Global Finance names this year’s best banks in China.
The individual savings were small but the underlying message huge in July, when dozens of banks across China surprisingly reduced ATM withdrawal fees by a few pennies a pop. The customer-friendly cuts underscored the banking industry’s ongoing efforts to encourage economic development aligned with the common prosperity goals of the Chinese government—goals such as economic inclusiveness, poverty reduction, small-business growth and carbon neutrality.
And now, the best of the industry’s prosperity-focused banks are taking a bow for their accomplishments over the past year, as winners of the 14th annual Stars of China awards from Global Finance. Altogether, 17 financial institutions received at least one award in the latest competition for 24 category prizes.
The awards reflect the innovative spirit, robust customer service and staunch commitment to environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards embraced by China’s banking industry in tumultuous times. The nation’s entire financial sector is adjusting to a tightened regulatory environment affecting internet-based firms such as Ant Group and the cryptocurrency realm. Covid-19 dampened earnings for many mainland businesses, including usually resilient property developers and global exporters.
But China’s banks continue to soldier on, putting fintech to work, accelerating mobile banking, supporting small businesses and issuing green bonds. The banks are squarely supportive of the government’s digital yuan, pilot programs for which rolled out last year, and of the Belt and Road overseas trade and development initiative.
Standouts in the Stars competition include ICBC, China International Capital Corp. (CICC) and Ping An Bank. Each won three awards. Bank of China took home two awards.
Upstart lender AiBank, owned by the Baidu search engine and CITIC Group, was named China’s Rising Star. As one of a handful of exclusively online lenders, the bank struggled after launching in 2017 but engineered a major financial turnaround this year.
Recent regulatory decisions giving foreign investors more control over Chinese holdings paved the way for BlackRock CCB Wealth Management—controlled by the US firm, with minority partners Temasek of Singapore and China Construction Bank—to win the Best Foreign Bank Asset Manager award, a new category this year for Stars of China.
A key issue cited by several banks in this year’s contest involves incorporating ESG standards in areas such as lending policies and executive-office diversity.
Agricultural Bank of China (ABC) Chairman Gu Shu, who transferred to ABC last year after serving as ICBC’s president, discussed ESG disclosure at an Institute of International Finance conference in April, calling it a “major trend” in the industry. Chinese banks are stepping up the use of ESG risk management tools and information reporting, he explained.
At the same event, recently appointed Bank of China (BOC) President Liu Jin cited the rapid growth of China’s market for sustainable investment targets. Liu, formerly president of China Everbright Bank, noted that China has more than 124 ESG-themed funds worth more than 110 billion yuan combined.
ABC was named the best bank for Innovation in Payments, while BOC’s decision to shift credit toward clients with carbon-neutral projects helped it win the Best Bank for Sustainable Finance prize.
Several regional banks also captured kudos. Bank of Shanghai was named Best Bank for Risk Management, thanks to its “magic mirror” data analysis system for screening credit applicants. Guangdong Huaxing Bank won honors as Best Bank for Corporate Social Responsibility for outreach efforts to support pandemic-related health initiatives and economic development in the Greater Bay region of Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong.
The world’s largest bank, ICBC, won hearts and clients through its Imperial Palace Fubao gold investment campaign last year, setting the stage for winning the Best Provider of Precious Metals Services award. And in serving China’s high-net-worth individuals, CICC was named Best Wealth Management Provider and Ping An Bank was declared Best Bank for Private Banking Technology.
Stars of China recognizes only a handful of the thousands of financial institutions serving China’s 1.4 billion people. There’s certainly potential for a much larger contest; as most, if not all, banks work hard to satisfy customers—a fact highlighted by the ATM fee reduction, which will reportedly cut the combined income of the nation’s banks by about $3.7 billion a year.
For now, though, stardom is limited to an elite few—the very best banks in China. Stars of China celebrates their achievements.
Methodology: Behind the Rankings
Global Finance editors select the winners for the Stars of China using information provided in entries and independent research based on both objective and subjective factors. It is not necessary to enter in order to win, but an entry can provide details that may not be publicly available. The editors incorporate insights from executives, academics and other industry experts.
