Asia Financial Industry Blog

Shanghai Stock Exchange and China Securities Index co.ltd announced that the new TMT (Technology, Media and Telecom) industry index and national defense indices would be released on December 25th, 2013.

Kapronasia began researching Bitcoin in China in August 2013. Our Bitcoin in China report released on September 18th mentioned that in the future there would be two factors that really influence the fate of Bitcoin in China: the Chinese government’s attitude towards Bitcoin and Bitcoin’s acceptance as a method of payment, at least initially, by merchants.

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.  

 

 

December 16 2013

China 2013 in (brief) Review

Written by

2013 will remembered as an incredibly dynamic year for China’s financial services industry. From the increasing number of hedge funds in the market to the emergence and regulation of Bitcoin, industry observers, investors, participants and regulators have had their work cut out for them keeping up with the market.

The year started out with the prospects of a new government taking a new stance on reforming what had been a highly regulated financial services industry; we weren’t disappointed. Regulators unveiled a reform agenda both at the fall plenary session and throughout the year that has, and will have, a significant impact on interest rate reform, capital market investment in and out of China and the financial industry as a whole. Although some of the measures are still somewhat vague, some of the implementations, including the removal of the floor on lending rates, have already have a significant impact on banking profitability – it will be a new market in 2014.

China's finance in 2013 also brought an increased focus on development zones and centers. Opened to much fanfare, but little detail, the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone (FTZ) was formally established in late September. Although it is still early days, if news reports and indications from the regulators are to be believed, the FTZ promises to be a new test-bed of reform for ‘value-add’ services similar to what Shenzhen was to the manufacturing / production industry in the late 70s and early 80s; arguably, one of the most important developments in China’s economic history. Smaller initiatives such as the Hongkou Hedge Fund Center in Shanghai sought to make it easier for hedge funds to enter the market and trade on China’s expanding base of capital markets products.

And last but certainly not least, we would be remiss if we didn't touch on Bitcoin. Chinese investors and tech enthusiasts were truly ‘chomping at the bit’ in 2013 as Bitcoin went from a little known US$13 cryptocurrency, to a US$1,000 potential economic destabilizer. China topped the world in Bitcoin wallets in May 2013 and then surpassed that again in November with over 150,000 wallet downloads. With the world’s biggest Bitcoin exchange and increasing popularity, China had little choice but to weigh in on the matter and in early December the People’s Bank of China annouced that Bitcoin was not a currency, banks could not deal in it, yet it could continue to be used in China. The price of Bitcoin fell, only to rise almost immediately afterward.

Will the sequel to 2013 in 2014 be as exciting? Will Xi Jinping continue to push reforms? Can the PBOC accept Bitcoins as a legitimate currency? Whatever happens, 2014 will be another dynamic year for Chinese markets and we’ll be here every step of the way to help you understand what’s happening in China’s financial services industry. 

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

 

With a wide range of channel choices for retail customers, banks need to be aware of the usage and preferences for each channel which can vary for multiple reasons including the purpose of the transaction, complexity and where the person is from.

On the digital channel, customers usually require a fast and convenient service such as simple transaction or checking an account balance, but for branch service, customers, especially affluent customers require tailored personal interactions such as loan servicing, investment advice, and other complex transactions.

In self-service channels, Asian customers not only need a convenient and easy channel, but also a personalized interactive service to increase their loyalty to the bank as competition is rising and switching costs are lowering, especially in the wealth management space.

These wealthier customers produce higher value for banks, and usually they have a wide range of choices on banking services. In Asia, affluent customers show greater loyalty to their banks, while in most European countries and the U.S., affluent customers have relatively lower loyalty to their banks. Thus, maintaining affluent customers is important for banks to generate higher revenues.

Citi, one of the major players in Asia's wealth management space offers tailored services in Singapore. Their Citigold service provides a dedicated center for nonresident Indians. The personalized interaction improved the loyalty from their affluent customers because Citigold satisfied nonresident Indians’ special requirement on banking services.

