China Banking Research

After 18 years of economic development, China’s Tier 2 Banks, mainly city commercial banks, are growing to fill a gap in-between state-owned banks, and rural commercial banks. As part of their growth, many city commercial banks are attempting to expand their branches in other regions, however, the Chinese Banking Regulatory Committee (CBRC) regulations are, in certain cases, holding them back.

The recent tight regulation regarding supra-regional city commercial banks is largely the result of increasing internal fraud cases in city commercial banks such as Qilu Bank and Hankou Bank. The good news is that the CBRC is not prohibiting city commercial banks from expanding supra-regionally. Instead, the approval process is just longer and the standard of regulatory evaluation indicators such as asset scale, capital adequacy ratio, profit margin, and non-performing loan ratios are higher than before. In this case, if city commercial banks attempt to expand outlets in other regions, they need to enhance their internal control and risk management abilities above the required standard.

Because the asset scale and business model vary based on the local economies in each city, the evaluation regulation will be different. If the investment in other regions is excessive, the CBRC will require a higher capital adequacy ratio; if the risk management does not match the fast growing asset scale, the CBRC will restrict the expansion of these city commercial banks. Thus, regulators support supra-regional expansion if the tier 2 banks meet the entire set of regulatory requirements.

China’s tier two banks are some of the more dynamic banks in China in terms of business models and innovation – they have had to be in order to compete with their larger counterparts that typically have much larger deposit bases and distribution networks.

The tier-2 banks are still focused on expanding their asset base and while supra-regional expansion will help them accomplish this, it is not the ultimate goal of the banks, at least not in the near future. The regulations do serve a valuable purpose to ensure that banks’ expansion is based on quality assets and business practices.  

 

 

As fixed interest rates in China start to loosen up, banks' bottom lines are starting to feel the pressure. According to the latest figures from China major banks’ annual reports, the net profits of China Mingsheng Banking Corp.(Minsheng), Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd.,(ICBC), Bank of China Ltd. (BOC) and Agricultural Bank of China (ABC) in the third quarter 2013 shrank on a YOY base. 

As shown in the graph below, the net profits growth rate of Minsheng, a relatively smaller bank, dropped dramatically almost 25% comparing with the same period last year, likely due to its relatively large interbank business, which was heavily affected by high interest rates in the middle of June. The high interest rates in China also had a big impact on ICBC. The banks' profitability growth rate dropped to around 7.5%.

Chinese Bank Profitability - Q3 2013

 

To a large extent, Asian banks are in a somewhat enviable position. China is certainly the economic giant of the region, and if China’s economy slows, it does have knock-on effects, yet, the economies of individual countries in Asia, while interdependent, often expand and contract quite independently. This can mean a bank facing slower growth in Indonesia, might look to the Philippines or Malaysia for expansion. 

Kapronasia attended the Battle of Quants Shanghai event on Nov. 13, 2013 in the newly launched Hongkou hedge fund park in Shanghai, China. There were two main topics that we discussed at the event: Chinese traders’ demands for trading platforms and key success factors for China's further economic reform.

Over the past 3 years, online banking in Asia has been growing rapidly. A recent survey indicates that the usage of Internet banking has increased by 28% across Asia in the past five years, and the frequency of online banking usage actually surpassed branch banking in 2012, meaning that people in Asia access their account more online today than they do in person.

In China, there are over 650 million registered online banking customers in the 11 listed Chinese banks, and the combined online transaction volume represents over 60% of total transactions. Systems have matured to keep pace; not only do they provide scalability to deal with the increased transaction volume, but offer increased functionality for online banking in China customers.

In the densely populated areas like Singapore, Taiwan, and India, internet banking makes doing your banking less time consuming. Ten years ago, you may have had to wait hours in your bank to do simple transactions; today, customers can pay bills, transfer money, and even purchase investment products online rather than waiting in a crowded line.

China's Online Banking Customers

 

Source: Cebnet, 2013

Although internet banking usage in Asia is high overall, individual countries have varied levels of online banking development. Among all the Asian countries, online banking penetration is particularly low in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, although there are signs of growth.

Online banking usage has started to grow rapidly in Indonesia since 2010, yet, of the 55 million Internet users, about 25% of the population, only 7% of these internet users actually do online banking, which indicates online banking is still relatively underdeveloped in Indonesia. Enhancements in the mobile online banking platforms including better security and ease of use, may help the industry attract more users and increase market penetration.

With the rapid modernization of companies, infrastructure and overall economies in Asia, Online banking in Asiawill continually show a steady growing trend in the next few years because it plays an important role by sharing the operational burden from branches, and provides more efficient service for customers. The current growing trend also predicts that online banking is slowly making branches less important, and its popularity will increase dramatically in the near future in Asia.

According to the latest figures from the People's Bank of China, the aggregate number of ATMs sold by top five international suppliers, including GRG, Hitachi, NCR, Yihua and Diebold, increased dramatically from 46,800 ATMs sold in 2010 to 73,090 sold in 2012, a roughly 56% growth.

