Penang’s new financial hubBy DAVID TAN in Penang
JALAN Sultan Ahmad Shah, popularly known as “the millionaire’s row”, has since the mid-90s emerged successfully as the alternative prime financial district on the island, overshadowing Beach Street, the oldest commercial hub of Penang.
Many of the country’s well-known foreign and local banks are now located on this famous road, where local millionaires such as the late Lim Lean Teng, Yap Chor Ee, and Tan Sri Loh Boon Siew built their mansions and resided.
Among the reputable banks established along Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah include Citibank, Southern Bank, AmBank, AmFinance and Maybank.
According to Henry Butcher (Penang) se- nior vice-president Teoh Poh Huat, Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah became an alternative location because of the number of high-end commercial development schemes taking place here in the 1990s.
The projects were MBf Tower, Menara BHL, MWE Plaza, and Menara Northam, built respectively in 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1998.
“These were new buildings in the Grade A category, equipped with modern facilities such as broadband Internet access facilities, cost-efficient electrical system, and ample car-parking bays. Furthermore, the rental and capital value of these commercial buildings was attractively priced between RM2 and RM3 per sq ft onwards,” Teoh said.
In the 90s, when the financial service providers in Beach Street were reassessing their spatial requirements to accommodate larger volumes of business, Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah immediately became an eye-catcher, as many of the buildings in Beach Street were old and lacked modern facilities.
“It was no surprise that in the mid-90s, MBf shifted to MBf Tower from its original Bishop Street location, while Ban Hin Lee opened up a branch in Menara BHL,” he said.
After the mergers of banks in 2000, MBf Finance and Ban Hin Lee became AmFinance and Southern Bank.
According to Teoh, the emergence of Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah as the new financial precinct has also influenced the commercial growth of adjacent areas such as Lebuh Farquhar, Pulau Tikus and Jalan Kelawei.
“This is what we called the effects of economics of agglomeration. When a particular district booms rapidly, the neighbouring areas also enjoy the spill-over effects,” he said.
In 1996, Maybank took the opportunity to open up a new branch in MWE Plaza, while in 1998 both RHB Bank and PhileoAllied Bank (now Maybank) opened up branches in Burmah House, a high-end commercial building, in Pulau Tikus.
Maybank vice-president (northern region) Zubir Harun said the outlet at MWE Plaza on Farquhar Street was the bank’s 11th branch on the island.
“Our regional office, formerly in Komtar, is also located in MWE Plaza. We shifted the regional headquarters to MWE Plaza in 1995,” he said. “The plaza also houses our enterprise business centre on the 7th and 8th floors. The centre, a new concept, provides services for large corporations and small- and medium-sized industries,” he said.
Besides on Lebuh Farquhar, Maybank also operates another branch in Menara PSCI on Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah.
Zubir said: “This was the former Pacific Bank which we bought over in 2001. We have another branch in Burmah House on Burmah Road, which was the former PhileoAllied Bank, acquired in 2001. It houses our investment centre which provides private banking services to high net-worth individual customers.
“The choice to locate the investment centre in Burmah House is because that section of Burmah Road, popularly known as Pulau Tikus, is a residential area for many well educated businessmen and corporate figures.”
Zubir said the Lebuh Farquhar, Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, and Jalan Burmah precincts offered better alternatives to financial institutions.
“They have new buildings with modern facilities such as broadband Internet cables and ample parking bays,” he added.
United Overseas Bank (M) Bhd (UOB) personal financial services head Aw Tee Woo said UOB was planning to relocate the branch in Beach Street, in operation since 1961, to Jalan Kelawei in January.
“We want to reposition ourselves in a new growth area to focus on our business direction in building our consumer banking,” he said, adding that UOB would still continue operations of its branch in Bishop Street, adjacent to Beach Street.
“We will be renting our new premises in Jalan Kelawei, which has a built-up area of 7,000 sq ft on 30,000 sq ft land area. The premises, originally a bungalow, is now undergoing renovation,” he added.
HSBC Bank Malaysia Bhd north area manager Hari Das Nair said there were no plans to relocate the present location of its branch in Downing Street, adjacent to Beach Street.
Hari said HSBC still considered Beach Street as the main commercial and financial centre of Penang.
“HSBC started operations in Malaysia with the opening of its first office at Downing Street, Penang, in 1884, thus celebrating its 120th year in the country in 2004.
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