Financial Industry Blog - Kapronasia

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. 

Recent figures from Eurekahedge showed that the general ROI of Asian hedge funds (10.1%) surpassed that of North American hedge funds (6.3%) and Europe hedge funds (5%) for the first 3 quarters of 2013. However, among Asian countries, Japanese and Chinese hedge funds have experienced relatively high ROI while Indian and South Korean hedge funds suffered from negative ROI. Market analysts suggested that, the high ROI from China is because of the sustained and relatively fast economic growth, while the high ROI for Japan is for the massive economic stimulation. 

Global Hedge Fund Performance

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.

The most recent Bankcard Consumer Confidence Index (BCCI) in China numbers show a continuing increase in consumer confidence since March 2013. According to the data released by China UnionPay (CUP) and Xinhua News Agency, the BCCI peaked at 86.69 in September; the BCCI has stayed high level for three months. It increased 0.89 compare to the same period in 2012 which is a positive sign that the macroeconomic environment is growing steadily in China, at least in the minds of consumers. 

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%

 

The Asian retail banking customer is changing. Increasingly wealthy and connected, customers want even more from their banks and are becoming picky about who they bank with to get it.

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.

Cash is always king and no more so than in China. Traditionally a very cash-based market with many High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI) skeptical of having someone else manage their money, wealth management got off to a slow start in China. It started with the establishment of few foreign private banking such as Citi Bank, UBS, and HSBC in China in 2006. In 2007, Bank of China was the first Chinese bank that established a private banking department in Beijing and Shanghai.

Business was slow initially for both foreign and domestic banks. Trust was a key factor – many HNWIs were not comfortable with someone else managing their money, much less a foreign bank, but the sophistication of services offered was also very low. Even today, the private banking business mainly provides consulting services for asset allocation and very little forward planning. Most banks push particular products rather than tailored financial plans that take into account not just a person or family’s financial situation, but their future life events.

Although wealth management is still in a nascent stage, the HNWI population in China has increased dramatically, reaching 700,000 by the end of 2012. In addition, the total AUM in Chinese private banks was 573.6 billion yuan in 2008, but is over 2 trillion yuan today. With this growing trend, we see the huge potential in the wealth management sector in the near future.

China’s large banks also see this opportunity and are focusing more and more on wealth management. The wealth management business does not only bring significant intermediate business income, but also provides an opportunity for organisations to re-structure their retail banking business. This has become especially important as it appears that regulators are finally going to reform interest rates. More flexible interest rates will mean that banks will face increased competition and be able to rely less and less on traditional spread income – this is where higher margin wealth management products and services can help.

Nevertheless, Chinese banks still need a long time to build trust with their customers. In western countries, many private banks already have more than a hundred years of history. Will Chinese banks accomplish the same in less than 90 years?   

 

Total Customers

Customer Growth Rate

AUM (Billion RMB)

Minimum Amount (Million RMB)

BOC

40000+

-

450

8

ABC

35000

12.90%

396

8

ICBC

26000+

18.18%

473.2

8

CCB

-

18.82%

-

10

CMB

19518

18.34%

434.2

10

Source: Bank Annual Reports, 2013 

According to a user survey on mobile banking security conducted by the CFCA (Communications Fraud Control Association), users’ assessment of how safe mobile banking is has really not changed since 2010. But are the users’ security concerns valid or do they arise from a lack of understanding of how mobile banking works? Perhaps even more so than mobile payments, mobile banking seems to provoke more worries as it seems more closely attached to their banking accounts; no one wants to the risk before they understand how it works.

There is some validity to the concerns. Although mobile banking accounts and nearly all  phones have passwords, they still cannot stop professional fraudsters. According to the Internet Security Report by Symantec, attacks on mobile phones have been increasing in recent years. Mobile hackers are possibly targeting users’ financial and personal information. With increased use of mobile financial services, banks will need to devote more effort in in eliminating these threats and customer concerns.

This is even more the case in Asia where mobile phone penetration is increasing faster than anywhere else in the world and millions of individuals are becoming ‘banked’ via mobile banking services. Although the region has pockets of very sophisticated and mature user bases, there are millions of rural users who may never have had a phone before much less mobile banking products and services.

