Strategy and Positioning of Supra-regional Banks

Written by Fay Zhou || 15 Oct 2013

Although the Asian banking market presents a tremendous opportunity for banks, it is also increasingly competitive as smaller banks grow and innovate to compete against their large rivals. This competition, coupled with slowing growth in many countries is pushing large domestic banks to start looking abroad outside of their home countries. China’s Industrial Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), Hong Kong’s Bank of East Asia (BEA) and Singapore’s Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) are great examples of domestic heavyweights who are rapidly expanding across the region.

So the reasons for expanding are fairly clear, but what about the strategies? How are banks able to justify expansion, at least in the short-term? If we look historically, many of the Japanese banks that initially expanded overseas in the 1970s and 1980s for access to deals as their customers moved abroad; we’re seeing much of the same trend today.

Although the Chinese banks started expanding for access to new f/x markets, but are increasingly following their Chinese customers as those firms also expand to ‘escape’ domestic competition and slowing demand in their home markets.

Facing almost the opposite problem, Taiwanese banks have been eager to enter the mainland China market for nearly a decade as their domestic market is relatively small and very saturated. Yet, similarly to Chinese banks, Taiwanese banks are looking to first enter the market to support their domestic customers who are represented by some of the largest manufacturers in the world like Foxcon, makers of most of the world’s iphones.

So following existing customers into new markets seems to be a good strategy to enter a new market, but what about positioning and expanding once you get there? That is actually where the challenge lies and where both supra-regional banks and global banks often struggle. How do you differentiate? How do you position your product?

Using China as an example, regulations on banking products and services for foreign banks are pretty controlled which doesn’t leave much scope to compete or innovate in terms of product scope or breadth, but where we have seen banks be more successful is looking at different underserved markets like rural banking.

BEA and HSBC in particular have been working with the government and regulators to follow the ‘go west’ policy and tap those new markets. Although the jury is still out on whether the strategy will be successful, it has helped the banks better their relationships with key stakeholders like the regulators and has positioned the two banks differently in the market.

How about you? What have you seen work in Asia? What are banks doing to successfully compete outside their home country?

This blog is part of the Oracle / Kapronasia series on Future Finance. For more information, please visit the Future Finance blog at here.

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