On this day, November 10 in the year 1910, one of the overseas Chinese who made a large fortune in Southeast Asia was born in Thonburi, a suburb of Bangkok, Thailand. His name was Chin Sophonpanich, also known as Tan Piak Chin, the founder of Bangkok Bank, one of the largest banks in the region.
Chin Sophonpanich was the son of a Chinese immigrant who worked in a lumber company. As a boy, Chin was sent to Shantou, China for his education. He returned to Thailand at the age of 17 and opened a small shop dealing in construction materials. A very rich Chinese named Tae Keng Ung spotted Chin’s extraordinary business acumen. Tae appointed Chin as managing director of his trading company. Meanwhile, Chin set up a department store named Asia Trading which would soon evolved into Asia Trust Group with interests in import-export, remittance and insurance.
In 1944, Chin was recruited to become part of a group that established Bangkok Bank. With the help of General Phao Sriyanond, head of the police force, he took control of the bank. In 1957, Chin fled to Hong Kong after a coup led by General Sarit Thanarat that toppled the government of Prime Minister Phibul Songkhram and General Phao fell out of favor in the new government. While in exile, he built up the Bangkok branch in Hong Kong and continued to link up with other overseas Chinese while the operation in Thailand was managed by professionals and his children.
Chin died in 1988 at the age of 77. He married twice and had 9 children. Some of them are active in the management of the business empire left by the patriarch. His second son, Chatri is chairman while Chatri’s son is president. At present, the bank has over 1,200 local and 32 overseas branches with substantial presence in China.
Chris Baker, Pasuk Phongpaichit. A History of Thailand. Cambridge University Press.
Joe Studwell. Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Profile Books Ltd. London. 2007.