A Bank of China Ltd branch in Haikou, Hainan province. The bank has more than 10,000 branches in the domestic market. [Photo / China Daily]
Board members make overseas business a strategic priority
BEIJING - Bank of China Ltd (BOC), the only Chinese bank to have operated continuously for nearly 100 years, will continue to expand its overseas network, despite becoming much more reliant on the domestic market in recent years.
"By 2020, we expect to become a truly world-class bank," Li Lihui, president of the country's fourth-largest commercial lender by market value, said in Beijing on Friday, highlighting the bank's strength in its extensive network domestically and globally.
Board members have made overseas business a strategic priority, and the lender will further expand its branch network worldwide while considering acquisition opportunities prudently, the bank said.
Some media reported that BOC has shown an interest in buying more than 600 outlets of Lloyd's Banking Group in the United Kingdom. However, BOC has denied the suggestion, saying it has no such plan at present.
BOC used to be highly dependent on services outside the Chinese mainland, before it began exploring the domestic market at a rapid pace during the past decade.
In 2000, BOC's overseas branches contributed 41 percent of the whole group's revenue and 99.8 percent of its total net profit. But by the end of 2010, the lender's overseas revenue accounted for less than 20 percent of the total revenue, and overseas net profit contributed less than 22 percent.
"I think we are reaching a well-balanced ratio. That is, 80 percent domestic business to 20 percent overseas business, given that the Chinese market is huge and is growing very quickly," Li told China Daily.
Last year, the bank made a net profit of 85.8 billion yuan ($13.28 billion) from its domestic business, an increase of 33.29 percent year-on-year.
The priority of setting up new overseas branches will be Asia in the next half year, he added, without mentioning any specific country or region the bank is eyeing. In the first half of 2011, the bank had set up more than 20 institutions abroad.
As the most internationalized Chinese bank, by the end of 2010, BOC had overseas assets totaling $351.6 billion. That's four times more than Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd (ICBC), the world's biggest bank by market value, and eight times more than China Construction Bank Corp (CCB), the world's second-largest.
Last year, BOC's pretax profit from 711 overseas outlets was more than three times that of ICBC and eight times that of CCB.
The bank has formed a "prominent" competitive advantage in international clearing and settlements, cross-border renminbi business, and services facilitating Chinese enterprises to explore overseas opportunities, BOC said.
It has supported more than 1,300 projects of this kind in 100 countries and regions, involving $190 billion by contract.
"We have more than 10,000 branches in the domestic market, and the cost of establishing more branches would be much lower than that of some major foreign banks, " the bank said.
However, compared with leading international banks such as HSBC Holdings Plc, Bank of America Corp and Citibank, the financial arm of Citigroup Inc, BOC still lags far behind in terms of a global network and international finance talents, it conceded. The Chinese lender is in talks with two foreign banks to build up business partnerships globally, but it declined to provide names.
By the end of 2010, BOC's total assets amounted to 10.5 trillion yuan, up 19.51 percent from a year earlier. It reported a net profit of 109.7 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 28.52 percent.
To save capital as the regulators are implementing stricter requirements to fend off risks, it plans to further increase the proportion of non-interest income and accelerate business diversification.
In 2010, non-interest income accounted for more than 29 percent of BOC's revenue, and the non-commercial banking business brought 6.33 percent of total pretax profit.