Judgements are based on performance from January 1 to December 31, 2020. We apply an algorithm to arrive at a numerical score on a 100-point scale. The algorithm incorporates criteria—including knowledge of local conditions and customers, financial strength and safety, strategic relationships, capital investment and innovation in products and services—weighted for relative importance.
Best Corporate Bank
Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC)
Against the backdrop of the Chinese economy’s pandemic-fueled challenges, domestic banks are circling the wagons to control corporate sector risk. So, it’s appropriate that we have named a financial powerhouse with industry-leading strategies for credit risk control, ICBC, as Best Corporate Bank for the fourth year in a row.
ICBC beefed up its oversight of new and existing loans as well as disposals of nonperforming loans. The bank’s average monthly corporate loan portfolio currently tops 10 trillion yuan ($1.6 trillion). In a statement, ICBC says that during the past year it “strengthened risk monitoring and evaluation of large customers…and formulated contingency plans for risk control ahead of schedule.” As a result, ICBC posted ongoing improvements in its corporate loan asset quality, as reflected in a steady decline in the ratio of nonperforming to corporate loans.
The lender is a magnet for China’s largest enterprises, owing to deep pockets as the world’s largest bank. It has about 8.6 million corporate customers on the books. As of June, it posted monthly corporate deposits of about 11 trillion yuan—more than any other Chinese state-owned bank. Indeed, any competitor that hopes to beat ICBC in the corporate banking category next year had better get busy controlling risk and adding company clients.
Best Consumer Bank
Postal Savings Bank of China (PSB)
A key testament to the far-reaching impact of Postal Savings Bank is the institution’s ability to serve communities in every corner of China yet post ever-higher profits that are the envy of the industry. Indeed, the state-owned bank’s 2020 net profit rose more than 5% year on year to 64 billion yuan. Strong performance and its network of about 40,000 branches for serving 622 million clients from all walks of life factored into choosing Postal Savings for this year’s Best Consumer Bank honors.
The bank is adept at managing a huge client base without sacrificing its financial status. Fitch Ratings and Moody’s rate Postal Savings at A+ and A1, respectively; while Standard & Poor’s Global gives it an A rating. As of January 1, the bank’s assets totaled 11.35 trillion yuan and deposits topped 10.3 trillion, each having risen 11% year on year. Total lending grew about 15% to 5.7 trillion yuan.
The bank, which can trace its history back 102 years, first listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange in 2019. In recent years, it has redoubled its commitment to the real economy, sustainable development and the Chinese government’s national economic development strategy. It adheres to a customer-centric business philosophy by offering online as well as in-person, bricks-and-mortar services. Postal Savings is now stepping up its IT development, with a 10% investment increase last year, while holding fast to its status as the nation’s best consumer bank.
Best Bank for Sustainable Finance
Bank of China
China’s financial industry is grabbing the sustainable-development bull by the horns, now that carbon-cutting goals have been built into the government’s latest five-year plan. The profit potential is huge: A recent Tsinghua University study estimated the nation would have to invest more than $40 trillion by 2050 to hit carbon-neutrality targets.
But an industry leader that’s already ahead of the green-investment game is Bank of China (BOC), winner of the inaugural Stars of China, Best Bank for Sustainable Finance award. BOC is an active participant in green financial reform projects at home and abroad. Last year, for example, the bank was the first in Asia to issue “blue bonds” (funds earmarked for environmentally friendly ocean-linked projects) worth about $940 million and denominated in both Chinese yuan and US dollars. As of April, the bank reported a balance of about 1 trillion in domestic, green-related loans, representing more than 8% of its domestic portfolio.
Not only is BOC shifting its credit structure toward green sectors by supporting clients with carbon-neutral, emissions-cutting projects, but it has pledged to deny credit for projects that fail environmental impact assessments. The bank works with a variety of global initiatives, including the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures. For the five-year plan period that began this year, BOC plans to provide no less than 1 trillion yuan worth of green-sector support in areas such as energy conservation and environmental protection. Sustainable development is a national target, and BOC is the financial leader.
