China’s economy certainly needs support on a heroic scale. Growth is slowing, with the World Bank forecasting a 5.1% GDP growth rate this year but only 4.4% for 2024: far below the numbers that in past decades produced the world’s fastest developing economy. Challenges range from high youth unemployment to a rocky housing market. “Insufficient” domestic consumer demand was recently cited as a top issue by the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo.
Banks large and small—notably, the 29 winners of Global Finance’s 2023 Stars of China awards—provide a bright spot, having collectively risen to the challenge with fresh initiatives aimed at making the economy more resilient.
Banks recently slashed existing home mortgage rates in line with a government stimulus initiative and encouraged homeowner participation through online and in-person information campaigns. At the same time, they are modernizing, Chinese banks have tightened their belts and embraced digital finance trends while closing more than 7,500 brick-and-mortar branches nationwide since 2020. China Construction Bank Secretary Hu Changmiao recently called the technological changes in financing through big data and artificial intelligence (AI) “revolutionary.”
Equities markets are benefiting from a fresh wave of initial public offerings rolled out by small to mid-sized banks. Guangxi Beibu Gulf Bank and Yibin Commercial Bank are among the latest new listings cheering investors. Banks are putting their fresh capital behind government outreach efforts such as the Belt and Road Initiative and renminbi internationalization. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) and Bank of China (BOC) recently dedicated branches in Saudi Arabia while Bank of Communications opened exchange services for currencies ranging from the Thai baht to the Mexican peso.
Of course, any bank on the frontlines must balance support for the national economy with the need to protect its bottom line. Chinese banks have kept their balance sheets strong by steadily cutting non-performing loan ratios since 2021. Support for green energy projects has risen while lending to private real estate developers has slowed to just 3% of bank loans.
Looking To The Future
In the long run, however, supportive efforts are expected to pay off. A recent report by Moody’s Investors Service noted that rate-reducing Chinese banks can expect lower profits up front but improved credit quality later as mortgage risks fall and bank profits rise on climbing demand for new home mortgages.
Investing overseas is risky, but it opens doors to new markets. In September, BOC President Liu Jin attended the dedication of a new branch in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where the bank is touting its experience in cross-border Chinese currency exchange and trade settlement.
Banks have stepped up the digital transformation sweeping the industry by shifting to app-based services and investing heavily in AI, blockchain, and big data. Front offices are adding personnel too, with Bank of Tianjin, Bank of Inner Mongolia, and other lenders creating new chief information officer positions this year. These moves require upfront spending but could reduce personnel and other costs over time.
Many Chinese companies hard-hit during the pandemic have found support from banks looking to their long-range prospects. Deng Xinquan, chairman of HarbinBank, noted in its annual report that the bank has channeled more than ¥1 billion (approximately $137 million) into cutting small business-client costs through such measures as loan extensions and lower interest rates.
Policymakers seeking pandemic relief for consumers have also turned to banks. In September, the Ministry of Education and the People’s Bank of China joined other government agencies in urging banks to ease credit parameters for graduate students. Bank of China immediately responded by lowering loan application thresholds, cutting fees and helping student borrowers struggling to repay.
Chinese banks are supporting industrial policy as well. ICBC, for example, recently agreed to finance “advanced manufacturing clusters” across the country through a project spearheaded by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
Global Finance is pleased to recognize 29 Stars of China for their commitment to China’s post-pandemic recovery. Three categories are new this year: Best Consumer Lending Bank, Best Bank for M&A and Best Bank for Transformation. Also recognized are the industry’s best in private banking, wealth management, fintech, asset management, and other niches. Not to be overlooked are leaders in areas unique to China such as renminbi internationalization and the Belt and Road Initiative.
The annual Star of China awards “recognize the best of the sector’s banks and asset managers for their dedication to service, financial innovation, and global reach,” says Joseph Giarraputo, founder and editorial director of Global Finance. Earning the title during the present difficult time for China’s economy is an especially noteworthy distinction.
