The Royal Bank of Scotland Building at Beach Street within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site is a double storey Neo-Classical style building that once housed the Penang branch of Algemene Bank Nederland N.V. (ABN), a Dutch bank. It was designed by Wilson & Neubronner and completed in 1905.
As of May 2016, the building, which served as the Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters on Penang Island, is being sold. The British bank, which has been suffering losses and is cutting back on its presence throughout Asia, has agreed to sell its Malaysian assets to CTBC Financial Holding Co., a Taiwanese financial holding firm. Only time will tell what purpose the building will serve next.
The land on which the Royal Bank of Scotland Building now stands was originally taken up by Scott and Co., a mercantile business owned by James Scott, Captain Francis Light's trading partner. Scott's warehouses occupied 293 feet of prime seafront and housed many of the early mercantile firms on Penang Island.
In 1903, the site was bought by the Netherlands Trading Society (NTS), which had been established in Amsterdam in 1824 to reestablish Dutch mercantile presence in Southeast Asia. Through its financial backing of sugar and tobacco plantations in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), NTS grew into a bank, with its main branch in Batavia (now Jakarta). It opened its George Town branch in 1888.
Subsequently, the Neo-Classical style building we see today was designed by Wilson & Neubronner, and was completed in 1905. By then, NTS had expanded its Asian presence considerably, opening branches in Singapore, Rangoon and Shanghai.
The building's façade consists of a series of arches rendered with keystoning and imitation rustification. It also used to have a domed turret, which was later changed to its present squarish shape.
Also, during its construction in the early 1900s, the building faced Crown Road, where the British East India Company's Post and Telegraph Office was located. The road and the offices have since been replaced with the current HSBC Building.
In 1964, following a merger, the company traded as Algemene Bank Nederland N.V. (ABN). Another merger followed in 1991 with Amro Bank, forming the ABN Amro Bank which gave the building its former name. ABN Amro Bank was in turn taken over in 2007 by a consortium comprising the Royal Bank of Scotland, Fortis and Banco Santander.
Meanwhile, the building itself was renovated in 1988 and has since been used for various purposes. At one time, it housed a Chinese cafe. Between 2000 and 2008, it was also used by Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang Island's only public university, to showcase Malay art pieces.
During the 2008 financial crisis, a restructuring exercise brought the Penang branch under the Royal Bank of Scotland banner. Hence the building served as the Penang headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland until 2015, when it was put up for sale.
More recently, the Scottish bank has been suffering losses and is in the process of retreating from Asian markets. It has also been dogged by the current 1MDB scandal involving possible corrupt practices by 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state investment firm fully owned by the Malaysian federal government.
As of May 2016, it was reported that the Malaysian assets owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland, including its Penang branch at Beach Street, will be sold to CTBC Financial Holding Co., one of Taiwan's leading financial holding firm.
Penang State Government
N.26 Padang Kota State Assemblyman : Chow Kon Yeow (Democratic Action Party)
Malaysian Federal Parliament
P.049 Tanjong Member of Parliament : Ng Wei Aik (Democratic Action Party)
- Hockton, K., Howard Tan, 2012. Penang : An Inside Guide to Its Historic Homes, Buildings, Monuments and Parks. MPH Group, Kuala Lumpur.
- Langdon, M. A Guide to George Town's Historic Commercial and Civic Precints. Penang : George Town World Heritage Incorporated, Penang.
- Khoo S.N., 2007. Streets of George Town, Penang. Areca Books.
- Ahmad S.H., Shaiful R. C. Y. Architecture and Heritage Buildings in George Town, Penang. Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang.