Saturday, January 07, 2006

China Opens its Doors Wider to Scotiabank & Manulife

The Globe and Mail, 7 January 2006

Two of Canada's most international financial institutions have received regulatory approval to add branches in China, as the country opens its financial services market to foreign competitors.

Bank of Nova Scotia said yesterday that the China Banking Regulatory Commission has agreed to let the bank upgrade its Shanghai office into a full branch.

The branch will be the hub for Scotiabank foreign exchange and treasury services in China, as well as offering loans and deposit-taking services to Chinese and international companies, with a focus on trade finance.

Scotiabank, which has been operating in China for more than 20 years, claims the largest Canadian bank network in the country, with branches in Guangzhou and Chongqing and representative offices in Beijing and Shanghai.

Also yesterday, Manulife-Sinochem Life Insurance Co., a subsidiary of Toronto-based Manulife Financial Corp., said it had received approval for a branch in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province.

China's business landscape has changed since Manulife began getting Chinese licences in 1996, spokesman Peter Fuchs observed.

"Those licences [came] a couple of years apart," Mr. Fuchs said.

"In the last couple of years, the licences have been coming much more frequently and I think that speaks to the difference in regulation with [the China Insurance Regulatory Commission] and the government."

Chengdu is the 12th Chinese city in which Manulife-Sinochem has approval to operate.

The company is a joint venture of Manulife and China Foreign Economic and Trade Trust & Investment Co., a subsidiary of state-owned Sinochem.

It currently does business in nine cities in and around Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing, with plans to open in Shenzhen and Shaoxing in the first quarter of this year.

The Chengdu branch is to open in the second quarter.

For Scotiabank, upgrading the Shanghai office into a full branch will "expand our level of service in the eastern region of China, the most rapidly growing market in the country and the location of many of our multinational clients," stated Robin Hibberd, senior vice-president for Asia Pacific and the Middle East.


Scotiabank Poised for a First in China

The Toronto Star, Stuart Laidlaw, 7 January 2006

By this summer, the Bank of Nova Scotia plans to become the first Canadian bank to offer retail banking in China's fastest- growing market.

The bank announced yesterday that the communist country's central banking authority has decided to allow Scotiabank to offer loans and take deposits at its office in Shanghai.

"People will be able to operate just like (at) a neighbourhood branch," Scotiabank spokesman Frank Switzer said. "We're proud to be the first bank to be doing this."

Scotia is the first Canadian bank to enter the retail banking market in Shanghai, a major international trading centre for China. However, Scotia is not the first Canadian lender to offer such services in the country.

The Bank of Montreal opened a retail branch in Beijing in 1996, and converted a Guangzhou office to business retail banking in 1997. The bank has a retail licence to operate in Hong Kong, but no retail operations there, and has applied to convert the Shanghai office to retail banking.

With the announcement yesterday, Scotiabank will be similarly converting a representative office in Shanghai to retail operations. Representative offices deal exclusively with businesses, helping them do their banking with larger offices in other cities.

Scotiabank also has operations in Guangzhou, Chongqing, Beijing and Hong Kong; and a minority investment in Xi'an City Commercial Bank, a leading bank in western China with 113 offices and more than 1 million customers.

The bank said its new Shanghai branch will be the hub for Scotia's foreign exchange and treasury services throughout China, and focus much attention on trade-finance services and import and export customers.

"It's an indication of our continued interest in China," Switzer said.

Personal-banking operations will be limited to customers Scotia already works with through its business operations.

The fast growth of the Chinese economy has attracted the interest of the foreign financial-services industry, with several banks and insurers opening offices there and investing in domestic companies.

The Bank of Montreal, for example, has taken a 28 per cent stake in Fullgoal Fund Management Co. Ltd. of Shanghai, a mutual fund company, and is part of a consortium of foreign banks that has worked with the Chinese central bank to open the country's foreign-exchange market.

Canada's Manulife Financial Corp. announced yesterday it had won approval from the China Insurance Regulatory Commission to operate in the Sichuan provincial capital of Chengdu, increasing the company's presence in the Chinese life-insurance market.

The venture, 51 per cent-owned by Manulife and 49 per cent held by Sinochem Corp., China's largest chemicals trader, will operate in nine Chinese cities and plans to open in three others this year. Manulife is licensed to operate in more cities than any other foreign life insurer.

Guangdong Development Bank, meanwhile, is considering a 24.1 billion yuan ($3.5 billion Canadian) bid from a group led by U.S.-based Citibank for an 85 per cent stake in the Chinese lender. That's higher than bids from Société Générale and Chinese insurer Ping An.