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, 2022. 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.
|Stars of China 2023|
|Best Corporate Bank||ICBC|
|Best Consumer Bank||Postal Savings Bank of China|
|Best Consumer Lending Bank – New For 2023||Agricultural Bank of China|
|Best Bank for M&A – New For 2023||ICBC|
|Best Bank Transformation – New For 2023||ICBC|
|Best Private Bank||Ping An Bank|
|Most Innovative Private Bank||Bank of Communications|
|Best Private Bank for Sustainable Investing||Industrial Bank of China|
|Best Private Bank for Entrepreneurs||Bank of China|
|Best Private Bank for Ultra High Net Worth Individuals||China Minsheng Bank|
|Best Wealth Management Provider||China Merchants Bank|
|Best Bank for Private Banking Technology||Ping An Bank|
|Best Bank for Sustainable Finance||Bank of China|
|Best Bank for Sustainable Infrastructure||Bank of China|
|Best Bank for Green Bonds||CICC|
|Best Bank for Corporate Governance||China Merchants Bank|
|Best Bank for Corporate Social Responsibility||China Construction Bank|
|Most Innovative Bank||China Zheshang Bank|
|Innovation in Payments||AsiaPay|
|Innovation in Fintech||ICBC|
|Best Bank for Transaction Services||China Merchants Bank|
|Best Bank for Cross-Border Trade||China Guangfa Bank|
|Best SME Services Bank||CICC|
|Best Asset Manager||ChinaAMC|
|Best Foreign Bank Asset Manager||Fidelity Fund Management (China)|
|Most Advanced Trading Technology||China Guangfa Bank|
|Best Bank for Risk Management||Postal Savings Bank of China|
|Best Domestic Bank for Renminbi Internationalization||HarbinBank|
|Best Domestic Bank for Belt and Road||ICBC|
Best Corporate Bank: ICBC
Two millennia ago, China’s emperors built a Great Wall to keep their country safe from invasion. Today, corporations rely on strong banks for financial safety, which explains why some 10 million Chinese corporate clients feel safe behind the figurative walls of ICBC, winner of the Best Corporate Bank award.
ICBC’s key corporate banking indicators far outperforming those of its peers. As of June 2022, its corporate loan balance exceeded ¥11.7 trillion and its corporate deposit balance stood at some ¥6 trillion. Interest income from corporate loans reached a bank-record ¥220 billion.
ICBC focuses its corporate lending on “new manufacturing,” services, infrastructure and high-tech. In the infrastructure arena, attention last year focused to projects related to China’s transportation network, clean energy, and integrating the refining and chemical sectors.
ICBC offers corporate clients services designed for the individual client as well as services tailored to fit a client’s business sector, underscoring a commitment to business segments. Tech innovation is harnessed to empower client marketing, with online services targeting corporate clients. ICBC built a Digital Partners for Corporate Customers system and implemented China’s first digital platform for supervising a corporate banking client’s capital management plan and practices. Safety is paramount for ICBC, which advertises a vision “to build a guardian river around its corporate banking business.”
Best Consumer Bank: Postal Savings Bank of China
Government policy is driving China’s shift to a consumer-driven economy, so a bank catering to consumers is expected to support Beijing’s policy goals. The success of the Postal Savings Bank (PSB) at integrating these goals into a successful business model makes it the winner of the Best Consumer Bank award.
To serve a larger consumer base, PSB has accelerated its transformation toward retail banking that provides data-driven, operationally efficient interaction between its wholesale and retail clients. The bank’s consumer lending team and investment research capabilities have been enhanced, with nearly 40,000 outlets reformatted as investor education centers.
PSB delivers financial products tailored to customer needs with a multitiered system for specific customer sectors, including strategic, interbank, institutional, and small customers. With some 637 million customers, nearly 70% of PSB’s operating income came from personal banking last year, rising 12% from 2021 to ¥221 billion.
Best Consumer Lending Bank: Agricultural Bank of China
Rural revitalization has been the buzz among China’s banks since April, when regulators issued a notice promoting a nationwide push for more consumer lending. The notice instructed banks to support rural areas by balancing progress and stability, focusing on agricultural power construction, and strengthening rural financial services capacity. As consumer lending fuels these goals, Agricultural Bank of China (ABC) is a leader in rural revitalization and the Best Consumer Lending Bank.