What is interesting though is that the sales performance of Chinese ATM manufacturers including GRG and Yihua, has also been robust as well and in fact taking a larger percentage of overall ATM sales in mainland China. With a 20%+ increase year by year, Chinese ATM manufacturers have increased sales from 20,800 ATMs in 2010 significantly to 34,370 ATMs in 2012, a nearly 65% increase in 2 years. This is also reflected in the % of domestic ATMs sold as compared to the whole, which went from 44.44% in 2010 to 47.02% in 2012.

As the Chinese government starts encouraging the purchase of domestic ATMs, GRG and Yihua will likely continue to gain market share in the next few years to the detriment of the international players.  

Domestic players' ATM sales continue to rise in China

Over the past few weeks, the Shanghai Free Trade Zone (FTZ) has captured business headlines here in China and abroad as discussion continues about the impact that the zone will have on reform in China. As of October 30th, 208 companies have registered in the zone in just under one month, notably 36 in the asset management sector.

One of the early announcments was the commitment from Citibank and DBS to enter the zone. When we initially heard that these banks were so committed, we were a bit skeptical. Often foreign companies in China support government programs to better their relationship with the government. However, in the past couple of weeks, we have changed our view.

The FTZ itself, although the future reforms are somewhat unclear, will open up a number of immediate near-term opportunities for international banks in the shanghai free trade zone. These opportunities primarily revolve around non-reform related products and services:

Chinese Yuan / RMB fungibility – One of the key aspects of the zone will be what happens to Chinese Yuan (also known as RMB) fungibility or the ability to exchange RMB freely for other foreign currencies. Although it is a bit unclear exactly what exchange will be possible, the feeling is that some reforms to help open up convertibility will happen. At a minimum, a RMB system somewhat similar to the Hong Kong CNH where the RMB currency is held offshore and is essentially treated as a completely separate currency – although still limited by exchange restrictions.

Trade – Interestingly, although this is a fairly obvious one, as the Shanghai Pilot FTZ is currently setup somewhat like a mini-HK or offshore port, trade services for companies setup in the FTZ will either need to come from international banks within the FTZ or overseas banks. So if you think about this, currently, if you are a manufacturer in China, you would likely either be using a domestic bank or the domestic branch of a foreign bank for LCs, Loans, Bank Guarantees, etc.. If you are a manufacturer in the free trade zone however, you will need to have a bank either also in the free trade zone or overseas as the FTZ is essentially an offshore market.

Interest rate exposure – As a few industry experts have pointed out, interest rates in the FTZ do not have to necessarily be the same as those outside of the zone. While this may bring some somewhat challenging issues for corporates who are setting up in the zone to manage interest rate risk both in the zone and outside, it does offer banks an opportunity to provide interest rate related services and risk management tools to the corporates they serve in the zone. It will take some time before we can really determine what these might be, but certainly will be an opportunity.

Experience with reforms – Finally, by being in the zone, banks will learn through first hand experience how any reforms will change their industry. Although there is some debate as to how lined up the Chinese government is behind real reform, especially with the November plenary on the near horizon, but certainly any of the near-term reform will happen in the Shanghai FTZ at least as a test and then for further roll-out through-out the country. Banks that are there now will be able to test and try reform.

Good relations and good opportunities

So overall, it would be remiss to say that banks and companies like Microsoft, Citi and DBS are not entering the zone to better their relationships with the government, there certainly is some of that involved in their decision-making process. It is also clear that first movers will likely have better advantages in the long-term. What the examples above do show as well is that there are additional product and service opportunities for banks in what will be a relatively open and uncompetitive market – at least in the short term. 

Few initiatives in the past couple of years have captured the attention of China’s financial services community more than the recently opened Shanghai Free Trade Zone. Situated in the eastern part of Shanghai and encompassing 29km2 of land which, like the rest of Pudong, was all farmland as little as ten years ago.

In a heavily regulated market like China, it’s easy to point out what can’t be done, but sometimes difficult to identify what can be. Many banks look at the market and see it as being too difficult or as you might say in Chinese ‘mafan’ or troublesome. It is easy to look at any industry in China being like this, but what’s critical in the market is to find a unique opportunity and take advantage of it. For western banks, that could be the slow but steady internationalization of the RMB.

According to the figures from Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ ‘Chinese financial industry supervision report’, the official figures show the shadow banking industry reached an AUM at the end of 2012 of about CNY14.6tn, but other research shows that the actual market is much larger, about CNY20.5tn. The number is so large that it even takes 40% of GDP according to the numbers and 2013 is expected to be even higher.

The shadow banking system in China is not sufficiently regulated and often many of the products created are carry high risks which are not explained clearly to the investors. In general, a more regulated shadow banking system should be beneficial to the banks and investors in long-run. If the current issues were not solved effectively, then the dramatic volume increase could be a financial time bomb that might severely damage the Chinese economy and financial stability.   

Year 2012

Scale of Chinese shadow banking (CNYtn)

Proportion of GDP

Proportion of total asset of banking industry

Official data

14.6

29%

11%

Actual Market

20.5

40%

16%

 

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