Far Eastern Bank in 1984, Westmont Bank (now known as UOB Philippines) and Bank Radanasin (now known as United Overseas Bank (Thailand) Public Company Limited) in 1999. The bank then took over the Overseas Union Bank Limited (OUB) in an estimated acquisition agreement worth S $ 10 billion in 2001.

In 2002, UOB began expanding into the Chinese market by opening a new full service branch in Shanghai and modernizing its Beijing office to a full service branch.