ABC’s credit service for rural revitalization includes initiatives to deepen cooperation among government banks, commercial lenders and client enterprises, bringing together the strengths of its subsidiaries in investment banking, wealth management, life insurance, and leasing. As of last year, ABC and the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce had provided support to more than 55,000 rural private enterprises. The bank’s rural loan balance rose nearly 10% between 2021 and 2022 to a record ¥8.05 trillion. That same year, it worked with provincial agricultural guarantees companies to provide more than 260,000 households with ¥75 billion in loans and invested more than ¥34 billion in rural revitalization.
Best Bank for M&A: ICBC
Healthy property companies are going the extra mile to support China’s troubled real estate sector. In turn, banks are helping the sector get healthier by orchestrating mergers and acquisitions. Prominent among these is ICBC, this year’s Best Bank for M&A, which has attached great importance to activities that support policy-based real estate M&A projects and was chosen.
Last December, ICBC facilitated a real estate M&A project by building stronger communication between local government, enterprises, courts, and homeowners’ committees, which helped to protect the interests of more than 2,300 homeowners.
ICBC has two decades of M&A experience in all sectors. The bank led its peers in the year ending last March with some 400 M&A transactions and more than ¥100 billion in M&A loans granted. ICBC’s M&A team includes 1,000 professionals focusing on state-owned enterprise reform, stock revitalization, company efficiency, and cross-border M&A.
Best Bank Transformation: ICBC
Digital solutions are spreading rapidly through the banking sector, transforming business from top to bottom In China, the leader in this revolution is also the country’s largest, ICBC, winner of the Best Bank Transformation award.
Harnessing multiple forms of digital power is a strategic decision carrying risks and potential opportunities; ICBC has embraced the gamut of solutions all at once through a holistic approach. The bank now works with digital assets for client accounts, digital infrastructure in management, and other aspects of an automated ecology. The numbers tell the story: ICBC has more than 500 million mobile banking customers, 100 million online financial services clients, and 12 million farmers using an agricultural credit app. Digital solutions now cover nearly 99% of its business operations, the bank says, underscoring the depth of this transformation.
Best Private Bank: Ping An Bank
Combining technological capability in wealth management with user-friendly, personalized customer service is no small feat for a bank catering to China’s high-end clientele. But Ping An Bank continues to find new ways to build on that combination, for example by offering an all-online platform for family trust services and China’s first artificial intelligence-powered private placement system. For its ability to apply tech solutions to these traditionally high-touch businesses, Ping An Bank wins the Best Private Bank award.
The bank’s effort to apply advanced technology operation-wide became more urgent during the Covid pandemic. Now, almost all private clients use an online system to trade private products; family trust and insurance trust business climbed 88% from 2020 to ¥38 billion in 2021.
Customers can also receive personalized service through a team of more than 1,000 private bankers, 2,000 relationship managers and nearly 150 investment advisory experts located at 53 private-bank centers across China.
The combined approach is paying off. Ping An Bank reported an industry-leading 24.6% increase in private bank assets under management between 2020 and 2021. As of March 2022, assets under management from qualified customers totaled ¥1.49 trillion and the roster of qualified customers reached 73,200, up 17% from the previous year while its wealth management clientele jumped nearly 18% to 1.16 million.
Most Innovative Private Bank: Bank of Communications
Investment planning may never entirely succumb to automation, especially in the private banking business where customers demand a personal touch. But private banks’ investment planners must still adapt into the era of automation. A standout example is Bank of Communications (BOCOM), winner of the Most Innovative Private Bank award.
BOCOM’s innovative investment planning includes a guarantee that each client can access an account manager, a wealth management advisor, and head office experts. The private bank operates four research groups covering macro assets, fixed income, equity, precious metals, and foreign exchange. Each is responsible for tracking markets and sharing findings with clients through seminars, strategy reports, research notes, and allocation proposals. The result is a dynamic, optimized network of private banking products and professional tools for generating asset allocation recommendations. Teams also help clients avoid risk and volatility. Last year, in anticipation of market volatility, BOCOM’s private banking group offered courses on dealing with market shocks and minimizing losses.