In a fraud example that we found in China, one mobile banking user in China found 40,000 RMB (~US$6,700) missing from her bank account. An investigation with the bank revealed that someone used her phone number to report a lost mobile phone. After receiving her phone number, the fraudster transferred all of her deposits out of her account by using her mobile banking service.

Unfortunately these few examples of fraud stand out much more in the press and in consumers minds more than many examples of successful transactions. We have seen financial institutions put education programs in place as well as implementing new more secure versions of their mobile banking software.

But what have you seen? What ways have you seen Asian banks mitigate risk and security concerns and still drive consumer adoption?

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

China’s banking system was historically quite segregated: each of the original four state owned banks were created for a specific purpose. China Construction Bank was created to administer and distribute government funds for domestic infrastructure and construction projects, Agricultural Bank for farming / agriculture projects, etc..

The challenges these banks face as they expand both geographically and by business sector across China is not unlike supra-regional banks as they expand across Asia. One of the biggest challenges is Risk Management. Typically, existing risk management systems in many markets have been built and customized for their home markets, but may not be robust enough for foreign markets.

As an example, Chinese banks have, until recently, been operating in an environment with essentially fixed interest rates, so many of the risk management systems implemented in China never really had to adapt to a rate changing environment. These systems that had been customized for the mainland market might struggle in a more mature market such as Australia where a fully liberalized interest rate environment makes understanding loan profitability (in some cases even down to the individual loan level) very important.

In addition to the market risk that can be presented by newly liberalized interest rates, credit risk can be a challenge as banks may not be familiar with the operating status and financial standing of the enterprises in other countries. This makes it difficult to understand and manage credit risk effectively and increases the possibility of losses arising from credit risk.

Finally, as banks expand more rapidly, operational risk can increase if operational procedures and standards maybe involved if the rapid expansion leads to ineffective internal control. Differences in employee attitude and habits across culture can vary dramatically.  

All of these risk management issues can be identified and controlled, but it takes focus and consideration. Too often organisations look at new markets they fail to take this into account, but in this case, it could mean the success of a new country’s business or the failure.

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

A look at the key players and relationships in China’s mobile payments space

China’s expanding mobile payment market

By the end of 2012, there were more than 1.1 billion mobile phone users, and 360 million smartphone users in China representing both strong mobile phone penetration as well as a significant increase in smartphone penetration. With smartphones in the hands of more Chinese consumers, the mobile payment industry in China is nearing its watershed moment – as consumers increasingly use their mobile phones not only as communication devices, but payment tools.

Many countries in Asia have been traditionally cash and brick focused: customers have been used to holding and using physical cash and visiting the brick and mortar branches. That’s changing rapidly as competitive pressures and demands from an increasingly sophisticated customer base are driving banks to create a new normal in both business model and customer interaction. A key part of that transformation will come from self-service innovation, yet self-service means different things in different countries.

In Japan, regular bank ATMs actually have limited hours of service both during the week and on the weekends. Historically this has been down to increased costs in terms of security / safety of both the machines and people and less demand from customers outside of normal business hours, especially in rural areas.

A certain subset of Japanese customers however, have, over the years, increasingly looked for “Anytime, anywhere” banking services. In early 2007, Japanese Seven bank brought ATMs into Japanese 7-Eleven convenience stores; the integration was made easier by the fact that 7-Eleven stores and Seven Bank itself are both owned by Ito Yokado. Japan actually has the largest absolute number of 7-Eleven stores in the world so now customers can withdraw money any time of day or night with their debit and credit card in more than 18,000 ATMs installed in 7-Eleven stores in Japan.

These ATMs also process remittances from Japan to other countries allowing Seven bank’s customers to send money nearly anywhere in the world, at any time of the day. It provides a convenient cash service for their customers and also satisfies their remittance needs, which means a more satisfied customer and bank.

ATMs in China have never had challenges of hours as most of them, unless they run out of cash, run 24/7 in nearly all locations. What has changed is the functionality. 10 years ago if you wanted to transfer money from one person to another, you faced a potentially hour plus wait at your local bank branch and many times had to transact in cash unless you wanted to go through the paper work.

