From Chettiars to Financiers

Year: 2002

By Chern Lian Shan

Material : Bronze

Location : Singapore River, in front of the Asian Civilisations Museum

Duration : Permanent

Collection : Singapore Tourism Board

Singapore's position as a centre for entrepot trade led to the proliferation of financial institutions. The settlement's first bank was the Bank of Calcutta, established in 1840. Financial business set up their offices near the SIngapore River to be close to the area's many trading houses. 

Early services were divided along ethnic lines. The moneylending business in the early days was primarily run by the Chettiars who came from South India. The Chettiars congregated at Market and Chulia Streets, and their offices were easy to spot. These usualy comprised a clerk and a manager who sat behind a small low desk on a woven mat, as shown here. Clearing houses were the domain of the Chinese. Capitalising on abundant trade between Singapore and China, these companies thrived. Clerks, like this standing pig-tailed man, were a common sight as they bustled to and from offices in Commercial Square (Raffles Place). 

Today, major local and multinational financial institutions provide a wealth of sophisticated financial services. Hundreds of traders fill the trading floor of the Singapore Exchange almost everyday, their distinctive jackets - as seen on the lady trader sculpted here - a symbol of economic growth. 


This sculpture is one of four pieces that are part of the People Of The River sculpture series depicting various historical scenes of people who lived and worked along the river. It commissioned in the early 2000s by the Singapore Tourism Board. The other three pieces - First Generation, The River Merchants and A Great Emporium - are also located nearby.

Image credit: Singapore Tourism Board


Singapore River, in front of the Asian Civilisations Museum

1 Empress Place, Singapore 179555

View in OneMap Map Icon

A Great Emporium

See Next Artwork

1 Empress Place, Singapore 179555

Map Pin 50M, 1MIN WALK