Best Private Bank for Sustainable Investing: Industrial Bank of China
Industrial Bank of China (IB) is the nation’s first bank to embrace the internationally recognized Equator Principles for measuring environmental risks in assessing investment and credit targets, underscoring a commitment to environmentalism that earns it the Best Private Bank for Sustainable Investing award.
Many of IB’s private banking clients are entrepreneurs who have adopted environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards and pro-environment policies promoted by the Chinese government. IB offers green-finance solutions that push them along the road to carbon neutrality. Its tools include differentiated credit and product services that guide enterprise development in line with the government’s green industrial policies. Services for carbon-cutting entrepreneurs in “brown” industries such as steelmaking differ from those in the electric-vehicle sector. IB incorporates ESG in its own development strategy as well, including in its five-year plan for the period ending 2025.
Best Private Bank for Entrepreneurs: Bank of China
High-net-worth entrepreneurs drive economic innovation and development as a path to wealth creation; Bank of China devotes particular attention to these clients, earning it this year’s award as Best Private Bank for Entrepreneurs.
A recent BOC report found that more than 70% of China’s high-net-worth banking clients are entrepreneurs facilitating national strategies including finance with Chinese characteristics, innovation and quality economic development. To that end, BOC last year launched an Entrepreneur Office brand that adds a platform of full-cycle services with integrated global operations to its private banking offering.
BOC’s The Entrepreneur Office consults one-on-one with its major entrepreneurial clients on asset allocation, providing custom-tailored, full-process and exclusive services. The office also supports client families, as BOC has more than 1,000 family trusts totaling ¥20 billion under management, and its “government, bank, enterprise” platforms include discussion forums, charity services and offices worldwide.
Best Private Bank for Ultra High Net Worth Individuals: China Minsheng Bank
Tailored services that run from investment consulting to travel advice help build long-term relationships between private banks and their ultra-high-net-worth clients. One institution that has embraced this model is China Minsheng Bank, winner of the Best Private Bank for Ultra High Net Worth Individuals award.
Minsheng’s professional investment team provide custom investment strategies and asset allocation recommendations based on its analysis of the market and customer needs. It goes the extra mile with personal and family services, including a detailed family inheritance service and three family planning services: Wise Investment for asset allocation, Smart Management for asset inheritance and Family Business Wisdom for corporate management services.
The services list also includes VIP assistance in travel, health care, sports, legal and children’s education consulting. Clients can take advantage of streamlined ticketing for top sporting events and access to high-end hospital care nationwide.
Best Wealth Management Proivder: China Merchant Bank
Industry analysts were surprised last year when some banks reported stronger-than-expected results tied to efforts to broaden their wealth management clientele. A standout example was China Merchants Bank (CMB), this year’s Best Wealth Management Provider.
CMB’s income from wealth management services rose nearly 34% year-on-year to ¥52.1 billion in 2022, or 16% of the bank’s total business revenue. The bank has built a portfolio of investment products, refined a customer app and cooperated with other financial institutions to create a wealth management ecosystem accessible to as many people as possible, from super wealthy to middle class. As of late 2021, annual revenue from the CMB’s wealth management products exceeded ¥3 trillion, up 35% year-on-year. Non-monetary mutual funds stood at ¥608 billion in assets under management while equity hybrid funds had reached an industry-leading ¥791 billion. CMB also leads banks in the number and size of newly issued mutual funds aimed at attracting younger clients averse to risk and keen on short-term gains.
CMB’s success is also linked to its technological progress: The bank has built an online operations matrix for complex products.
Best Bank for Private Banking Technology: Ping An Bank
Artificial intelligence (AI) should make a private bank’s customer experience less complicated and more user-friendly. Ping An Bank delivers on both counts with what it calls “carry-on” AI banking, earning it this year’s Best Bank for Private Banking Technology award.
Before and during the Covid pandemic, Ping An Private Bank launched China’s first AI private placement platform, an online system that combines insurance trust and family trust services as well as the first AI business development platform for financial managers. It is also the first private bank to offer customers 24/7, online, independent trading of private products.