Best Bank for Sustainable Infrastructure
Shanghai Huarui Bank
Banks keen on supporting China’s national sustainable infrastructure push can choose from a long list of eye-catching projects eligible for financing, from solar farms in rural areas to electric vehicle charging networks in cities. Shanghai Huarui Bank, however, has chosen to focus on projects with more punch than pizzazz: energy-saving technology installations in large buildings and institutional campuses across Shanghai.
Bank clients, including over 10 universities and hospitals, have taken advantage of targeted financing options to upgrade their building systems, cutting water use, electricity demand and heating bills. One such hospital was able to install equipment that cut its energy use by 55%.
As winner of the Best Bank for Sustainable Infrastructure award, Shanghai Huarui also stands out for taking the initiative to visit clients’ facilities and design credit programs to help them reach their green-friendly goals. The bank is young and locally focused: It launched in 2015 as a privately owned bank in a Shanghai free-trade zone, and today it builds on the city’s resource advantages by emphasizing environmentally friendly business parks and manufacturing. The bank also extends support to small enterprises working toward the government’s Yangtze River development goals, underscoring its award-worthy dedication to sustainable infrastructure.
Best Bank for Green Bonds
Planet-friendly green bonds have become a pillar of investment concerned with environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. In China, a recent uptick in support from the government and financial leaders for green investment dispelled any lingering doubts about the value of these targeted bonds. And a key supporter that has engendered confidence is China International Capital Corp. (CICC), the Beijing-based investment bank and winner of the Best Bank for Green Bonds honors.
CICC helped roll out the country’s first exchange-traded, carbon-neutral bonds just a few months after President Xi Jinping pledged in late 2020 to turn the country completely carbon neutral. Four bond projects were launched between late February and mid-March, raising altogether more than 27 billion yuan. Two issues raised money for energy-saving projects undertaken by state-owned power companies China Energy Investment and China Huaneng. A third is helping finance Beijing subway improvements.
For the largest of its green bond programs, CICC helped China Development Bank raise about 20 billion yuan—half of that from overseas investors—for 35 wind and 11 solar energy projects. It was the first carbon-neutral bond in China to meet international standards and China’s largest issue of its kind to date. It also underscored the leadership role now being played by CICC as green bonds gain traction.
Best Bank for Private Banking Technology
Ping An Bank
For private banking clients, even the most sophisticated electronic account management and investment system needs a human touch. Ping An Bank understands that need as well as how to successfully include real people in the high-tech private banking experience, helping it earn the Best Bank for Private Banking Technology award.
Ping An has declared itself committed to continually upgrading a system rooted in “human-machine collaboration,” based on a model combining artificial intelligence (AI), remote banking and offline banking. Clients have full access to the most relevant digital banking services backed by a professional team of some 100 investment experts and more than 900 private bankers. Team members support clients navigating a range of diversified and multistrategic products including private equity, public offerings, insurance and family trusts.
Ping An’s model is paying off. As of June, the private bank recorded 648,000 customers, up 13% from 2020, with 134 billion yuan in assets under management, a 19% increase from last June. Indeed, Ping An has found success in a model that combines technology with the human touch.
Most Advanced Trading Technology
Ping An Bank
Retail banking customers have reaped big benefits from fintech products in recent years thanks to technological upgrades in consumer finance, small-business lending and wealth management advisory services. Now, corporate customers are taking advantage of fintech’s positive impact through trading-related services offered by Ping An Bank, winner of this year’s Most Advanced Trading Technology honors.
Ping An is a pioneer in fintech applications for corporate treasury departments in trading areas such as foreign exchange, interest rates and the commodities market. Its recently launched Corporate Risk Workstation is an app that gives corporate clients a platform for smart financial management. The app helps corporate clients choose appropriate financial derivatives solutions by analyzing factors related to hedging strategies, financial statements, interest rates and exchange rates. The platform and Ping An’s leading trade finance products in the market provide an intelligent management tool for corporate treasury risk management.
