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Lenders ramp up fintech investments for growth impetus

By Jiang Xueqing | China Daily | Updated: 2020-04-15 09:11
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Customers interact with a smart robot outside a China Construction Bank branch in Nantong, Jiangsu province, on Feb 19. [Photo by Zhao Qirui/For China Daily]

Many listed banks have increased their investment in financial technology, thus accelerating fintech deployment and strengthening the construction of talent to meet rapidly growing demand for remote and contactless online banking services.

China Construction Bank Corp and its subsidiaries made the largest investment in fintech last year. The amount of the investment was 17.63 billion yuan ($2.5 billion), accounting for 2.5 percent of the group's operating income.

China Merchants Bank Co Ltd, a Shenzhen, Guangdong province-based joint-stock commercial lender, tops in nation in terms of the proportion of a bank's fintech input to its operating income.

The information technology expenses of China Merchants Bank reached 9.36 billion yuan, or 3.72 percent of its net operating income. The amount represented a year-on-year increase of nearly 44 percent.

By the end of 2019, CMB approved 1,611 fintech innovation projects, of which 957 had been launched and put into use. The projects covered various areas such as retail banking, wholesale banking, risk management, technology and the transformation of its organizational culture.

Last year, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd, the country's largest State-owned commercial lender by assets, invested 16.37 billion yuan, or about 2 percent of its operating income, in financial technology. The number of fintech personnel reached 34,800 at the bank, accounting for 7.8 percent of its total headcount.

Gu Shu, president of ICBC, said the bank established a dual-core IT architecture comprised of the "host plus open platform," taking both stability and flexibility into consideration. More than 90 percent of the bank's businesses are now deployed on the open platform.

The bank accelerated conversion of new technologies to applications.

Apart from building a cloud computing platform and an enterprise-level blockchain platform, it also applied artificial intelligence to over 1,000 scenarios, including robo-advisory and intelligent customer service.

Gu said the bank formed new mechanisms to improve its fintech strategic planning, technology research, resource coordination and talent gathering abilities.

A fintech institute and 5G and blockchain labs were created last year to upgrade technological innovation capability at the bank, along with the founding of the ICBC Information and Technology Co Ltd in Xiongan New Area in Hebei province.

The combined efforts further improved the bank's competitiveness in terms of technology. The number of its mobile banking users reached 361 million by the end of 2019, up by more than 47 million year-on-year, the fastest rate of growth in the last three years.

Postal Savings Bank of China Co Ltd, another large State-owned commercial lender, invested 8.18 billion yuan in information technology last year, accounting for 2.96 percent of its operating income.

"In the new year, we will firmly seize the new opportunities of business reform and accelerate digital, agile and scenario-based transformation. We will implement the strategy of development through technology by allocating at least 3 percent of our annual operating income on IT investment every year. We will work faster to recruit more talent in technology and to double the number of IT staff by the end of 2023," Zhang Jinliang, chairman of Postal Savings Bank of China, said in its results announcement for 2019.

The bank will vigorously promote the development of a new-generation core banking system and foster an enterprise-level IT platform with its own characteristics.

"We will enthusiastically embrace the upcoming 'contactless business' model, and work faster to build an ecosystem in which online and offline are integrated and finance and non-finance interact with each other," Zhang said.

As the outbreak of novel coronavirus this year boosted demand for digital banking, the China Banking Association has guided the banking sector to strengthen online financial services nationwide, especially in regions that were hard-hit by the contagion.

Through identity authentication based on facial recognition and video identification, banks can handle complicated and high-frequency business remotely, minimizing the need for clients to visit bank branches.

Nineteen banks launched customer service models allowing customer service representatives to stay home and provide remote services via mobile phones, computers and headsets.

About 10.5 percent of the home office customer service conducted exactly the same business as bank counter customer services, according to the association.

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