Today you can use a Chinese ATM to directly pay anyone who has an account with that bank. Further, even if you don’t know their account number, you can even input their mobile phone number if it is associated with the account.

Although many of the changes in self-service aren’t major, they are tailored to the local customers and what might be an issue in one geography might not be in another. They can also result in increased revenue, such as the surcharge on out of hours transactions at the 7-Elevens in Japan, and decreased costs, such as fewer branch visits in China’s case, but they aren’t one size fits all.

Many financial institutions have come to Asia with this ‘one size fits all’ mentality and really struggled to gain market share and drive business. Not having the right mix can result in decreased revenue and incredible costs from poor strategies, but can also alienate customers which gives the bank a different problem: not how to move customers to self-service, but even how to have customers in the first place.

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

According to the figures from the Securities Association of China, the assets under management and revenue earned by Chinese securities companies asset management businesses has grown dramatically from the 1h 2011 to the 1h 2013. The total AUM in the 1h 2013 is about 13.75 times of the figure in the 1h 2011, which reflects the thriving of client asset management business of securities companies in China.

One reason for that for the dramatic expansion is the demand from clients. As China has a growing number of high-net-worth individuals and the investment options are relatively narrow compared to western countries, asset management business provided by local securities companies are thought to be a good choice. Market analysts estimated that the figures will keep growing exponentially for the following few years; at least the current market is far below saturation. 

 

Client asset management business of Chinese securities companies CNYbn

 

1h 2011

2h 2011

1h 2012

2h 2012

1h 2013

Revenue earned by securities companies

0.898

1.215

1.044

1.632

2.88

Total AUM

248.673

281.868

480.207

1890

3420

 

Source: Securities Association of China, 2011-2013

In our previous commentary, we looked at the future of Bitcoin in China and its potential to become a widely adopted and used virtual currency. One aspect of its development which will be critical if the fledgling currency is to really gain traction is the maturation of Bitcoin as a transaction platform.

The growth of the property and housing market is a key part of Chinese economic growth, but at the same time, there is increasing worries of a major bubble.

The US Federal Reserve (Fed) announcement that it will continue the program of quantitative easing (QE) boosted the Asian stock market, but many now worry that this is only a temporary fix.

In February 2013, China became the second largest active Bitcoin market globally as measured by wallet downloads. This has attracted new Bitcoin based businesses to China and what could be a massive market for the developing virtual currency. An example is Bitfash, which was launched in April 2013 and became the first online shopping platform for clothes to accept Bitcoin as payment; one of its key target markets is China. However, will Bitcoin really take off in China? Can the Chinese consumer shift the value of the virtual currency as they did with gold earlier in 2013? What will the government eventually inevitably do to control the currency? It could be a potentially huge market, but will largely depend on its payment function development, the attitude of the Chinese government and the stability of Bitcoin's value.

In another of what is appearing to be a series of missteps for the HK bank in mainland China, the organisation has further alienated a key segment of their Chinese customer base by tripling basic account fees for mainland China SMEs. This comes on the heels of moving away from individual account managers and shifting any customer service for SMEs to automated help lines in 2011.

As China moves along its path of financial reform, starting with the interest rate reform and the Free Trade Zone (FTZ) in Shanghai, it is not hard to see equity investors moving towards Shanghai-based firms and FTZ-related firms.

According to the latest figure from the Shanghai Stock Exchange (SHSE) the trading volume of ETFs in SHSE increased dramatically from the beginning of 2012 to August 2013. It is quite obvious from the data that 2013 is far larger than the figure in 2012. The lowest point from this period is April 2012, when the ETF trading volume was only CNY16.232bn; The peak was in June, 2013, with a trading volume of CNY68.712bn, which is over 4 times compared to the figure at the bottom in 2012. Besides, the aggregate trading volume for the previous 8 months is CNY449.687bn, which is far larger than the whole year figure of 2012 of CNY302.658bn. As ETFs are very important components in investors’ portfolio, we estimate that there will be more ETFs launched and the trading volume could be larger as we close out 2013 and move into 2014.