However, China is showing a significant gap between affluent and mass-market customers on loyalty because the affluent customers receive much better service from their bank than mass-market customers do.

Banks should not only rely on channel innovation but also focus on improving service on the existing channels. Maintaining the existing affluent customers with tailored service is crucial to the bank since the affluent customers will continually show a high loyalty to their banks in Asia, but enhancing a required service or product for mass-market customers through different bank channels will also increase the overall customer loyalty.  

Customer Channel Preferences in Asia

Hongkou is a geographic district in Shanghai, on the west side of the Huangpu River, north of the center of Shanghai and close to Pudong District. The Hongkou Hedge Fund Park was officially established on Oct. 18, 2013, as the first test-bed specifically for developing local hedge fund industry and introducing foreign hedge funds in China. Through market reforms and special incentives, the Hongkou government hopes to make the Hedge Fund Park a key part of Shanghai, and indeed China’s, hedge fund industry.

yuebaoThe latest figures from Tianhong Asset Management show that the AUM (asset under management) of Yu’ebao deposits, the currency market fund which is co-launched by Alibaba and Tianhong on 13 June, 2013, has rocketed from June 13th to November 14th, 2013, from 0 to CNY100B. Now Yu’ebao is the largest fund in China leveraging it's enormous Taobao, T-mall and Alipay customer base.

The success story of Yu’ebao has not only encouraged the Chinese IT giants and online payment providers to enter the asset management market, but also is a worry to the traditional asset management firms. Currently, most public funds in China sell their products on their own websites or choose to cooperate with the online platforms to sell their products. Asset managers do recognise the benefit of selling funds online including low cost and convenience, but struggle as they simply just do not have the customer base of Alibaba/Alipay.

Date   13 June 30 June  9 Sept  14 Nov
AUM (CNYB)  6.6  55.65  100

From purchasing property with Bitcoins, to the world’s largest Bitcoin exchange, to incredible mining operations, China over the past few months has become the largest Bitcoin market in the world and a key part of the Bitcoin story.

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. 

This is a great image from Fiatleak.com that shows the global flow of Bitcoins to various countries sourced from data from the world's biggest Bitcoin exchanges. Go to their site to see the real-time animated image, which is rightly described as a bit hypnotic. 

20131118 BitcoinFlows

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.

The Asian Retail banking business has developed rapidly in the past two decades as both economies and businesses have increased in sophistication and wealth. Japan is still the largest retail banking market in Asia, however, China will surpass Japan to be the largest in Asia in 2015.

Bitcoin acceptance in China has now extended into real estate with a residential developer in Zhangjiang Hi-Tech park in Shanghai finding a new way to promote sales through the acceptance of Bitcoin virtual currency.

Shanda Group, one of the large IT giants in China, through its real estate development arm, opened sales of its first real estate investment project on October 25th, 2013. 300 apartments in the soon to be built buildings ranging from 42-81sqm were available for sale and sold out in a few minutes as demand far outstripped supply.

Buying property with Bitcoin in ChinaHere's to a happy prosperous buying future with Bitcoin

As part of the promotion, Shanda accepted Bitcoins for payment. Although the exchange rate was ‘fixed’ at 1,000 Chinese Yuan (CNY) to one Bitcoin and the developer reserved the right to adjust the rate, the deal represents one of the first times that Bitcoin could be used for such a large scale 'public' purchase. The exchange rate was about 1,200 CNY : 1 Bitcoin on BTCChina that day, so the developer was obviously trying to hedge a bit in case Bitcoin fell through, but considering the rate is rapidly reaching nearly 2,000 CNY : 1 Bitcoin, it would have been a great deal for the developer – Bitcoin is one of the few investments in China that has been increasing faster than real estate in 2013.

The program was specific for the Zhangjiang Hi-Tech park as there are, as you would expect, a number of high-tech companies in the zone with younger workers would presumably be more aware of and in-touch with Bitcoin. The advertised price for the apartments was between 21,000-28,000 CNY / sqm, which is roughly what you might expect, if not a bit cheap.

