Standard Chartered banking on China's prospects for own turnaround

2016-03-21 09:28Xinhua Editor: Gu Liping

Standard Chartered has realigned its business to gain from China's continued opening up in trade and capital markets, the lender's chief executive has said, shrugging off concern over China's slower growth and currency volatility.

Bill Winters, who was in Beijing over the weekend for the China Development Forum and the bank's own board meeting, thinks China's ongoing reform to open its capital account to global investors and the increasing global use of its renminbi currency give full play to the strength of the emerging market-focused lender.

"The nature of China's growth here should suit us very well," Winters said in an interview with Xinhua.

China has been a silver lining for Standard Chartered, which reported its first loss since 1989 amid rising bad loans, tumbling commodities prices and weakening currencies across emerging markets. The greater China region, including the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan, is the lender's single largest market, accounting for 33 percent of its total operating income, but it was less impacted by rising bad debts.

"Our assets quality in China is okay," Winters said. Though Standard Chartered extended credit to commodities-related companies in China as it did elsewhere, the risk is manageable, he believes.

Loan impairment in the Chinese mainland stands at 249 million dollars in 2015, compared with four billion the bank has made overall and much less than impairments made in other emerging economies in which it operates.

While the 1.5-billion-dollar loss the bank announced amid a massive restructuring has surprised investors, it also underscores the length Winters is willing to go to fix problems fast so he can start over on a more liquid and better capitalized basis.

Winters said he thinks resolving challenged borrowers sooner rather than later is better than kicking the can down the road only to suffer prolonged pain.

Whereas Standard Chartered has slimmed down in other markets, it is seeking to reassert itself in China. "Everything we are investing in, in one way or another, relates to our business in China," Winters said.

He said the bank is "not looking to further tighten underwriting standards in China," and rather wants to diversify its client base into China's "new economy," -- companies making goods and delivering services for the country's swelling middle class. Many of them are far healthier financially than their industrial peers in the economic slowdown.

Standard Chartered has also billed itself as a foreign bank that actively endorses Chinese authorities' reform to open capital accounts. It was one of the first foreign banks to participate in the payment system launched in October to facilitate cross-border yuan transactions.

And the bank has made sure to be among the first to put in place new offerings suited to most of the measures that eased capital flow across borders in the Shanghai free trade zone over the past few years.

It also sees China as an important source of new clients for its wealth management and private banking businesses as the number of China's high net worth individuals is on the rise.

Another area Winters is keen to put more focus into is China's Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to strengthen ties with countries in central and south Asia, the Middle East and east Europe through infrastructure and communication links.

"We operate in over half the countries where the initiatives is being rolled out," Winters said, "the bank has been and always will be a financier of underline infrastructure so that sort of initiative coming out of China is very suited to our business strategy."

He is also prioritizing enhancing digital capabilities in retail and corporate banking business, especially in emerging markets that have demonstrated more willingness to adapt to new financial technology to meet demand otherwise not satisfied by under-developed traditional financial infrastructure.

"We can be the one that does the leapfrogging or the one to be jumped over," Winters said.

Standard Chartered will spend 1.4 billion dollars this year on technology, both in its own shop and on outside companies that it seeks to work with and "share intellectual content."

The bank's private equity arm has been backing financial technology startups across emerging markets. It invested 25 million dollars in Vietnamese mobile wallet service MoMo, the startup announced earlier this week.

In August, Standard Chartered's PE arm also led a 207 million dollars C series financing for Chinese peer-to-peer online lender That funding was said to be the largest amount ever raised by a Chinese online lender for a single round at the time.


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