No word from regulators on private-bank policy

Updated: 2013-08-08 06:38

By Yu Ran in Shanghai (China Daily)

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Those who dream of running private-sector banks in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, will have to be patient, as the detailed policies that will allow them to move forward are taking time to emerge.

In 2010, the State Council, China's cabinet, issued an advisory that was intended to encourage the sound development of private investment by introducing private capital into the financial field.

In 2012, the China Banking Regulatory Commission released a document in which it supported the entry of private capital on an equal footing with other funding into the banking industry.

It was about that time when Lyu Weiguo, the former chairman of the Wenzhou Chamber of Commerce in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, got the idea to launch a privately owned bank in his hometown.

"We submitted our first draft in June 2012 to Wenzhou's financial office, expressing our plans to help more small and medium-sized enterprises with financial problems.

"We had noticed that there was a ray of light in the window that would allow us to have a privately owned bank," said Lyu, who is the general manager of the Wenzhou Merchants Joint Investment Center.

He's also in charge of applications for private-sector banks proposed by 12 Wenzhou-area chambers of commerce.

Lyu added that it took only two weeks for the chambers to hold final discussions on a proposal for a private-sector bank in the city. But more than one year later, all they have to show for their efforts is a reply from the city's financial office, which said that the proposal had been submitted to the appropriate department in the central government.

Wenzhou, China's hotbed of private capital, was selected for a pilot private-sector banking project in March 2012. At that point, many local entrepreneurs had defaulted on their debts and fled the city. The wave of defaults followed a September 2011 move by State-owned banks to tighten loan terms for smaller enterprises.

Under a 12-point financial reform plan for Wenzhou, the city was urged to set up an authorized system to facilitate and monitor private lending.

"We wanted to follow the model of a village bank, which was permitted under the Wenzhou financial reforms, to launch a private bank in the city by providing lower-cost loans to small enterprises," said Lyu.

On June 19, the State Council held an executive meeting in which it discussed how to conduct a trial launch of private-sector banks and financial agencies totally funded by private capital.

Hearing the good news, Lyu and his partners immediately submitted a second draft plan, which has yet to receive a response.

On July 5, another advisory document from the State Council also mentioned the trial plan to encourage private capital to launch private-sector banks.

But the bottom line is that over the past two years, no detailed measures have been announced to allow private capital into the financial sector.

Figures from the CBRC show that only 45 percent of the total shares of joint-stock commercial banks were in private hands as of the end of 2012.

"We know it is very difficult for the central government to make a big move, so we want to wait a bit longer to see if our dream still can be realized. We are ready with money and shareholders at any time," said Lyu.

This isn't the first time that Wenzhou entrepreneurs have tried to run a private bank.

Yang Jiaxing, 68, who founded the first private shareholding urban credit cooperative in Wenzhou more than a decade ago, was another businessman with the same dream. He did his best to gather enough small and medium-sized enterprises to participate in the project before submitting a detailed plan to the Wenzhou branch of the CBRC at the end of 2012.

"We had held discussions with potential shareholders of the bank and certain SME-related associations to ensure that the bank could be launched as soon as possible after the approval of the draft plan, which went nowhere in the past year," said Yang.

Yang added that he had lost patience with the long wait and abandoned the goal of opening a private-sector bank.

"Several enterprises in Wenzhou submitted plans to launch private-sector banks in 2001, 2006, 2010 and 2012, which all ended with no response," said Zhou Dewen, the chairman of the Wenzhou Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Development Association.

(China Daily USA 08/08/2013 page14)