Fintech applications have changed banking forever, and Ping An has pledged to continue fine-tuning its fintech development for corporate trading. The goal is to innovate and upgrade its new platform to help enterprises reach their goals, underscoring the bank’s forward thinking in trading technology innovation.
Best Foreign Asset Bank Manager
BlackRock CCB Wealth Management
About a year after Chinese regulators opened the nation’s financial markets to foreign-controlled asset management firms in mid-2019, US-based BlackRock won the right to open a mainland wealth management company with China Construction Bank (CCB) and the Singapore sovereign fund Temasek Holdings. The company—BlackRock CCB Wealth Management—methodically built up the business and in August launched the mainland’s first foreign fund product, the BlackRock China New Horizon Mixed Securities Investment Fund, helping earn the firm the Stars of China’s first Best Foreign Bank Asset Manager award.
BlackRock CCB Wealth Management’s accomplishments point to the firm’s ability to tactfully work with regulators famous for a go-slow approach to opening the financial sector to foreign players. BlackRock, which owns just over 50% of the firm, found a solid partner in state-owned CCB with local know-how and a nationwide network of bank outlets. CCB controls 40% of the firm, and Temasek the rest.
The firm plans to benefit from upmarket Chinese investors’ penchant for diversity in holdings and international reach. It’s also leaning on the strong reputation that BlackRock has earned since entering the market with the 2006 takeover of Merrill Lynch, including its China unit, and that has strengthened with a Stars of China trophy.
China's Rising Star
Internet banking has blurred the lines between online technology and financial management in China while opening doors to a variety of unique business mergers, crossovers and investments. China’s leading search engine Baidu and the state-owned financial group CITIC embraced the trend by joining hands in 2017 to form AiBank—sometimes called CITIC AiBank as well as Baixin Bank. And this year, the internet lender has outpaced its rivals as China’s Rising Star.
New products, a soaring customer base, foreign investors and a profitable first half helped AiBank win the prize. Although AiBank was not the first Chinese internet bank, it struggled for years in the shadows of Tencent’s WeBank and Alibaba’s MyBank. But last December, its image improved after the Canadian pension fund CPPIB purchased an 8.3% stake for $160 million. New products including loans for new energy vehicle buyers and livestock farmers were rolled out early this year. AiBank thus reported 48 million customers, a 25% year-on-year increase in total assets, and a net profit of 104 million yuan in the first half of the year.
AiBank got a slow start in the online banking race. But the bank’s status as a rising star at the crossroads of internet and finance has now put it on a fast track.
Best Bank for Risk Management
Bank of Shanghai
It can be tough for a bank loan officer forced to say “no” to a small entrepreneur seeking startup credit, especially considering the Chinese government’s push for banks to support small businesses. But the Bank of Shanghai has overcome that challenge with a risk management process that’s effective and helped earn the bank this year’s Best Bank for Risk Management honors.
The system called “magic mirror” was launched three years ago. It has been expanding rapidly since going digital in 2019. Simply put, it’s a computerized risk-control system that integrates data, models, monitoring and analysis so that Bank of Shanghai loan officers can forecast future credit risk for current and potential customers. It’s also completely computer controlled, which may raise some eyebrows; but in the bank’s eyes that reduces risk by removing the possibility of human error.
Magic mirror “lets the data do the talking,” according to the bank, for processing small-business and microcredit applications. The system draws from public sources and the bank’s internal data sources to obtain applicant background information, then it calculates future outcomes before finalizing an approval or denial. More than 1,200 variables in eight categories, from branch location to applicant industry, are considered for the system’s more than 7,000 queries per month. One result is a nonperforming loan rate that’s well below industry average, adding to Bank of Shanghai’s strong reputation in risk management.
Best Bank for Corporate Governance
Job training comes in many forms, from new employee on-boarding to skills upgrades for staff veterans. At successful banks, training programs help bank directors and executives embrace corporate governance. Harbin Bank stands out in this regard, which explains its selection as this year’s Best Bank for Corporate Governance.
