Banking on success
Updated: 2011-02-18 10:54
By Meng Jing (China Daily European Weekly)
A model of the Chonqqing Liangjiang New Area. The municipality plans to use Jiangbeizui at Liangjiang to help it become the financial center in western China. Cui Meng / China Daily
There are 553 domestic and global financial institutions in 190 office buildings in Shanghai Pudong's Lujiazui Finance and Trade Zone. This concentration of financial institutions has helped propel the city on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River into the list of top 10 global financial centers of the world for the past decades.
But not many people know that, about 2,150 km away in Chongqing, Jiangbeizui in the Chongqing Liangjiang New Area is also set to make its mark, as a regional financial center on the upper reaches of Yangtze.
Similar to what the Shanghai Pudong New Area did 20 years ago, the Chongqing Liangjiang New Area, the only national-level development zone in inland China, plans to carry out institutional innovations, upgrade its industries and expand the opening-up of western China.
Jiangbeizui, a 5-sq-km area that is more than double the size of Shanghai's Lujiazui, is expected to take the lead in Chongqing's development and establish itself as the financial center in western China.
Compared with its Shanghai counterpart, the Chongqing Liangjiang New Area, which was ratified by the central government in 2010, has a larger booming market as China's "go-west" policy to develop the western areas gathers steam.
The Yangtze River Delta, where Shanghai Pudong sits, covers an area of 210,000 sq km and holds a population of 90 million. The "West Triangle Area" where Chongqing is located covers 6.8 million sq km and has a population of 400 million.
The huge market has lured many financial institutions including international banks to the area. In 2008, there were six international banks with branches in Chongqing. The number rose to eight in 2009 and will soon hit 10 with new operations from Deutsche Bank and ANZ Bank in Chongqing.
As one of the first foreign banks in Chongqing, HSBC's Chongqing branch has been expanding at a speed rarely seen in any other Chinese cities.
HSBC set up its Chongqing branch in December 2004 and has grown its business in Chongqing to one branch, four sub-branches and three rural banks.
"The number of our clients has doubled every year since 2007," says Forrest Zhang, the manager of HSBC Chongqing branch.
Standard Chartered, which opened its Chongqing branch in 2007, also witnessed rapid expansion in their business.
According to Joseph Chui, general manager with Standard Chartered's Chongqing branch, the bank in Chongqing was facing a loss in 2008. "But in 2009, we started to bring in profit and our bank ranks first on post-tax profit in 2010, among all international banks in Chongqing," Chui says.
Both banks expressed faith in Chongqing's financial sector because its development is closely related to the development of a city's economy.
"The growth of Chongqing's GDP per year in the past five years is higher than the national average in China," says Forrest Zhang.
While Shanghai's growth has outpaced the country for more than a decade, its economic growth has not gone above 10 percent since 2008. But growth in Chongqing hit 17.1 percent in 2010.
In the recently announced local governments' 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), the Chongqing municipal government pledged to maintain a 12.5 percent growth in its GDP between 2011 and 2015, putting it first among all the local governments in China.
"We've always considered Chongqing as one of the most important cities in western China. It is the most populous city in China and one of the largest cities in the world," says Joseph Chui from Standard Chartered.
"With more investment moving from coastal cities to inland Chongqing, I believe Chongqing's development in the next three to five years will be the most outstanding in China," he says.
Chongqing's financial services industry accounts for 6 percent of the city's total GDP, which will increase to 10 percent by the end of 2015, according to the government's blueprint.
"Don't underestimate the 6 percent. We rank third in China after Beijing's 15 percent and Shanghai's 12 percent," says Li Xinming, vice-director with Administrative Committee of Chongqing Liangjiang New Area.
Li says that the rate of non-performing loans (NPL) among banks in Chongqing is 1.06 percent, which is as low as 0.38 percent in the Chongqing Liangjiang New Area, while the national average NPL in the banking industry in China is 1.3 percent.
The Jiangbeizui financial business center in Liangjiang New Area had only 18 various financial service institutions by the end of 2010, but the superior financial environment in the area will attract 80 percent of the financial institutions in Chongqing by 2020, Li says.
Despite Chongqing's ambition to establish itself as a regional financial center on the upper reaches of Yangtze River, the relatively weak foundation in this sector in the city cannot be overlooked.
Beijing hosts the most number of headquarters of financial institutions in China, while Shanghai has various types of financial markets including stock and gold exchange markets.
Chongqing has to find a new way to develop its financial services industry.
As an inland city in western China, Chongqing also faces challenges in attracting enough professionals to support the rapid development of the industry.
The city has 67,300 people working in finance-related industries. That is expected to increase to 100,950 in 2015 and rise to 159,700 in 2020.
"Tens of thousands of students graduate from local universities every year. But we can hardly find experienced professionals," says Standard Chartered's Joseph Chui.
"Most of the local talent either lack experience or have problems communicating with our international clients in English. With more large foreign companies investing in Chongqing, this will be a huge problem because it takes long time to train people," Chui says.
Forrest Zhang, manager with HSBC Chongqing branch, faces the same problem.
"With more financial institutions coming to Chongqing, the competition for talent will be fiercer," he says.
But with the rapid development of Chongqing and the growing job opportunities in the city, more professionals from first-tier cities will come, Zhang says.
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