Banking in the People's Republic of China

Banking in the People's Republic of China

China's banking system has undergone significant changes in the last two decades: banks are now functioning more like banks than before. Nevertheless, China's banking industry has remained in the government's hands even though banks have gained more autonomy. WTO has accepted China. The central bank of the People's Republic of China is the People's Bank of China.

The "big four" state-owned commercial banks are the Bank of China, the China Construction Bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and the Agricultural Bank of China.



Supervisory bodies

The People's Bank of China (PBOC) is China’s central bank, which formulates and implements monetary policy. The PBOC maintains the banking sector's payment, clearing and settlement systems, and manages official foreign exchange and gold reserves. It oversees the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) for setting foreign-exchange policies.

According to the 1995 Central Bank law, PBOC has full autonomy in applying the monetary instruments, including setting interest rate for commercial banks and trading in government bonds. The State Council maintains oversight of PBOC policies.

China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) was officially launched on April 28, 2003, to take over the supervisory role of the PBOC. The goal of the landmark reform is to improve the efficiency of bank supervision and to help the PBOC to further focus on the macro economy and currency policy.

According to the official Announcement by CBRC posted on its website, the CBRC is responsible for "the regulation and supervision of banks, asset management companies, trust and investment companies as well as other deposit-taking financial institutions. Its mission is to maintain a safe and sound banking system in China."

Domestic key players

State-owned commercial banks – The ‘Big Four’

In 1995, the Chinese Government introduced the Commercial Bank Law to commercialize the operations of the four state-owned banks, the Bank of China (BOC), the China Construction Bank (CCB), the Agricultural Bank of China (ABC), and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC).

The Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) is the largest bank in China by total assets, total employees and total customers. ICBC differentiates itself from the other State Owned Commercial Banks by being second in foreign exchange business and 1st in RMB clearing business. It used to be the major supplier of funds to China's urban areas and manufacturing sector.

The Bank of China (BOC) specializes in foreign-exchange transactions and trade finance. In 2002, BOC Hong Kong (Holdings) was successfully listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The USD2.8 billion offering was over-subscribed by 7.5 times. The deal was a significant move in the reform of China’s banking industry.

The China Construction Bank (CCB) specializes in medium to long-term credit for long term specialized projects, such as infrastructure projects and urban housing development.

The Agriculture Bank of China (ABC) specializes in providing financing to China's agricultural sector and offers wholesale and retail banking services to farmers, township and village enterprises (TVEs) and other rural institutions.

Policy banks

Three new "policy" banks, the Agricultural Development Bank of China (ADBC), China Development Bank (CDB), and the Export-Import Bank of China (Chexim), were established in 1994 to take over the government-directed spending functions of the four state-owned commercial banks. These banks are responsible for financing economic and trade development and state-invested projects.

ADBC provides funds for agricultural development projects in rural areas; the CDB specializes in infrastructure financing, and Chexim specializes in trade financing.

Second tier commercial banks

In addition to the big four state-owned commercial banks, there are smaller commercial banks. The largest ones in this group include the Bank of Communications, China CITIC Bank, China Everbright Bank, Hua Xia Bank, China Minsheng Bank, Guangdong Development Bank, Shenzhen Development Bank, China Merchants Bank, Shanghai Pudong Development Bank and Industrial Bank. The second tier banks are generally healthier in terms of asset quality and profitability and have much lower non-performing loan ratios than the big four.