The Hong Kong–listed bank saw the pandemic environment as an opportunity to evaluate its governance responsibilities and provide special training for directors, supervisors and senior executives. Sessions over the past year focused on risk control, regulatory issues and corporate governance, with the goal of meeting the stringent requirements of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Bank leaders also focused on ways to strengthen the rights of and communications with investors. As a result, the bank streamlined channels for investor suggestions and used the internet to broadcast press conferences on its annual results.
Harbin Bank is also working hard to enhance diversity in its executive ranks in areas such as age, gender and educational background. In the context of describing the bank’s pro-diversity policy, its annual report noted that one woman serves on the 11-member board of directors. It also noted that one director is from Hong Kong and has extensive experience in corporate governance. Harbin Bank’s commitment to corporate governance goes all the way to the top.
Best Asset Manager
Behind the buzz about China’s rapid shift to electric vehicles are bold financial institutions with the cash, clout and courage to fuel that dramatic change. On the front lines of the movement is China Asset Management (ChinaAMC), this year’s Stars of China, Best Asset Manager award winner. ChinaAMC’s deep involvement in ESG investment avenues, including electric vehicles, contributed to its win.
The asset manager’s CSI New Energy Vehicles ETF was one of 50 funds launched in the year ended last March. The fund, with nearly $1 billion in assets under management, covers the entire industry chain, from battery materials to auto parts to finished vehicles. Its first-year return on investment topped 91%.
ChinaAMC’s commitment to environmental and social support is also reflected in its recent formation of an ESG guidance committee—led by the firm’s CEO—and an in-house, industry-specific framework for analyzing the ESG activities of domestic companies. With investors in mind, the firm works to help companies reach ESG goals. International efforts include cooperating with the Financial Stability Board on financial disclosure issues and partnering with a Dutch investment group on ESG equities. Among China’s biggest asset managers, ChinaAMC is also its best.
Best Bank for Belt and Road
Cross-border cooperation is at the heart of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which since it was proposed in 2013, has been credited with trillions of dollars in trade and infrastructure projects spanning more than 139 countries. It’s an unprecedented level of cooperation encompassing business and finance. And it requires a level of banking leadership displayed by a rare few, including ICBC, the Best Bank for Belt and Road.
In recent years, ICBC rose well above its domestic peers as a financial services provider for Belt and Road projects. Its accomplishments include advising several significant overseas oil, natural gas and mineral projects linking integrated resource development, pipelines and storage terminals. ICBC has thus crossed borders along with entire industrial sectors, using its facilitating skills to arrange project financing for hundreds of projects in more than 70 countries. The bank provides export credit, resource-backed structured financing, cross-border M&A financing, lease factoring and more to support Belt and Road.
Chinese companies, which compose the bulk of the bank’s eight million corporate clients, have benefited from ICBC’s work for Belt and Road infrastructure projects. The bank has focused on upgrading Chinese-foreign project investment cooperation. And the bank’s efforts are not slowing, as more Belt and Road projects are launched, especially in Asia and Africa, despite the pandemic. China’s Ministry of Commerce says that nonfinancial direct investment into Belt and Road countries increased 9.2% in the January-August period—compared to the same period in 2020—to nearly $13 billion. No doubt ICBC is contributing to this growth while supporting the international cooperation at the heart of Belt and Road.
Best Bank for Corporate Social Responsibility
Guangdong Huaxing Bank
An ambitious development project is underway in the Greater Bay Area, an urban manufacturing hub with 86 million people encompassing Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou as well as Macau and the surrounding areas of Guandong Province. Banks are central to the government’s effort to boost economic and social development through regional cooperation, innovation and strategic goals. And a standout supporter that’s shouldering its responsibility for Greater Bay financing is Guangdong Huaxing Bank, winner of the Best Bank for Corporate Social Responsibility award.
