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sg first coop store north bridgeThe well-stocked Singapore Co-operative Stores Society's shop in North Bridge Road

The first consumer society in Singapore was formed in 1946 at the time when there was a massive shortage of basic essentials and profiteering was rampant.

Located at 331 North Bridge Road, the store, which shared premises with the popular Liberty Cabaret, sold daily necessities and later added stocks of condensed milk, cigarettes, soaps, jams, tinned foods and more, at reasonable prices.

Sg First Coop Store Shoppers
Shoppers and staff at the Singapore Co-operative Stores

Registered on 23 August 1946, membership in the Singapore Co-operative Stores Society was opened to any one above the age of 21, and applicants were required to make a deposit of $5 for the value of one share and pay and entrance fee of $1.

The response was overwhelming. When the Society commenced business in October that year, it had 1700 members and a paid-up capital of $36,665. Within a year of its operations, a branch was opened at the 5th floor of the Fullerton Building in premises provided by the Government.

Sg First Coop Store Delivery Van
The Singapore Co-operative Stores Society's delivery van

The Co-op ran a shop-to-house delivery service and had a travelling shop on the road so that members could choose what they wanted at their own doorsteps. It went on to open branches in Tiong Bahru and Joo Chiat. The main office in North Bridge Road was demolished in 1951 to make way for the Odeon Cinema.

By the end of 1947, the shortage of goods eased off considerably. Black market withered as import of goods swelled. There was also a proliferation of small businesses.

The Singapore Co-operative Stores Society was liquidated in April 1953.

Other consumer societies formed during that period included the Pulo Bukom Co-operative Stores Society in 1948 which was established for the benefit of the employees of the Shell Company Limited on the island of Pulo (Pulau) Bukom. This was followed by the setting up of the Singapore Woodbridge Hospital Co-operative Stores Society in the late 1950 which was for the benefit of employees of the Woodbridge (Mental Hospital); and the Naval Base Co-operative Stores Society in 1951 for employees of the Naval Dockyard in Naval Base.


Source: The Singapore Co-operative Story: 1925 – 2015 published by the Singapore National Co-operative Federation, 2015



Other articles from Co-operator Newsletter, February 2019 Issue:

Winners to be presented at 2019 World Credit Union Conference in the Bahamas

2018 WCUC WYCUP Winners
World Council leaders awarded the 2018 WYCUP winners in Singapore. (Left-to-right) World Council President and CEO Brian Branch with WYCUP Scholarship winners Agnese Maria Borgazzi Calvo - Peru, Mambo Hariett Tangu – Cameroon, Lucas Araujo Dos Santos – Brazil, Carlos Antonio Soratto – Brazil, Robert O'Reilly – Ireland and Steven Stapp (Board Chair).


MADISON, Wis. — World Council of Credit Unions seeks nominations from its member organizations for the World Council Young Credit Union Professionals (WYCUP) scholarship program, an international networking and educational opportunity for emerging credit union leaders. Nominations are due May 31, 2019. Scholarship awards and the WYCUP program will take place at the 2019 World Credit Union Conference (WCUC), July 28-31, 2019, in the Bahamas. The WYCUP program, as part of the Diversity & Inclusion conference track, is dedicated to advancing young leaders worldwide and leverages opportunities presented by the WCUC to promote professional development throughout the conference week. Up to five recipients will be awarded WYCUP scholarships for an all-expense-paid trip to the 2020 World Credit Union Conference.

"We’re excited to continue the momentum through the WYCUP program and the Diversity & Inclusion track, empowering young credit union leaders, providing professional value while strengthening a culture of continuous learning," said Paul Treinen, World Council COO.