City commercial banks

The third significant group in Chinese banking market is the city commercial banks. Many of them were founded on the basis of urban credit cooperatives. The first one was Shenzhen City Commercial Bank in 1995. In 1998, PBOC announced that all urban cooperative banks change their name to city commercial bank. And there are 69 city commercial banks set up from 1995 to 1998. In 2005 there were 112 city commercial banks[1] in all of China. This number has increased through additional transformations to 140 in 2009. Most city commercial banks have strong ties to their local government and are majority or wholly state owned. Since 2005 some city commercial banks diversify their shareholders, inviting Chinese and international private companies to take minority shares, merging and cross-shareholding. Some of the banks have listed their shares. The city commercial banks market orientation is towards supporting the regional economy, but also towards financing local infrastructure and other government projects. Since 2008 a strong trend has emerged for city commercial banks to extend business beyond their home region. They are also often the main shareholder behind village and township banks (VTB). Some have founded so called small loans units to serve smaller business clients better. Taizhou City Commercial Bank, Bank of Beijing and Bank of Ningbo are examples for city commercial banks.

Trust and investment corporations

In the midst of the reforms of the 1980s, the government established some new investment banks that engaged in various forms of merchant and investment banking activities. However, many of the 240 or so international trust and investment corporations (ITICs) established by government agencies and provincial authorities experienced severe liquidity problems after the bankruptcy of the Guangdong International Trust and Investment Corporation (GITIC) in late 1998. The largest surviving ITIC is China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC), which has a banking subsidiary known as China CITIC Bank.

Reforms in the banking industry

Years of government-directed lending has presented Chinese banks with large amounts of non-performing loans. According to the Central Bank’s report, non-performing loans account for 21.4% to 26.1% of total lending of China’s four big banks in 2002. In 1999, four asset management companies (AMC) were established to transfer the non-performing assets from the banks. The AMCs plan to repackage the non-performing loans into viable assets and sell them off to the investors.

PBOC has encouraged banks to diversify their portfolios by increasing their services to the private sector and individual consumers. In July 2000, a personal credit rating system was launched in Shanghai to be used to assess consumer credit risk and set ratings standards. This is an important move in developing China’s consumer credit industry, and increase bank loans to individuals.

The central government has allowed several small banks to raise capital through bonds or stock issues. Followed the listing of Shenzhen Development Bank and Pudong Development Bank, China Minsheng Bank, then the only private bank in China, was listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange (A-Share) in December 2000. More Chinese banks are expected to list in the next two years in order to raise capital.

The reform of the banking system has been accompanied by PBOC’s decision to decontrol interest rates. Market-based interest rate reform is intended to establish the pricing mechanism of the deposit and lending rates based on market supply and demand. The central bank would continue to adjust and guide the interest rate development, which allows the market mechanism to play a dominant role in financial resource allocation.

The sequence of the reform is to liberalize the interest rate of foreign currency before that of domestic currency, lending before deposit, large amount and long term before small amount and short term. As a first step, the PBOC liberalized the interest rates for foreign currency loans and large deposits (US$3 million and over) in September 2000. Rate for deposits below US$3 million remain subject to PBOC control. In March 2002, the PBOC unified foreign currency interest rate policies for Chinese and foreign financial institutions in China. Small foreign exchange deposits of Chinese residents with foreign banks in China were included in the PBOC interest rate administration of small foreign exchange deposits, so that domestic and foreign financial institutions are treated fairly with regard to the interest rate policy of foreign exchange deposits.

As interest rate liberalization progressed, the PPOC liberalized, simplified or abandoned 114 categories of interest rates initially under control since 1996. At present, 34 categories of interest rates remain subject to PBOC control. The full liberalization of interest rates on other deposit accounts, including checking and saving accounts, is expected to take much longer. On the lending side, market-determined interest rates on loans will first be introduced in rural areas and then followed by rate liberalization in cities.

Credit and Debit cards

By the end of the first quarter of 2009, about 1,888,374,100 (1.89 billion) bank cards have been issued in China. Of these cards, 1,737,901,000 (1.74 billion) or 92% were debit cards, while the rest (150,473,100, or 150.5 million) were credit cards.[2] In 2010 China had over 2.4 billion bankcards in circulation growing approximately 16% from the end of 2009. [3]

At the end of 2008, China had approximately 1.84 million POS machines and 167,500 ATMs. About 1.18 million merchants in China accept banking cards.[4]

At the end of 2008, there were 196 issuers in China that issue China UnionPay-branded cards.[4] These issuers include the ‘big four’ banks (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the Bank of China, China Construction Bank, and the Agricultural Bank of China), as well as fast-growing second tier banks and city commercial banks, and even some foreign banks with local operations.

