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Local banks seek northern exposure
John Cremer
update on Saturday, September 18, 2010

Like most people in the local business community, Patrick Fung knows where growth lies.

"If you want to expand, you have to look north," says the chairman and CEO of Wing Hang Bank.

He says that since the Hong Kong market is mature and competitive, the challenge for banks here is determining how best to tap opportunities on the mainland.

Getting things right requires well-planned strategies and tough decisions about the scale of investment and projected speed of expansion.

"Our strategy is to focus mainly on the Pearl River Delta, though we do have a branch in Shanghai and are opening in Beijing," says Fung, who is also chairman of the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers' (HKIB) executive committee.

"This means we can draw on the synergy with Hong Kong and already have plenty of scope with a potential market of around 40 million people."

A licence to incorporate on the mainland has allowed Wing Hang to do "practically everything" that a retail bank based there can do.

The real excitement, though, now centres on prospects for offshore renminbi business and the extent to which it will become available for transactions outside the mainland, particularly since it is still not fully convertible.

"I'm sure this year, the offshore renminbi will be a topic of particular interest," Fung says, referring to the HKIB conference on Tuesday.

"China trades with so many countries and is committed to reducing the amount done in United States dollars. I look forward to more Chinese import/export trade transactions to be settled in Hong Kong in off-shore renminbi. That will create great potential for Hong Kong banks.

"Some of the big Chinese banks are already competing with Hong Kong banks for this 'offshore' business, but the market will keep growing, so we will get our share."

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