 

China initiated its asset securitization program in 2005 for securities companies. However, after the subprime mortgage crisis swept over the globe, regulators in China temporarily stopped the program because although it provides liquidity to markets, securitization also comes with significant risks. In 2012, the asset securitization program was initiated once again with permission from the state council and the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC). Regulations were changed to allow for more types of asset securitization and the threshold for securities companies to enter was lowered. The following report provides a summary regarding the participants, regulations and current conditions within China’s asset securitization markets.

According to the latest figures from the CSRC, the number of securities investment funds for A-share market increased from 1,173 at the end of 2012 to 1,369 by the end of July, 2013. The structure of investors in Shanghai's A-share market has long been an interesting phenomenon for Chinese A-share market as individual investors comprise the major market force, which is thought to be a sign of a immature capital market. Currently, as the number of institutional investors is growing fast, it indicates to some extent that Chinese capital market is gradually developing towards the direction of a mature capital market, at least from the investor structure perspective.

 

Increasing number of institutional investors in Shanghai A-share market

Over the last few decades, the Chinese Central Bank has accumulated massive foreign exchange reserves making it the world’s largest holder at $3.44 trillion. Furthermore the expansion of these reserves, which has accelerated dramatically since 2000, has shown no signs of slowing. Figure one shows foreign reserve levels in China compared with Japan, the world’s second largest holder, along with the United States. Figure two shows the trajectory of China’s foreign reserve levels over the last three decades, which is now over 300 times larger than in 1980.

According to a 2013 publication by Goldman Sachs, there are still major differences between US and Chinese capital markets. The most prominent difference is that capital markets in the US are much larger than China’s in all sectors except for bank credit as shown in the figure below.

The Chinese banking credit sector has expanded in recent years which is now at 128% of China’s GDP compared with 48% in the US. Thus the Chinese economy is highly dependent on bank credit, which can be dangerous for the country in the coming years.

In other sectors, there are large gaps between the size of Chinese and US capital markets with the former still lagging behind the latter. Thus, there are many opportunities for China to develop its stock and fixed income markets, along with its insurance and asset management industries. Among these, the asset management industry seems to have the greatest growth potential.

 

China Capital Market differences 

 

 

On August 6, 2013, Chinese securities companies received ‘the notice of preparing the initiating stock options full simulating trading works’ sent by the Shanghai Stock Exchange. This information implies that SHSE is already fully prepared for the launching of stock options. Although there is no clear timetable for launching the stock options, it is likely that they will appear in Chinese capital markets in 2013 or 2014.

China’s Central Bank has been rapidly shifting towards full interest rate liberalization. On July 20th, 2013, The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) announced liberalizing the loan interest rate. With this announcement, the deposit interest rate ceiling is the last variable waiting to be liberalized in China.

With interest rates liberalization now on the horizon, competition in deposit interest rates is heating up. Many joint-stock banks have recently increased their long term deposit interest rates about 10%. Everbright Bank increased its 2-year term deposit interest rate from 3.75% to 4.125%, 3-year term deposit interest rate from 4.25% to 4.675%, and 5-year term deposit interest rate from 4.75% to 5.125%. It will be effective until the end of 2013. Since 2012, many city commercial banks have increased their deposit interest rate. We can see the interest rate liberalization trend, and it is currently affecting China’s banking sector from local banks to joint-stock banks, and maybe state-owned banks in the near future.

Increased Bank Deposit Rates in China 

 

 

Throughout the history of capital markets in China, public listings, or IPOs in the Chinese A-share market have been suspended 8 times; we are currently in the 8th suspension period. The modern Chinese stock market is only about 23 years old and of that, IPOs have been suspended for nearly four and a half years, which makes up almost 20% of the market's history. There is still no actual timetable to reopen the IPO market, but according to some market information, it could be possible at some time in August or September, 2013.

China is already the second largest economy in the world, however, RMB has really not been fully accepted as a payment currency internationally, which most view as a prerequisite to 'RMB internationalization'.

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