Risks and returns of a financial supermarket
By Hu Yuanyuan (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-03-08 08:48

We are accustomed to shopping in supermarkets to satisfy our daily needs. Clothes, food, cosmetics, books, home appliances you name it, they have it.

But have you ever dreamed of a financial supermarket? Money changers, insurers, securities and fund management companies, all under the same roof?

Ma Weihua, president of China Merchants Bank, the country's most profitable lender, yesterday raised a motion in the Fifth Session of the 10th National People's Congress, pressing for a more comprehensive management for commercial banks.

The reason is quite simple. With the marketization of interest rates and more diversified direct financing channels, Chinese banks cannot rely on the shrinking interest gap between loans and deposits as its major revenue source.

They have to seek more growth points to drive their profits; and insurance, funds and securities management, and financial leasing appear to be perfect alternatives.

Meanwhile, with the opening up of the banking sector last year, Chinese banks are faced with stiff competition from their foreign rivals whose parent companies are usually financial holding firms, and thus excel in offering more product variety.

So Ma Weihua has a good reason to insist that the bar in Article 43 of the Commercial Bank Law, which was imposed in 1995, should be removed, allowing banks to invest in or take a controlling stake in non-bank financial institutions with the approval of regulators.

In fact, the government has given banks the green light to set up fund management and financial leasing companies. But banks are now looking for even bolder measures.

The financial supermarket, I believe, is just around the corner. But good as it sounds, the risks of comprehensive management must not be underestimated.

How to separate the risks of different units under the same umbrella will be another big challenge for commercial banks to manage after the door is pried open.

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