Eager to build a national banking champion to cement Singapore’s status as a rising financial power, the city-state’s authorities endorsed a bold expansion strategy at Development Bank of Singapore in the late 1990s. The lender went on an acquisition spree between 1997 and 2001, spending more than 12 billion Singapore dollars ($9.3 billion) to acquire local banks in Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. The pieces never added up to a greater whole, though. Profits rose, but costs escalated at an even faster pace, and margins shrank. When the global financial crisis struck in 2008, the renamed DBS Group Holdings saw its stock price plunge by nearly two thirds and was forced to raise expensive capital with a big rights issue.

Today, Singapore’s flagship bank has recovered with its ambition intact. This time, however, DBS is pursuing its regional goals on a sounder basis under CEO Piyush Gupta. A veteran of Citigroup’s Asian operations, Gupta has injected new life into DBS’s platform since taking over as chief executive two years ago. He has bolstered the group’s management ranks with senior executives recruited from the likes of Standard Chartered and Morgan Stanley. He is knitting the bank’s far-flung operations — more than 250 branches in 12 Asian markets — into a coherent whole by offering a common platform of global transaction services, trade finance and wealth management to small and medium-size enterprises and their owners across the region. And Gupta is rapidly expanding the bank’s modest branch network in China and India, seeing those two massive markets as the motor of Asian prosperity.

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