Carry-on AI banking pursues healthy wealth growth through trust products capable of providing each customer a lifetime of service. It uses AI to match investment targets with products and lets customers review positions, market performance, and asset allocation continually. The system works in real time in a closed loop with online terminals, remote customer services, and investment advisers.
Best Bank for Sustainable Finance: Bank of China
A sustainable, green-friendly investment strategy can look good on paper but fall short without the highest echelons’ support. Bank of China’s green strategy has the strong backing of its board chairman, who has led a special steering committee for green finance, helping BOC win Best Bank for Sustainable Finance.
The Steering Group for Green Finance and Industrial Planning and Development is leading a push to finance “peak carbon emissions and carbon neutrality” projects in seven areas, including business development, environmental risks, and carbon footprint management. The group’s work follows through on board endorsement of a corporate social responsibility strategy in 2021.
BOC now blocks credit and investment support for corporate customers and projects that fail to meet environmental standards, damage habitats, illegally log and fish, and cause deforestation. The bank has also stopped financing new coal mining and coal power projects outside China, except for projects already contracted.
Best Bank for Sustainable Infrastructure: Bank of China
Responding to climate change includes environmentally friendly infrastructure projects funded by banks with global reach. An international powerhouse, Bank of China has embraced such projects worldwide and wins the Best Bank for Sustainable Finance award.
As lead bank, BOC’s London branch in 2022 contracted and disbursed a syndicated loan for the world’s largest operational offshore wind farm in the North Sea. Through syndicated loans, its Beijing branch supported biodiversity conservation, green building construction, and environmental protection in Yanqing District, near Beijing in connection with the 2022 Winter Olympics. BOC’s office buildings in Hong Kong, Shanghai, London, and other cities have implemented renovations targeting energy conservation, water saving, recycling, and organic procurement.
BOC is also behind infrastructure projects in areas such as hydrogen energy, wind power and hydropower. In 2022, its green credits on the mainland grew 41% to ¥1.9 trillion. BOC’s goal is to boost these facilities, covering infrastructure financing in China and worldwide, by at least ¥1 trillion annually through 2025.
Best Bank for Green Bonds: CICC
Carbon neutrality is no longer a theoretical possibility but a tangible target for global investors, as shown by the rising demand for green bonds: especially in China, where they are a component of the nationwide shift to environmentally friendly industries, energy, and consumer products. CICC, this year’s winner of the Best Bank for Green Bonds award, is leading the nation’s banking sector in serving global and domestic investors with a carbon neutral focus.
CICC leverages its underwriting capacity in the international ESG arena, ranking first among Chinese securities houses for international ESG bonds launched by Chinese issuers. It was also number one for corporate green bonds and related asset-backed securities underwritten in China in 2021, with a total value of ¥16.6 billion issued.
CICC combines full-product bond underwriting capabilities with industry-leading international business development. By working within the parameters of Chinese government policy goals and international market demands, its fixed-income products are strategically aligned with local government bonds, convertible bonds, and other deployments.
Among the institution’s recent successes is a 2021 green bond issue by China Development Bank for the Yangtze River Economic Belt under the foreign investor-friendly Bond Connect program. CICC helped canvass a cross-section of institutional investors. The deal deepened China’s cooperation with foreign investors on green investment.
Best Bank for Corporate Governance: China Merchant Bank
Laying a policy foundation for green investment begins at the top. Through a special committee under its Board of Directors, China Merchants Bank is a leader in responsible, sustainable investment, incorporating environmental, social, and governance factors into its investment decisions, earning it the Best Bank for Corporate Governance award.
CMB delegated green finance-related responsibilities to the board’s Strategy Committee in August 2021. Later, the committee was renamed the Strategy and Sustainability Committee, underscoring CMB’s commitment to coordinating ESG responsibilities including inclusive finance, green finance, human capital, public welfare and social responsibility. The change required an adjustment to the bank’s articles of association. That year, CMB sold some ¥17.8 billion in equity for new energy and photovoltaic companies that embody the bank’s ESG principles.