Bitcoin Opening Ceremony

The current run-up in the price of Bitcoin is an indicator of the interest in the currency, but is likely largely due to speculation. However, examples like this property development show how Bitcoin could be used for non-speculative purposes in nearly every industry. Regular bank transactions to pay for property would typically involve a stack of paperwork and likely a solid afternoon in the bank. With Bitcoin, the transaction could be completed in minutes.

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.

The Alipay Wallet 7.6, which was rolled out on October 29, 2013, provides over 30 functions and services. It is reported that the launch of this new Alipay Wallet has extended its services in new areas and provides some significant benefits to consumers. Among these services, the most innovative are “payment with soundwave technology”, “transferred payment with emotional feelings”, “payment by snapping payment cards”, “Official Accounts” and “loading money into on-purpose campus card”.  

Payment with Soundwave Technology

The application of soundwave technology in Alipay Wallet with smartphones allows consumers to make payments conveniently even when there is no 3G or Wi-Fi signal, such as at subway vending machines. By holding the phone close to the payment receiver on the vending machine, the phone can authenticate and authorize payment via sound.

Alipay has already setup relationships with eleven vending machine operators that cover about 90% of the Chinese market. At the end of 2013, this soundwave technology will be used in over 50% subway vending machines.

In addition, soundwave technology can also be used to purchase movie tickets.  After paying for movie tickets from Alipay wallet, consumers can get tickets by releasing noise generated by smartphones which will be recognized by ticket machines in the cinema.  

“Transferred Payments with Emotional Feelings”

To provide a more ‘humanized experience’, the Alipay Wallet 7.6 allows users to use personalized icons and voice messages when transferring payments. Unlike a payment that might come across saying ‘You have received 100RMB’, users can now choose from abundant personalized icons or leave voice messages with the receiver when conducing payment transmission. This may not seem that interesting, but in China, a lot of business is conducted over instant messenger and phone chat where emoticons and electronic signals of feeling are important, it does add an interesting element.  However, it should be noted that the new function only supports payments within Alipay.

Payments by Snapping Bank Payment Cards

The new Alipay Wallet has an enhanced “code scanning” function. In addition to existing scanning QR codes, bar code, tracking numbers, it offers service of scanning bank payment cards. This new function can distinguish information automatically including issuing banks, types of banks, card numbers, which make it convenient for users to transfer money.  In addition, it adds function to pay off credit card bills automatically.  Currently users can use Alipay Wallet to inquire credit card bills of 14 different banks. In addition, as long as the automatic payments function is active, Alipay Wallet will pay off credit card bills automatically 5 days before the deadline and will inform users by free text message.

Official Accounts

Official Accounts connects consumers directly with merchant accounts through the app for services. Basically the “Official Accounts” includes around 10 banks, such as Industrial Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), China Merchant Banks (CMC), Agriculture Bank of China (ABC) and etc; three most famous telecom operators of China Unicom, China Mobile and China Telecom; and other merchants such as, McCafe, One Foundation, hospitals etc.

Within banking accounts, Alipay Wallet offer users’ inquires into balance, inquiries on account transaction details and inquiries on bank outlets. From telecom operators’ accounts, customers can inquire their bills and alternate mobile phone packages. Moreover, Alipay Wallet’s cooperation with McCafe, hospitals and other merchants, make it convenient for customers to recoup the coupons, pre-register, register in hospitals, as well as enjoy other services.

Loading Money into single-purpose Campus Card

Another new feature of Alipay Wallet is for university students. Instead of finding a recharge machine, students can load money into their 'on-purpose' campus card directly by Alipay Wallet. There are currently around 20 universities in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Suzhou, cooperate with Alipay for this service.