Most of China's state-owned commercial banks now issue dual-currency cards, allowing cardholders to purchase goods within China in RMB and overseas in US dollars (Visa/MasterCard/AmEx/JCB), Euros (Visa/MasterCard), Australian dollars (MasterCard), or Japanese yen (JCB). However, only Bank of China provides yen and Australian dollar-denominated credit cards.

According to a 2003 research study by VISA, the average per transaction purchase with a card was USD 253. Consumers used their credit cards mainly to purchase houses, vehicles, and home appliances, as well as to pay utility bills.

One major issue is the lack of a national credit bureau to provide credit information for banks to evaluate individual loan applicants. In 2002, the Shanghai Information Office and the People’s Bank of China Shanghai branch established the first personal credit data organization involving 15 commercial banks. The Chinese Government, aiming to promote a nationwide credit system, has also set up a credit system research group. At present, large cities, such as Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chongqing, and Chengdu, are calling for a reliable credit data system. The PBOC is currently evaluating the feasibility of establishing a nationwide credit bureau.

Other obstacles include lack of merchant acceptance and a weak infrastructure for card processing. At present, only 2% of merchants in China are equipped to handle card transactions, although in some major cities like Shanghai the percentage is over 30%. China UnionPay was established to set up a national processing network connecting merchants and banks. China UnionPay has set up bankcard network service centers in 18 cities in addition to a national bankcard information switch center.

Products and services in the credit card system that the Chinese government wants to develop are credit card-related hardware, including POS and ATMs, credit card-related software for banks and merchants; and Credit and risk management training programs.

Foreign banks

China’s entry into the WTO is expected to create opportunities for foreign banks. As a milestone move to honor its WTO commitments, China released the Rules for Implementing the Regulations Governing Foreign Financial Institutions in the People’s Republic of China in January 2002. The rules provide detailed regulations for implementing the administration of the establishment, registration, scope of business, qualification, supervision, dissolution and liquidation of foreign financial institutions. They also stipulate that foreign bank branches conducting full aspects of foreign-currency business and full aspects of RMB business to all categories of clients are required to have operating capital of at least 600 million RMB (USD$ 72.3 million), of which at least 400 million RMB (USD$48.2 million) must be held in RMB and at least 200 million RMB (USD$24.1 million) in freely convertible currency.

Client restriction on foreign currency business was lifted immediately after China’s entry into the WTO on December 11, 2001. Since then, foreign financial institutions have been permitted to provide foreign currency services to Chinese enterprises and individuals, and have been permitted to provide local currency business to all Chinese clients by the end of 2006. In 2007 five non-mainland banks were allowed to issue bank cards in China, with Bank of East Asia also allowed to issue UnionPay credit cards in the mainland (United Overseas Bank and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group have only issued cards in their home countries; they are not yet allowed to issue cards within the mainland). In May 2009 Woori Bank became the first Korean bank allowed to issue UnionPay debit cards on the mainland (it issues UnionPay credit cards in Korea only).

Furthermore, when China entered the WTO, geographic restrictions placed on RMB-denominated business was phased out in four major cities—Shanghai, Shenzhen, Tianjin and Dalian. Then, on December 1, 2002, foreign-funded banks were allowed to commence RMB-denominated business in Guangzhou, Zhuhai, Qingdao, Nanjing and Wuhan.

Electronic banking

In 1994, China started the "Golden Card Project," enabling cards issued by banks to be used all over the country through a network. The establishment of the China Association of Banks rapidly promoted the inter-bank card network and by the end of 2004, the inter-region-inter-bank network had reached 600 cities, including all prefecture-level cities and more than 300 economically developed county-level cities.

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies. [1]

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