Best Bank for Corporate Social Responsibility: China Construction Bank
Flexibility is crucial for financial institutions supporting social causes; a rigid approach can frustrate such efforts, as worthy causes are often in flux. A standout in addressing social needs with flexible support is China Construction Bank (CCB), winner of the Best Bank for Corporate Social Responsibility.
Through its “Huidongni” app, CCB provides digitized financial services including custom credit packages to small businesses and farmers. The app served more than 17 million individual and 8.9 million corporate users last year.
Also in rural areas, CCB provides agricultural trade and finance training, focusing on 4,500 wholesale markets and 30,000 agricultural markets nationwide. For the disabled and elderly, the bank provides poverty relief and educational services through trade unions and it has helped fund solar streetlight installations in villages nationwide. Altogether in 2022, CCB donated ¥128 million mainly for poverty alleviation, rural revitalization, and nonprofit projects.
Most Innovative Bank: China Zheshang Bank
Modernization and cost savings are good reasons for a bank to digitize aspects of transaction services, capital account management, and cross-border trading. But so is customer service. China Zheshang Bank’s digital transformation prioritizes customer service, earning it the Most Innovative Bank award.
CZBank’s statement for Stars of China notes that the bank’s digital application developers focus on “customers’ pain points” as they build systems to provide a smoother, more rewarding experience.
The bank established a lifecycle management platform for accounts receivable and strengthened information storage and risk management. As of June 2022, it had completed work on new supply chain financing platforms for 16 companies including China Technology Medical and Southern Power Grid, issuing 11,526 blockchain receivables worth nearly ¥54 billion.
CZBank has also created digital “employees” with human abilities such as speaking and writing for its asset management and risk control operations. These automated functionaries can perform 97 tasks around the clock, from regulatory reporting to risk warnings. As of April 2022, the bank reports, the system was saving 200,000 human labor hours a year. CZBank is also boosting rural revitalization with blockchain solutions for farmers. At the end of 2021, its balance of agriculture-related loans topped ¥172 billion.
Innovative, customer-focused digitalization has paid off for CZBank. In 2021, it reported ¥54.471 billion in operating income, up 14% year-on-year.
Innovation in Payments: AsiaPay
Financial institutions want to offer cost-effective payment solutions utilizing digital technology. They also need access to as many of the world’s major payment conduits as possible, including credit cards, AliPay, ApplePay and WeChat Pay. Equally important is protection against fraud. Accommodating all these needs requires a unique service provider like AsiaPay, winner of the Innovation in Payments award.
Hong Kong-based AsiaPay offers digital payment solutions and quality service across the Asia-Pacific region. It offers a variety of generic and versatile—multicurrency, multilingual, multicard, and multichannel—payment solutions, together with advanced fraud detection and management solutions.
For Chinese banks seeking innovative ways to help merchants improve their business processes, AsiaPay recently launched a family of secure systems covering Visa, MasterCard, JCB and UnionPay. Participating banks can offer cardholders an easier experience at online and mobile checkouts that is also cost-effective, and fraud protected.
Innovation in Fintech: ICBC
Financial technology has gone mainstream, boosting efficiency, transaction speed and customer convenience. The next step for fintech is value creation, especially for banks. ICBC has taken significant steps to unlocking fintech’s value-building potential, and in so doing wins the Innovation in Fintech honor.
In recent years, ICBC established a big data management system to transform the data advantage from scale-oriented to value-oriented. In so doing, it becomes the first bank to evolve from the stage of data factorization to data assetization and data capitalization. Its platform provides the organization with large-scale, inclusive data use services, encompassing intelligent empowerment of all group and external assets data as well as a global data asset planning and management mechanism covering asset analysis, governance, security, operation, and application. Data products can be reused and promote value-oriented data applications.
ICBC says its big data management system has improved the quality and efficiency of its financial services. The number of digital marketing channels used for bank promotions nearly doubled in one year, enhancing the value of fintech innovation.
Best Bank for Transaction Services: China Merchants Bank
The Covid pandemic taught the world the importance of supply chains—and revealed new ways for them to finance supply-chain activity. China Merchants Bank established a special supply chain financing zone and developed a supply chain procurement payment service, which together contributed to its selection as Best Bank for Transaction Services.
