Top bank in Africa boosting business in yuan

Updated: 2011-09-02 11:34

By Li Xiang (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Standard Bank Group, Africa's largest bank by assets, is boosting its yuan business in a move to capitalize on the growing trade between China and Africa and the rising influence of the Chinese currency on the continent, the bank's senior executive said on Thursday.

Standard Bank has launched services for trade settlement in yuan in 16 African countries, including South Africa, Nigeria, and Angola, and the business turnover reached 500 million yuan ($78 million) over the past six months, according to the bank.

"We are exploring ways to introduce yuan to African companies as a trade settlement currency and how we can persuade African governments to use yuan as a reserve currency," said Craig Bond, chief executive officer of Standard Bank China.

The bank estimated that at least 40 percent, or $100 billion, of China's trade with Africa will be settled in yuan by 2015, which equals the total trade volume between the two in 2010.

In addition, the bank said, at least $10 billion of Chinese investment in Africa will be denominated in yuan over the same period.

Bond said the main benefits of trade settlement in yuan will be the cheaper funding and lower transaction cost for both African and Chinese firms, as the Chinese government continues to ramp up efforts to raise the global profile of the yuan.

The bank is in talks with some African governments that plan to diversify their foreign exchange reserves away from the US dollar.

"We've seen very positive reactions from many African governments toward taking the yuan as a reserve currency," Bond said.

It is likely that rich African governments, such as South Africa and Nigeria, that have large dollar reserves, will hold yuan as part of their foreign exchange reserves by the end of the year, he said.

Although the internationalization of the yuan is a long-term endeavor, the process will be much quicker in Africa because China's commercial leverage there has risen sharply, said Jeremy Stevens, an economist at Standard Bank.

The bank estimated that about 1,500 Chinese firms are operating in the 17 African countries where it has branches. "There are as many as one million Chinese people in Africa. Firms will want to grow their business in Africa, open yuan accounts and use yuan products," Stevens said.

In July, the bank began to provide yuan notes to clients in South Africa, Ghana and Zimbabwe. It also launched yuan-denominated financial products through the offshore yuan market in Hong Kong in August to meet the clients' increasing need for hedging, funding, and wealth management purposes.

The bank said it plans to hire more Chinese employees and will continue to deepen the strategic cooperation with Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the largest shareholder of the African bank, with a 20.1 percent stake, to gain more clients.