Key Thoughts

The new Alipay wallet 7.6 is an interesting development. Many of the functions make a lot of sense to just about anyone around the world - like the soundwave technology. The others, like the 'emotional payments', might seem a bit different, but are very tailored to meet the needs of the local users which has been one of Alibaba's keys to success across all of its platforms and it's where foreign players have often struggled in the past. 

The U.S. Government Shutdown and Its Impact

The shutdown of the U.S. government ended as the two U.S. political came to an agreement to delay the decision to January-February of 2014. This means that the global market instability will likely still be on-going until the beginning of next year. This also means that the U.S. market may not be as lucrative and attractive as before, as critical decisions regarding the debt ceiling and government funding are still not solved.

It is important to figure out the impacts of the incident on Chinese economy, as the U.S. and China are the world’s number 1 and 2 economies with strong ties. The index trends in East Asia, oil consumptions and imports by China, and geo-political status of China are all important aspects to consider to understand the impact.

Market Change after the End of Shutdown

Shanghai CSI Peformance

The Chinese stock index fell right after the announcement of the end of the government shutdown, while other East Asian and Southeast Asian market indexes rose. Although, it is hasty to conclude that China had served as a ‘refugee market’ or as an alternative to the U.S. market just from that factor, one could draw certain implications that people were shifting their investments in and out of the US / China as a the appeal of each market shifted.

U.S. – China Relations from multiple angles

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s latest report, China surpassed the U.S. in terms of oil imports in September, due to oil consumption surpassing production. Part of the reason behind this is that the U.S. has been decreasing the total import of crude oil – China is replacing the U.S. demand. If this trend continues, and the decrease of oil price also continues, China will benefit from the outcome by stabilizing the export production cost, but at the same time become more susceptible to the oil price. The economic ties with the U.S. has to be a factor here, as crude oil imports to China are used for the refined oil products and the production of manufacturing goods that go to other nations around the world. Since the U.S. is the biggest individual nation in terms of absorbing Chinese exports, the susceptibility will only be counterbalanced when Chinese exports are sold with minimum hindrance.

China's Oil ImportsThe ultimate factor, however, is the sovereign debt of the U.S. held by China. In 2011 China already became the top US Debt HoldersU.S. government debt holder, accounting for the 8 percent of total U.S. public debt. Even in percentage terms the figure is very high. As long as the U.S. has the economic power to pay back the interest and return the principal for the matured bonds, both the U.S. and China have little to worry about. However, the current talks on debt ceiling and budget talk have changed the atmosphere. For the U.S. when a single country has such high debt in time of financial instability is one more thing to worry about. For China, it is now holding a potential time bomb – even though the chance of the U.S. default is very low, the lessened credibility of the U.S. government bonds means the future investment channel is narrowed. The portfolio of Chinese government requires changes, and the currently-held debt needs to be reevaluated in terms of the possibility of return. Chinese government needs to diversify its risk coming from the U.S. instability.

Geo-Political Movements of China

As China is a well-known politically stable country with one party system, at the moment of the U.S. instability, the characteristic is clearly a benefit to China. However, in modern economy, nations maintain close political and economic relationship. This means the U.S. instability will have a likely negative impact on China.

Then the question we have to ask is how much impact the U.S. instability will have on Chinese economic growth. It is possible that China would not be able to enjoy high growth rates it used to for the next 3 to 4 months, as the U.S. is one of the top 3 markets for China. If the U.S. market is not able to consume as many goods as it used to be due to the instability, China will face further reduced exports. These exports alone represent about one fourth of the total GDP, and the net export is about one eighth of the total GDP. Therefore, if China export to the U.S. slows by a considerable amount because of the instability, the consequence for China will not be great. Whether it was done to counter such consequence is not clear, but the president Xi and the premier Li’s meetings with the leaders of ASEAN nations can be seen as a type of insurance for China. This will not only increase the geo-political strength of China, thus further stabilizing regional politics, but also create more economic ties with the region to divert exports and investment channels.