CMB started with its high-quality supply chain customers. In 2021, the bank extended its “national linkage” supply chain financing service to include corporate collections. It gave core enterprises the right to automatic repayments and interest refunds at any time. The bank also introduced a settlement financing program for manufacturers spanning up to six months. A new supply chain platform includes cloud-based certification directly connected to commercial paper exchange.
CMB has also been upgrading its major transaction banking services, optimizing products and services for enterprise sales, procurement, and digitization. The list includes an industry-leading cashier product with account verification and multichannel collections, a risk-control system for automatic credit line approvals for letters of guarantee, and a mortgage management app for small businesses.
Best Bank for Cross-Border Trade: China Guangfa Bank
Cross-border trade financing can run hot and cold for Chinese banks that cater to the country’s exporters. Riding the waves is easier with ultra-efficient transaction processing systems such as Instant Connect, operated by China Guangfa Bank, this year’s Best Bank for Cross-Border Trade.
Its system allow the entire cross-border transaction process to be handled online. Blockchain architecture provides convenience and strong data verification; CGB pioneered the use of blockchain for cross-border financing in the Greater Bay region of Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
CGB was the first Chinese bank to offer self-service foreign exchange settlement and one of the first to launch instant customs duty payment and bank-guaranteed electronic data transmission. Corporate customers submit transaction applications online and some deals can be completed in hours. The system has cut customer risks and costs. And it’s popular; corporate-customer usage increased year-on-year 15% to 6,095 in 2022 while transaction volume jumped 55%, to ¥48 billion.
Best SME Services Bank: CICC
Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are pioneers in shifting China’s economic driver from investment to consumption and innovation. At their side are financial service partners including CICC, winner of the Best SME Services Bank award.
CICC’s focus on SMEs was underscored recently by its addition of a Growth Enterprise Investment Banking Department offering strategic advisory and capital markets services in emerging business sectors to clients including startups. SMEs can obtain equity financing to support inclusive finance, and CICC links their investment and financing needs through online platforms.
For the year ended in March, CICC was the second biggest bookrunner for SME IPOs on the mainland, closing several landmark deals including the listings of antibiotics maker Shanghai MicuRx Pharmaceutical and chip designer Lontium Semiconductor Corp., the first chip designer of its kind listed on the Shanghai A-shares market.
CICC is also pioneering SME service in mergers and acquisitions. The bank works closely with these clients to address both the business and financial sides of M&A deals as well as provide strategic planning and reorganizations. CICC’s edge is linked to its history of participation in China’s capital markets, giving SMEs access to a wide range of financing channels.
Best Asset Manager: ChinaAMC
The giant of China’s asset management industry tops its rivals in total assets under management (AUM). But a truly dominant institution wins by establishing a healthy investment practice as well, through investor education, innovative products and ESG investment, among other steps. ChinaAMC is that kind of giant as this year’s Best Asset Manager.
ChinaAMC manages some 369 mutual funds serving 204 million retail and 120,000 institutional investors. Total AUM as of last spring was $267 billion, including $55 billion in 88 exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and 41 ETF feeder funds.
The bank’s innovative products include the CNI Vaccines and Biotechnology Index Initiating Fund, a vehicle tied to China’s aging population and the pandemic that launched in September 2022 as the first over-the-counter (OTC) index fund to track a vaccine and biotechnology index. The firm also recently launched its BSE 50 Component Index Fund, the first index fund to track the BSE 50 component of the Beijing Stock Exchange.
ChinaAMC’s research team boasts 200 investment professionals conducting 3,000 visits to listed companies annually. For retail investor education, it offers a TikTok account with 739,000 followers and hundreds of videos were released last year, with play volume exceeding 70 million.
Best Foreign Bank Asset Manager: Fidelity Fund Management (China)
After being appointed managing director of Fidelity International’s new Chinese asset management subsidiary, Helen Huang said the firm would “open up new opportunities for investors whilst contributing to the ongoing development of the financial industry in China.”
