China's financial industry under greater scrutiny amid latent risks

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-04-10 17:13

BEIJING - China's rapidly expanding financial industry is being placed under greater regulatory scrutiny as authorities step up efforts to curb widespread malfeasance in the sector.

In remarks published Sunday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pointed out that the country's financial sector was vulnerable to risks such as bad assets, bond defaults, shadow banking and internet financing, with frequent illegal and corrupt activities.

To put the market in order, the premier urged for efforts to crack down on bank violations on giving credit, insider trading in securities market and fraud of insurance companies, as well as to relentlessly punish internal supervisors and company managers who collude with major players in the market and steal and sell confidential information.

On the same day, China's top anti-graft authority announced that Xiang Junbo, chairman of the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, was being investigated for suspected serious violation of the code of conduct of the Communist Party of China.

Li's message was the latest from high-level officials who have repeatedly highlighted the importance of containing financial risks as the country faces a build-up of debt and booming new financial products challenge regulations.

Since China's tone-setting economic conference last December pledged preventing financial risks as a priority, regulators from the banking, securities and insurance sectors have made solid efforts to clean up the market.

In the first quarter of 2017, China's banking regulator meted out 485 administrative penalties with fines totalling 190 million yuan ($27.54 million).

A total of 197 people were held accountable for banking irregularities in the period, of which 19 were disqualified for executive positions and 11 barred from banking business, according to the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC).

Yang Jiacai, assistant to the CBRC chairman, disclosed that the commission would create more guidelines to better regulate the market.

In the capital market, China's securities regulator has maintained zero tolerance on illegal market activities such as insider trading and stock manipulation, after the market rout in 2015 shattered investor confidence.

Last month, the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) slapped a 3.47 billion yuan fine on a company chairman for stock market manipulation, a record high.

The fine received by Xian Yan, chairman of P2P Financial Information Service Co., approached the total of fines handed out by the CSRC for all of last year, showing the regulator's determination to rein in risky behavior.

Grabbing headlines, the "barbaric" behavior of some Chinese insurers that use leveraged money to buy shares in listed companies triggered sharp volatility in the market at the end of last year.

China's insurance regulator barred Yao Zhenhua, chairman of Foresea Life Insurance, from the insurance sector for 10 years for irregular market operations.

The slew of high-profile punishments in the financial system underscore government determination to balance stable growth and financial risk control, according to analysts.

To make risk control more effective, China needs to reform its financial regulation system to put cross-market and cross-sector financial services under more coordinated scrutiny, according to senior officials.

Wang Zhaoxing, vice chairman of CBRC, said at a forum earlier this year that the commission would strengthen coordination and information sharing with the insurance and securities regulators as well as the central bank to plug loopholes in regulation.

Despite latent risks, China is confident of preventing systemic financial troubles.

At a press conference after the conclusion of the annual legislative session last month, Premier Li struck a confident tone on the country's financial stability, ruling out the possibility of systemic risks as "the country has plenty of policy options at its disposal."

"China's budget deficit to GDP ratio stands below 3 percent, the capital adequacy ratio of commercial banks is 13 percent and their provision coverage ratio is at 176 percent, all above the international standards for financial security," Li said.

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