“The destitute should not be treated like handouts”: Veteran banker Raymundo Yu, who shares Christmas love all year round

Angels, God's messengers of truth and light, still walk amongst us today. This Christmas, Salt&Light brings you the moving stories of five "Angels in our Midst".

by Karen Tan // December 19, 2019, 8:30 pm

2019 May President Halimah's visit to ABLE (2)

Raymundo Yu, standing to the left of President Halimah Yacob, established Abilities Beyond Limitations and Expectations (ABLE) in 2010. All photos courtesy of Raymundo Yu.

It’s a Christmas tradition that Raymundo Yu, 65, has been keeping for the the past three decades.

Every year without fail, the Chairman of both Swiss multinational, Bank Julius Baer, and global asset management group, Columbia Threadneedle Investments, throws a Christmas bash and hosts two big parties.

“I realised that there are those who are trapped in a cycle that they cannot get out of.”

For a man of such stature, you might expect photos of these celebrations to make it to glossy high society magazines or be posted on social media platforms.

But, no.

The parties held specially for destitute old folks at Little Sisters of the Poor and the children of Asilo De San Vicente De Paul Orphanage in the Philippines leave no trace in the media’s limelight, but share in the warmth and love of the season. 

Now based in Singapore, Yu has never forgotten the invisible marginalised in his country of origin.

ABLE, Raymundo Yu

Since he started ABLE in 2010, Raymundo Yu has continued to help with its fundraising efforts every year.

“I never expected a kid from a small town in the Philippines to become the first Asian Chairman of a big US investment bank. It’s quite a long way. But one must not forget one’s roots. I am still a hometown kid!”

Suckling pig

Yu first joined Merrill Lynch in Singapore (now Bank of America Merrill Lynch) in 1983 and eventually made his way to the top as Chairman, Asia Pacific, a role he continued until his retirement from the American bank in 2008.

For the past 30 years, the high point of Christmas for this now-Singaporean banker is sharing God’s blessings.

Although he has a packed schedule, the annual parties, which he sponsors, are gatherings that he looks forward to.

“It’s all about making sure that they’re happy because it’s Christmas!” he says.

“Although they’re old and can’t chew very well, they say it’s not a party if there’s no suckling pig!”

“Every year, by hook or by crook on December 23, I fly back to the Philippines because on December 24 we have lunch with all the old folks.

“Although they’re old and can’t chew very well, they insist on having a suckling pig. They say it’s not a party if there’s no suckling pig,” Yu says with a laugh.

It doesn’t end there.

“After the old folks, we have an evening Christmas service with the orphans that ends with a midnight celebration with food.”

It has since become a big family affair that includes the next generation. Yu’s two grown children, now in their 30s, as well as his nieces and nephews, also make it a point to join the party to bring cheer to the beneficiaries.

“They all come every year and serve at the orphanage and home,” says Yu. 

“Christmas is not just about the family having fun and spending a lot of money. It’s a reminder that there are other people who may be in more difficult situations.

“I want to keep that going, this feeling of community, this legacy. I hope it doesn’t stop in one generation.”

Leaving a legacy

If history is anything to go by, this legacy is likely to continue.

When Yu was young, he had also observed how his father, who owned plantations, extended charity to his plantation workers by sponsoring their children’s college education.

That idea to help the next generation break the cycle of working for a landlord made sense to Yu.

“My dad used to say that those who could, should study. Till now, we have kept that going in the family business.

“From there, I realised that there are those who are trapped in a cycle that they cannot get out of.”

That moment of realisation turned into a source of inspiration and a motivating force for Yu, a Catholic. 

ABLE, Raymundo Yu

“It’s good to have very passionate people for every charity, but you have to blend it with people who can also help in fundraising as well. If not, you cannot really do a lot of things,” says Raymundo Yu, second from right, at the launch of the Centre for Physically Challenged.

Dignity and self-respect

In the last 30 years, Yu has contributed both in cash and kind to the two charities. He personally sits down with the beneficiaries to find out what they require. Besides food, there have been some unusual requests, such as a singing contest and a projector.

For the old folks, food and care may top the list, but their needs go beyond rice.

“These old folks have been abandoned in the streets.

“They can live with integrity and the feeling that there is a God who will look after them.”

“When we bring them in, we give them dignity and self-respect, so that in the last few years of their lives, they can live with integrity and the feeling that there is a God who will look after them and have His presence in their lives,” says Yu.

“Their health may be deteriorating, but you know they are happy.”

The hundred or so orphans at Asilo De San Vicente De Paul Orphanage are given shelter and food and also an education and vocational skills to prepare them for the working world when they come of age.

“This can break that cycle of ongoing poverty. They can get back into society, and not remain at the fringes where they cannot contribute. They can have self-respect and no longer need to think they are just a handout. So, in that, there is a God who touches them.”

Sustainable cycle

Yu relates an incident when he was at the orphanage and a taxi pulled up.

“From inside the taxi, a guy came out. He brought with him boxes and boxes of gifts. He seemed to know everybody.

“The residents told me, ‘It’s one of our boys! He now works in the Middle East. Whenever he comes home, he always visits and buys things for everybody!’” Yu beams like a proud father as he relates the incident.

“It affirms that what we’re doing is correct. Although we intend to just teach them to be self-sufficient, some of them have responded with gratitude.

“If they come back, they can help others. So you have the unending circle of people helping people, because you cannot just completely rely on dollars, you have to make sure there’s some sustainability.”

ABLE and willing

In 2009, the Catholic Social and Community Council approached Yu to assist Caritas Singapore to establish a charity for the physically challenged community.

2016 Feb CNY Benefactors lunch

ABLE runs rehabilitation and return-to-work programmes for the physically disabled. Here, they are celebrating Chinese New Year at a lunch hosted for the charity’s benefactors in 2016.

It was a cause that struck a chord. Yu saw the need to serve this segment and his experiences were put to good use. A year later, in 2010, Abilities Beyond Limitations and Expectations Limited (ABLE) was incorporated, with Yu as founding Chairman.

“You cannot just completely rely on dollars, you have to make sure there’s some sustainability.”

With his banking background, an accountability structure with finance and committees were the first things he put in place.

“Part of it is in my DNA, and part of it is governance,” he says.

“As we’re spending people’s money, we have to be proper stewards of what people give us. I’m very cognisant of the fact that the benefactors are discerning people.

“You have to be able to show that you’re doing your job properly and that you’re using the money properly. I think accountability goes hand-in-hand with leadership.”

Changing lives 

This chairman’s good works extend into the marketplace.

“Even in banking, I have met people who are in different situations. For the people who have worked with me, I’ve tried to make sure that I help to improve their lives.”

“I get a lot of energy from the fact that what you do can change somebody’s life!”

“Back then, though, it was not so much about their spiritual well-being.

“However, in the last few years, I’ve since gone back to all these people who used to work for me. I have started to bring them back to Christ.”

In journeying spiritually with his ex-colleagues, Yu has seen many of them get baptised.

For this 65-year old, improving the lot of others has become second nature and there is no stopping him now.

“I get a lot of energy from the fact that what you do can change somebody’s life!”

“If these children with HIV can praise God, why can’t I?” cried out Radion’s Eugene Wee when his family lost everything

Would you invite the homeless to your Christmas gathering? This cell group did.

If you would like to donate to Abilities Beyond Limitations and Expectations (ABLE), please click here. If you like to volunteer, please click here

About the author

Karen Tan

Karen was a producer at Asia Business News (Singapore), Bloomberg News and CNBC Asia. She subsequently joined the Far East Organisation to oversee corporate social responsibility. Karen is now Associate Editor at Salt&Light.