Chinese banks must go global

Updated: 2012-06-21 09:51

By Xiao Gang (China Daily)

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Despite facing the dangers and uncertainties resulting from the ongoing European sovereign debt crisis, Chinese banks still have ample opportunities to expand their business in international markets.

Historically, the years before the global financial crisis saw rapid growth in banks' cross-border activities. According to the Bank for International Settlements, the average year-on-year growth rate for cross-border bank credit to non-banks from 2000 to 2007 was 15.2 percent. European banks were in the vanguard, with around one-third of their assets outside their home markets.

But now, they have had to shrink their balance sheets and pull back to their home countries. The IMF projected that banks in the European Union will undergo a $2.6 trillion deleveraging over the next two years.

Obviously, European banks' homeward migration opens the door to other lenders, including Chinese banks.

It is not all good news though. Chinese banks may face a slowing growth in profits from the domestic market due to the coming lower economic growth and ongoing financial reforms. To some extent, developing their international businesses can help them diversify their income stream and disperse their risks.

It is important for Chinese banks to draw up an appropriate global strategy before going overseas. Usually, the first business priority should be serving Chinese enterprises, and banks should provide them with a full range of solution-oriented products and cross-border services. Of course, multinationals and foreign firms that have close trade and investment relations with China should also be a priority.

Choosing growth areas is vital to the success of banks' internationalization. With China's trade and investment with the rest of the world becoming increasingly diverse, Chinese banks must further expand their global networks so their overseas business can have a larger coverage.

In addition to enhancing their existing presence in Western countries, Chinese banks should attach more importance to delivering financial services in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, either by building up operating entities or through deepening cooperation with corresponding banks around the world.

Organic growth within the chosen area will be a fundamental way of developing Chinese global banks, though it may take time to achieve the goal. However, that does not necessarily mean that mergers and acquisitions cannot be used as an accelerator or a supplement in implementing a global strategy.

The key issue in "organic growth" is to identify the fact that the rationale of M&A activities must be in line with the global strategy. In particular, the specific M&A target should have capabilities that a Chinese bank may lack. If an opportunity does not fit with a predefined strategy, then it should be given up. M&As are costly and complicated, so they should be treated with caution.

In the early stage of internationalization, Chinese banks should place a strong emphasis on corporate banking and cross-border services, rather than retail banking business. Resources within the group in question are limited and capabilities are probably not strong enough to compete with local banks.

There is a huge potential in corporate banking business lines such as international settlement and cross-border payment, which bring fee-based income. Trade finance, cross-border cash pool management and bank loans have played important roles in world trade, investment, manufacturing and innovation.

Risk management capabilities are vital for any bank's survival during its journey to internationalization. Since global businesses may encounter more challenges than domestic ones, Chinese banks need to revitalize their risk management in order to ensure that their capital, liquidity, credit and national risks are all controlled at a level aligned with the bank's global strategy.

Talented people are definitely essential to a bank's successful internationalization. Banks need to expend a great deal of effort in attracting, developing and retaining talented managers and specialists, and make strengthening the talent pool a top priority.

Cross-cultural communication plays an essential role within any banking group following a global strategy. Having said that worldwide businesses and revenues may be geographically diverse, a global bank should operate as "one bank", sharing a common corporate culture and values, and be consistent with the basics of banking, regardless of where employees come from.

Currently, the century-old Bank of China is the most internationalized of China's banks, with more than 590 branches, offices and outlets in 32 countries and regions. Its overseas assets and post-tax profits accounted for 23 percent of its total in the first quarter of this year.

The fact that the Bank of China was the only developing world institution included on the list of 29 global systemically important banks approved by the G20 summit not only highlights the bank's strong international brand, it is also a recognition of the progress made in Chinese banking reform over the past few years.

The Bank of China aims to become a premier global bank. We will continue to expand our global network, centralize the delivery mode of our corporate banking business, and upgrade our overseas information technology system, along with promoting human resource and risk management.

While China's four biggest banks are among the world's top 10 banks measured by market capitalization, there is still a long way to go to make them truly international.

Every journey begins with the first step. Like the internationalization of the Chinese currency, the development of Chinese global banks is inevitable. The time has already arrived.

The author is chairman of the board of directors of Bank of China.

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