The bank has been a leader in social responsibility measures for years. In 2018, it launched a “green credit” program for business clients to encourage decision-making with concern for lowering emissions and for other environmental issues. In support of poverty alleviation efforts, Huaxing Bank helped finance agricultural goods marketing for an impoverished area in western China. And the bank’s pandemic response since 2020 has included health initiatives in the Greater Bay Area and a 205-million-yuan donation to support medical personnel in the hard-hit city of Wuhan.
Huaxing Bank has declared a firm commitment to national macroeconomic policy, particularly Greater Bay growth, including financial inclusion, employment, social stability and green financial services. It’s thus poised to be a positive influence in the region for years to come as a socially responsible bank.
Best SME Services Bank
A stock exchange debut is always a milestone for a growing enterprise and a feather in the cap for the enterprise’s bank. So, footwear designer Zhejiang Zoenn Design and the investment bank China International Capital Corp. (CICC) cheered together last year when the company raised about 577 million yuan on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange’s ChiNext board. But the accomplishment was all in a day’s work for CICC, a strong ally of small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) and the winner of this year’s Best SME Services Bank award.
According to CICC, the bank helped SMEs raise billions of yuan through initial public offerings in the year ended March 31. And CICC last year ranked first among financial advisers in China in terms of mergers and acquisitions, helping to close 123 deals. The bank takes pride in arranging deals through a “growth institution team” dedicated to SMEs, building long-term relationships with SME clients and working hard with the goal of successful transactions.
In addition to Zoenn, CICC supported fundraisers for SMEs in a variety of industries including polymers supplier Levima Advanced Materials, biopharmaceuticals maker Sinocelltech Group, and technology and travel sector specialist Youon Technology. Deals for more enterprises are now in the pipeline as CICC cheers with its clients and supports China’s vibrant SMEs.
Best Bank for Transaction Services
China Guangfa Bank
A company in northern China uses a bidding process to sell products. It used to juggle billions of yuan in bids, bidder deposits and deposit refunds through an in-house transaction system. That was before the company docked these internal transactions with a system at its bank, China Guangfa Bank. Eventually, the entire bidding business was transferred to Guangfa, this year’s Best Bank for Transaction Services, helping the company improve efficiency and reduce deposit refund errors.
Guangfa’s takeover of that company’s bid process underscores the bank’s attention to the payment-system details that help business customers improve the bottom line. Specifically, the bank supports corporate and corporate group clients through its respective “smart” and “pool” capital operations and management systems. A third service supports insurance company clients. The smart system includes digital collection services such as UnionPay’s e-payment service as well as bidding processes and payments. The pool system incorporates investment funds including interbank and entrusted fund transactions. The third system handles cross-bank payment and receipts for some of China’s largest insurance firms including China Life and Taiping Life.
Guangfa excels in the field of cash management by researching client needs, identifying pain points, and then integrating resources and services. It’s thus China’s standout success in the business-critical area of transaction services.
Best Bank for Cross-Border Trade
Ping An Bank
When the Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com went looking for a bank partner to support an international outreach campaign, it trained its sights on Ping An Bank. JD and the bank’s Shenzhen branch agreed in May to collaborate on foreign trade services including offshore, supply chain and cross-border finance. The deal underscored a Ping An Bank strength that also earned it this year’s Best Bank for Cross-Border Trade award.
Worldwide, Ping An serves about 10,000 corporate customers including import-export companies, multinationals and others involved with international trade, providing customized services and solutions. The bank takes pride in offering professional service at a competitive price and an online business platform that supports clients anywhere, 24/7. The system is unique in that users can test trading strategies and record results with the goal of improving future trade transaction performance.
Ping An’s team is especially keen to support Chinese companies expanding into overseas markets, especially those new to the cross-border game. Highlighting the bank’s ability is the story of a well-known Chinese company that lacked overseas sales management experience. Before diving into a project—and putting its investment at risk—the company turned to a Ping An team that uncovered a problem and advised solutions that saved the day.
JD Worldwide President Yan Xiaobing said in a company statement in May that his firm is looking forward to working with Ping An Bank “to jointly help the trade industry decrease costs, increase efficiency and continuously innovate its services.”