To be eligible for the scholarship, nominees must:

  • Be 35 years of age or younger on January 1, 2019
  • Demonstrate leadership, personal commitment and the potential to significantly influence credit unions or financial cooperatives in or outside their country
  • Be actively involved as an employee or volunteer with a credit union or other financial cooperative affiliated with World Council. World Council members include organizations affiliated with any national organization belonging to World Council.
  • Actively participate in the World Credit Union Conference in the Bahamas, including the Diversity & Inclusion conference track. The 2019 WCUC registration and travel expenses must be paid by a sponsoring credit union or credit union organization.
  • Not have been a previous WYCUP scholarship recipient
  • Not be a current World Council employee

WCUC registrants age 35 and younger qualify for a discounted registration fee and can participate in all sessions, regardless of whether or not they apply for the scholarship.

The WYCUP program is generously sponsored by CUNA Mutual Group and Servus Credit Union. For more information, visit WYCUP and download the WYCUP scholarship application and nomination criteria here.



World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development platform for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.

World Council has implemented 300+ technical assistance programs in 89 countries. Worldwide, 89,026 credit unions in 117 countries serve 260 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at



Other articles from Co-operator Newsletter, February 2019 Issue:

Not many people have the opportunity that I had. To serve others, especially those who need help the most, is truly satisfying. 
- Ma Wei Cheng

20120103 Photo Of Ma Wei ChengFor the past 54 years, the AUPE Credit Co-operative has not only saved many public service employees from financial embarrassment, the Co-op, set up by Amalgamated Union of Public Employees, has saved them from losing their jobs.

“There were very limited borrowing options available to government workers then. Bank loans, secured loans would require a collateral. The average worker was unable to provide that. He could borrow from friends or relatives, but when disputes occur, his friend or family member could lodge a complaint with the government, the employer. He, as the employee, could then face disciplinary proceedings which could lead to dismissal. There had to be another option,” said Mr Ma Wei Cheng, the former Chairman of AUPE Credit Co-operative. He is currently a member of the Central Co-operative Fund Committee (CCFC).

The co-operative was set up to provide that option - a solution which stands in the gap. “There are strict disciplinary rules at the workplace. If the employee borrows more than three times his salary, he would fall into financial embarrassment. This rule, however, does not apply to our co-operative loans,” he explained.

“Another rule specifies that an employee who defaults repayment three times and his outstanding loan is more than three times his salary making him/her fall into financial embarrassment is liable to face disciplinary proceeding which could lead to dismissal. She may be a good worker, with a good track record, but she can be dismissed on the basis of her inability to repay her loan.”

Mr Ma recalled how a Human Resource Director alerted the Co-operative about an employee who was on the brink of losing her job for this reason. The employee ran into some family problems and struggled with bank loan repayment. “AUPE Credit Co-operative stepped in to help her tide through a crisis, averting a default and dismissal. The HR Director was happy that he could keep the good employee.”

The co-operative is judicious not just in evaluating loan requests. Its message about timeliness in servicing the loan is not lost on members. “In certain cases, we don’t give the money to the borrower. We issue the cheque directly to the creditor instead,” Mr Ma said candidly.

In this respect, registered credit co-operatives have the support from the government. A clause in the Employment Act enacted in 1968 authorises the employer to deduct from an employee’s salary the amount of loan instalment payable, and pay it to the credit co-operative concerned. “This is the “check-off” feature. However, it is not uniformly practised,” lamented Mr Ma. “For those employers who do not do so, we could notify the Registrar of Co-operative Societies to nudge them into doing so.”

Mr Ma’s involvement in the AUPE Credit Co-operative has its roots in trade unionism and representing the public service workers. His interest in industrial relations dated back to his days at the Telecom, when he was in his 20s and his voice could be heard surfacing concerns of the day to the Management. When the opportunity to attend courses offered by AUPE came knocking, he seized it. This proved to be a fortuitous move. He got acquainted with Mr G Kandasamy, the founder of AUPE, who was also the course trainer. Mr Ma found a mentor in Mr Kandasamy and in 1974, on the latter’s invitation, joined the AUPE full time. There was no turning back since, and no changing of course.

Today, the AUPE Credit Co-operative grants, on average, $18 million of loans a year, making it one of the largest union-based co-operatives in Singapore. Asked about his working formula. Mr Ma represented it thus: “Doing well, doing good and preserving unity among members.”

