Foreign lenders see capital growth in China
By Zhang Lu (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-05-12 11:03

On April 2, 2007, the first four overseas banks - HSBC, Citi, Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of East Asia - launched their locally incorporated entities in Shanghai.

That day might be more meaningful to the banks than December 11, 2006, the day signaling the full opening of the Chinese banking market.

For foreign banks in China, local incorporation means they are on an equal footing with their domestic counterparts.

Richard Yorke, president and CEO of HSBC Bank (China) Co Ltd, describes it as "an historic milestone" for the bank, saying it "will allow us to continue to expand both our geographic reach and the product range we can offer our customers".

Figures prove the bank's rapid expansion in the following year. By the end of February, HSBC (China) had 62 outlets in the mainland, including 17 branches and 45 sub-branches. It had only 35 outlets before local incorporation.

The growth is as good or even better for the other three.

Following them, another 17 foreign banks gained local corporation status by the end of last year. Of them, many chose to headquarter in Shanghai, gathering in the Lujiazui financial zone, Pudong.

Among the cluster of skyscrapers in Lujiazui today are HSBC Tower, Citi Tower and the newly built Standard Chartered Bank Tower.

Long history

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Bund, on the opposite side of the Huangpu river, already housed a large number of foreign financial institutions.

The riverfront boulevard at that time was widely referred to as the "Wall Street of the Orient". The HSBC headquarters, a six-floor neo-classical building built in 1923, was the most eye-catching piece of architecture in the Bund.

The building is still there, housing Shanghai Pudong Development Bank.

The first foreign bank, the British-funded Oriental Banking Cop, set up an office in Shanghai in 1847, with booming trade between the UK and China after the First Opium War ended with the defeat of the Qing government.

Other European, American and Japanese banks followed.

By 1935, there were 53 foreign banks with 153 branches in China.

However, most of their businesses stagnated during the Anti-Japan War and many retreated later when China became a communist nation in 1949.

The country re-opened the market to foreign banks under the reform and opening-up policy that began in 1978.

Since then, the foreign banking market has rolled out to the entire country and extended from foreign currency business to local currency activities, from foreign residents and enterprises to local customers.

Opening up

In 1979, Export-Import Bank of Japan was approved to set up the first foreign bank representative office in Beijing.

Two years later, Hong Kong-based Nanyang Commercial Bank established a branch in Shenzhen, becoming the first overseas-funded bank doing business in China since 1949.

In 1985, the first joint venture bank Xiamen International Bank was established. In the following years, more foreign banks and finance companies came to China to do business, expanding from the special economic zones to coastal and major cities.

As of the end of 1993, foreign banks had established 76 operational entities in 13 cities, with combined assets of $8.9 billion and their business scope covering foreign exchange services to both foreign business corporations and foreign residents.

Within years, the policy priority regarding foreign banks was facilitating financial services for foreign business corporations in China.

In 1994, the first comprehensive law governing the nationwide activities of foreign-funded banks - Regulations on the Administration of Foreign-funded Financial Institutions - was approved. It standardized foreign banks behavior in China, including market access requirements and supervisory standards.

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