Best Private Bank
Bank of China
Regular communication can go a long way toward building the kind of trust that attracts high-net-worth individuals to a financial institution. A recently launched monthly investment strategy report aimed at private banking clients—published in both Chinese and English—shows Bank of China, this year’s winner of the Best Private Bank award, embracing such communication.
The bank’s Investment Strategy Research Center released the first report in July with a pledge to improve “the influence and voice of Chinese institutions on the international investment market.” A key report item: In the second quarter 2021, the bank’s stable-category portfolio of equity, gold, bond and commodity investments yielded 6.8%, topping the Shanghai exchange’s CSI index. Clients also learned of the success of online recommendations and diagnostics through the recently upgraded BOC Robot Advisor.
Bank of China also publishes daily, weekly, quarterly and annual reports. Its private bank clientele grew 10% last year to nearly 133,000. Average client assets also increased, bringing total assets under management to 1.85 trillion yuan, up 15% year on year. The bank’s network of private banking centers expanded to 70 from 47 in 2019. Bank of China’s communication effort is paying off.
Most Innovative Bank
Hunan Sanxiang Bank
Traditional loan officers working with company clients generally minds their own business while focusing on rates, risks and returns. But at Hunan Sanxiang Bank, loan review procedures were expanded to include deep investigations of company operations and business models. The process relies on digital technology and includes building a personal loan platform for each client. It’s a unique process that helps explain why Sanxiang was chosen this year’s Most Innovative Bank.
Sanxiang is the only Hunan Province bank on a national list of high-tech enterprises, having received 57 software copyrights and 32 patents for digital inventions. About half of the bank’s employees are engaged in some form of fintech services, and 13% of bank revenue is earmarked for technological research and development. The result is successful reliance on AI and big data for efficiency in credit, payments, account management and other processes.
Hunan Sanxiang’s attention to business clients runs the gamut of sectors, from small retailers to major manufacturers. Regardless of the client’s size, each can have its own data-rich digital credit platform built in about two weeks. Once in place, the platform can automatically process a loan application in only one hour, testifying to speedy service and Sanxiang’s innovative spirit.
Innovation in Payments
Agricultural Bank of China
The fields of grain blanketing China’s countryside are a chief mainstay for rural economies served by a network of agricultural banks. Each agricultural lender tailors credit, accounts and payment services to meet rural needs. And the biggest player in the network—Agricultural Bank of China (ABC)—set the pace for customer payment services, thus earning this year’s Stars of China Innovation in Payments award.
ABC’s easy-to-use “K-code” payment system for account holders who shop online—and spend less than 1,000 yuan per transaction—points to the bank’s ability to streamline and simplify. The bank also offers small-business credit packages with uncomplicated loan payment systems. And by deferring principal and interest payments, it has helped thousands of micro, small and midsized enterprises weather the Covid-19 storm.
Poverty-relief loans for rural areas including western China accounted for some 1.3 trillion yuan of ABC’s end-2020 loan balance of 5.3 trillion yuan. The bank also focused on food security, farmland irrigation, water conservation and rural infrastructure, with loans to key enterprises for stable food production and agricultural-product supplies increasing 38% over 2019. Innovative, rural-friendly payment systems are yielding benefits at ABC.
Innovation in Fintech
China Zheshang Bank
Almost every major bank in China has accepted the fintech challenge by shifting services and personnel to the online environment. But some have gone the extra mile by incorporating fintech development as part of an entire business model transformation. One such pioneer is China Zheshang Bank, winner of the Innovation in Fintech award for the second year in a row.
Zheshang Bank has adopted a platform-based service strategy to support all client business sectors. Blockchain, big data, AI and cloud computing are woven into the service fabric to optimize business efficiency and control costs. A big data–based risk control system generated 1.3 million warning signals last year and rejected 166,000 fraud requests, helping the bank win kudos from China’s central bank. Zheshang says its system reached a “cloudification ratio” of 93%.