“To achieve the first two objectives, we need good corporate governance. Doing well contributes to sustainability of the co-operative; it enables us to keep going, and for a longer period of time, and in perpetuity if possible. Doing good helps us to stay relevant to our members’ needs. Lastly, like the union, unity of members is pivotal to our continued ability to pool and mobilise resources,” he clarified.

A look at the dashboard suggests that the team running the co-operative had got all three right. The co-operative is doing good for a larger population segment with membership now open to non-public employees too. The number of members had increased from 65 in 1965 to 17,000 in 2018. In 2018, the amount of loans granted totalled some $18 million, compared to $100,000 in 1966. Members’ subscriptions and savings grew steadily from $4,000 in 1965 to $150 million in 2018, a testament to the trust and confidence members have for the co-operative.

“We have had retirees who want to continue to save with us. Some even want to commit their pensions to us,” Mr Ma recounted.

The co-operative is not about to rest on its laurels. “Doing well is a continuous journey. We seek out opportunities to improve, to become more efficient in what we do. We observe what’s happening in the financial sector and ask ourselves what new services we can offer to members. Which part of our current work process can benefit from the use of technology, to reduce transaction time, without compromising on security?”

While the financial position of the co-operative is in a healthy state, it has its share of challenges. Where can the extra cash be invested? As a co-operative, it comes under the regulatory purview of the Registry of Co-operative Societies, Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth (MCCY) which imposes limits to the types of investments that can be made. So, the art is in finding the ‘right’ combination of Unrestricted Investments and Restricted Investments to optimise returns.

As regards succession, the co-operative looks to the AUPE for identification of suitable candidates to take over the mantle. “Therein lies the advantage of being a union-based co-operative. There is a larger pool - members and staff - from where we can identify candidates. We need leaders with steady hands, who can be trusted to manage the money that is entrusted to us by members. Above all, they must have empathy,” said Mr Ma.


Ma Wei Cheng on
Setting Up a Co-operative

Tips on setting up a co-operative:

  • Crystallising the business model - do not rush into coming up with one. Take time to conceptualise it. Flesh out ideas in writing so that these can be shared with relevant parties, and refined over time.
  • Teaming up right - identify and select the right people coming on board. Possessing a certain level of empathy is paramount.
  • Staying the course - the co-operative framework is sustainable if it has steady hands on the right levers to run it well.

Mr Ma retires in March 2019 and will serve as an adjunct trainer at the Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute.


Learning Tips

  • Have empathy. Understand their circumstances, and help them to get out of indebtedness.
  • Sustainability and good governance are important.
  • Leverage technology to make operations more efficient and more convenient.



Other articles from Co-operator Newsletter, February 2019 Issue:

In January, the Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF) welcomed delegations from Thailand and France on 14 and 15 January 2019 respectively.

Group Photo Sncf Fsct V2The Federation of Savings and Credit Cooperatives of Thailand (FSCT), the national institute for all the savings and credit co-operatives in Thailand, organised a study trip to Malaysia and Singapore. The 29-member delegation visited SNCF on 14 January 2019 to learn about savings and credit co-operative operation and management as well as to exchange ideas and information. Foo Chuan Yang, SNCF Senior Manager (Credit & Special Projects), welcomed the delegation and gave an overview of SNCF and the credit co-operative sector in Singapore in the sharing session.


group photo tcc federation nationale des banques populaires v2 sncf chairman kwek kok kwong federation nationale des banques populaires v3

On 15 January, Mr Kwek Kok Kwong, Chairman of SNCF, together with Ms Shoba Gunasekaran, General Manager of TCC Credit Co-operative welcomed the 23-member delegation from the Fédération Nationale des Banques Populaires. The delegation was interested to learn more about credit co-operatives in Singapore. After the presentations, they were given a tour of TCC Credit Co-operative.



Other articles from Co-operator Newsletter, February 2019 Issue:

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Singapore National Co-operative Federation
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SLF Building, Singapore 298135
Email: [email protected]
Tel (65) 6602 0747, Fax (65) 6259 9577

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