That pledge was music to the ears of regulators who have been cautiously licensing foreign asset managers since 2020 but are counting on Fidelity and its rivals to advance financial sector development. Huang’s firm, Fidelity Fund Management (China) wins this year’s Best Foreign Bank Asset Manager award.
The China Securities Regulatory Commission granted Fidelity a wholly foreign-owned enterprise license last December, only the second such awarded, following BlackRock CCB Wealth Management. Fidelity has had an office in Shanghai since 2004 and became the first foreign institution to launch a private equity fund product on the mainland in 2017.
The new firm, which will serve both retail and institutional investors, marks a significant step into the future for the mutual fund giant as well. Operating in China is “an enormous opportunity,” Huang said.
Most Advanced Trading Technology Bank: China Guangfa Bank
Insurance companies depend on financial data processing and banks with data-handling skills. China Guangfa Bank (CGB) has built a solid reputation as a leader in insurer services through its Jizhi cash management system, helping CGB win the Most Advanced Trading Technology award.
The system targets large-scale premium collections by insurance companies, using robotic process automation to import lists, initiate deductions, and perform other operations. For batch claim settlements, it automatically matches and transfers funds to its client banks. Transactions are consolidated to improve external payment efficiency, saving clients’ money.
CGB’s cash management system also provides individualized receipt management for insurers and simplifies reconciliation. Insurance customer receipts are clear and concise, showing the benefits of advanced technology for insurers and consumers alike.
Best Bank for Risk Management: Postal Savings Bank of China
Digitization is critical to modern risk management, but it requires a network of custom solutions. Postal Savings Bank, China’s largest bank by number of retail outlets, has built an admired suite of risk management offerings, earning it Best Bank for Risk Management recognition.
PSB’s digital credit risk management services include a unified credit extension management system based on intelligent risk control. The bank employs microservices and distributed architecture to enable comprehensive, green, and real-time credit management that unifies credit extension and control for customers. Since launching, the system has embraced all types of credit customer, providing protection with instant approval and lending services, thus balancing risk control and customer experience. It provides automated retail credit reviews that cut in half the credit-approval workload at branches.
For non-retail businesses, PSB has developed a model for evaluating portfolio risks and a big data-based risk forecast model for small enterprises. It has also increased coverage of suspicious transaction monitoring for anti-money laundering management and enacted a text analysis model for consumer complaints.
Best Domestic Bank for Renminbi Internationalization: HarbinBank
The yuan is gaining worldwide acceptance as a tool for cross-border trade; China’s banks are taking the lead in promoting it. HarbinBank, which is based in the northeast and plays a major role in strengthening currency relations with Russia, wins the Best Domestic Bank for Renminbi Internationalization award.
Acceptance of the yuan has steadily risen since 2009, when the government started encouraging its use in bilateral trade settlements, and today, 30 countries settle in the currency.
Since March, trade settlements between China and Brazil have been made in their currencies rather than US dollars. Since April, Argentina has used renminbi alone for Chinese imports. And HarbinBank continues to develop cross-border e-commerce with Russia through Sino-Russia online settlement products. It now supports more than 10 payment tools in Russia. The bank has also helped develop the Sino-Russia settlement center in the Harbin Area of Heilongjiang Free Trade Zone which handles more than ¥15 billion in transactions annually.
Best Domestic Bank for Belt and Road: ICBC
China’s decade-old Belt and Road Initiative, which fosters trade and infrastructure investments, has as its adage that good business is not a zero-sum but a win-win. A standout in putting the argument across is ICBC, winner of the Best Domestic Bank for Belt and Road award.
ICBC advertises itself as promoting inclusiveness and pursuing mutual benefits, common interests, and cooperation in its trade and infrastructure deals, along with sustainable development and corporate social responsibility. It has long encouraged cross-border cooperation, financing hundreds of projects in more than 70 countries. Focus areas include export credit, resource-backed structured financing, cross-border mergers and acquisitions, aircraft and ship financing, international syndicated loans, and advisory services.
ICBC has worked as a financial advisor on significant foreign oil, gas, and mineral projects encompassing resource development, pipelines, and receiving terminals. It also promotes green investments and carbon trading as part of its Belt and Road effort, working, it says, to extend the win-win worldwide.