Zheshang is continuing to invest in fintech. It has set no limits on hiring technical personnel. Last year, the bank was hired to consult for the city of Shenzhen and for the bank’s home province of Zhejiang. It also launched a technology company and research cooperation with Peking University’s Advanced Institute of Information Technology. Fintech is the wave of the future, and Zheshang Bank is riding it.
Best Bank for Renminbi Internationalization
China Construction Bank
A major milestone in the effort to globalize China’s currency was achieved in June, when the cumulative volume of renminbi, or yuan, cleared at the London-based branch of China Construction Bank (CCB) surpassed 57 trillion yuan last June. With that, the branch became the currency’s largest clearing bank outside Asia. Moreover, the achievement helped CCB rise above its peers to win this year’s Best Bank for Renminbi Internationalization award.
CCB has been in the business since 2009, when it became one of the first banks authorized by the Chinese government for overseas clearing operations. Today, it operates full-fledged clearing banks in London, Zurich and Santiago. Globally, CCB’s clearing service facilitates cross-border transactions for about 30,000 clients by means of its industry-leading global multicurrency payment processing system, which offers one-point access for global remittances. It also promotes yuan-denominated investing through two-way capital market access. For example, CCB clearing helps overseas investors navigate the Chinese bond market.
The pandemic has given CCB new opportunities to shine, for example, by shifting more cross-border, yuan-denominated deals to online platforms and sponsoring video seminars on investing in Chinese assets. The bank has also pledged to use its clearing banks and network of 200 overseas outlets to “closely follow the wave of accelerated opening up of China’s financial industry,” promote trade and investment convenience and “facilitate the internationalization of the Chinese yuan.”
Best Provider of Precious Metals Services
Investors paid close attention in September, when global stocks slumped and prices rose for havens such as gold. Many Chinese investors enjoyed up-to-date reports as well as trading options via daily news briefs posted by the precious metals division of ICBC, winner of the Best Provider of Precious Metals Services honor for the second year in a row.
Keeping investors informed is just one way ICBC strives to serve the real economy. It also provides diverse and global services as China’s “gold bank,” offering investors more than 500 precious metals products. Some 12 million small-scale investors have entrusted their savings to a product with “gold sale, deposit, exchange and redemption” functions linked to the Shanghai Gold Exchange. Recently, retail investors have snapped up gold coins and small purses filled with precious metal pieces called Imperial Palace Fubaos. The bank last year posted an annual 81% jump in precious metal transaction volume and a 44% increase in customers.
ICBC is also involved in companies that mine and process precious metals, including China National Gold Group, Shandong Gold, Zhaojin Group and Zijin Mining, by offering financial services such as equity financing, overseas financing and asset management. Three years ago, a bank subsidiary helped Shandong Gold list on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Indeed, in achieving precious metals sector leadership, ICBC found friends among small and large investors alike.
Best Wealth Management Provider
Managing the assets of sophisticated clients demands diverse investment options and deep-dive research. Successfully meeting these demands is a business hallmark for this year’s Best Wealth Management Provider, investment bank China International Capital Corp. (CICC).
With stock-trading services covering over three million customers and flexible access to global equities markets, the firm’s CICC Wealth Management division offers clients a variety of options based on its international reach. The firm also maintains close, interactive relationships with a variety of asset managers. It can thus provide cash management, fixed-income products, equities, alternative investments and cross-border allocations.
CICC Wealth Management has one of China’s most seasoned wealth research and investment consultation teams. The product research team has evaluated more than 1,000 market products for discerning clients. Clients are also afforded access to government officials, economists, entrepreneurs, regulators and investment managers with insight on macroeconomic conditions, policy trends and industry analysis.
And rather than rest on its laurels, CICC Wealth Management is exploring new, innovative avenues of client service. A prime example is its Integrated Retail Brokerage App, which the firm says underscores a commitment “to creating China’s most advanced online wealth management and retail brokerage platform,” combining fintech and wealth management. The initiative underscores the firm’s commitment to meeting the demands of China’s wealthiest citizens.