However, so far the “magnet of economy” is still at the U.S. market, and the power of the magnet is very strong. In other words, the determinant of global market trends is the U.S. and that fact will be the key to the Chinese economic prospects. The geo-political factor of Southeast Asia is not yet strong enough to counterbalance the current instability formed in the U.S. market and politics.

Possible “Next Steps” for China

The Chinese market may not show a sudden change, but the prolonged instability will certainly diminish the economic strength that China has been showing for a couple of decades. This means China has to prepare for certain changes that could affect its future growth. Before the shutdown, there had been worries on the U.S. Federal Reserve’s (the Fed) tapering on quantitative easing. Now the concern on the U.S. budget and debt ceiling talks adds more worries to developing nations. Nations including China will have to worry about whether to focus on development as they have been doing, or to focus on stabilizing the domestic economy and strengthening the weak links within their own economy. As the government shutdown caused economic instability, the Fed will most likely continue its quantitative easing to secure economic conditions for now. That does not mean the instability of the Fed’s tapering is removed, because it is like the status of the U.S. budget talk: the quantitative easing is only a temporary solution.

Even though China has a huge domestic market, in time of economic instability, the driving force of economy is hard to find. Export is not going to help China go through this hard time as the whole world is suffering together, and domestic consumption growth is still up in the air. In September, Chinese exports faced an unexpected year on year drop. When looking at the income of Chinese people, that does not seem to help increase domestic consumption. Other possible economic boosts such as government spending or investment are still viable options, but the question is “how long and how much the Chinese government and corporates are willing to put money into it?”

Not only that, China also faces the question of liberalization of the market. China has shown strong commitment to liberalize and open up further to the global market, especially in financial and trade sectors. The recent interest rate reform and Shanghai Free Trade Zone were two of the examples that have shown Chinese commitment through action. Since there is instability in the global market, the economy will not be as energetic enough as Chinese government expected it to be for its liberalization process. This means that China can cut its effort down to open up the market and slow down the pace of economic expansion. This could be a problem if the investors around the world, who think China will still show strong growth, find out about the policy changes in China. Even if the investors have anticipated the slowdown, the actual impact of Chinese slowdown will be massive, considering the size of Chinese economy.

Also, Chinese government external debt has increased significantly in recent 10 years, more than tripling since 2002. China has funded many projects through debt, and if the economic expansion diminishes, it will adversely affect the debt / deficit balance in China. The Chinese government will have a harder time borrowing money at the same interest rate, and have a harder time paying back debts as the profit from projects diminishes due to the domestic economic slowdown and the global economic recession. Then the government projects will have to face the new consequence of either reduction in size or complete shutdown, and overall investment and financial inflow will diminish, which can be a vicious cycle. Even though Chinese government will put extra effort to prevent such cycle, the diminishing trend is inevitable.

However, It could be a good opportunity for China in terms of restructuring its domestic economic design. Rather than focusing too much on expansion and growth, China can restructure its economy through strengthening small and medium enterprises, or increase the consumers’ purchasing power. The latter might be a harder task for China, as it includes increased welfare, restructuring of wage systems, and implementation of social safe-nets – this is even hard for other developed nations. However, strengthening SMEs is achievable through several banking reforms that would either guide banks to give more access for SMEs to capital, or allow more commercial and private banks to open up and target SMEs as major customers.

China’s Possible Direction

Overall, China is facing a key decision-making period as the U.S. economic power is in question due to the prolonged debt ceiling and budget talks. With strong economic ties to the U.S., China faces trade-offs: whether to continue its economic expansion policies or to restructure its economy. It will be detrimental for China to continue the expansion as there will be no country to be able to support such moves economically. Especially when the world’s number 1 economy is unstable, the scenario is highly unlikely. Hence China will stay low and withhold any further reforms that can tip off the balance. Possible policies could be to strengthen domestic markets, but even then, the implementation of policies will not come fast, as the instability from the U.S. is not predicted beforehand. Nevertheless, this can be the valid option for China at this moment – the restructuring is an inevitable process for a developing nation. 

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. 

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.

Page 19 of 24