China's ICBC set to expand in Canada

Updated: 2013-09-13 11:44

By Eddy Lok and Li Na in Toronto (China Daily)

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 China's ICBC set to expand in Canada

William Zhu (right), president and CEO of ICBC (Canada), presents the ICBC UnionPay Dual Currency Credit Card to one of the first recipients, Michael Chan, Ontario minister of tourism, culture and sport, on the card lunching day on Aug 6 in Toronto. Li Na / China Daily

As one of the largest commercial banks in the world, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (the bank group) had expanded to 39 countries by the end of 2012. Seeing the huge market potential in Canada, the bank group made the strategic and successful acquisition of Bank of East Asia (Canada) in January 2010.

"Our bank group has around 400 million individual and corporate clients in mainland China," William Zhu, president and CEO of The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (Canada), told China Daily at the Toronto Bay Street Head Office. "As our valued clients are investing overseas and their companies are expanding internationally, we need to be right alongside them, meeting their banking needs."

Zhu said the Sino-Canadian markets are complementary of each other. As merchandise trade between Canada and China had increased to over $70 billion by the end of 2012 from $42 billion in 2006, the two countries continued to warm up to each other. Two-way investment had topped $15 billion and China is now Canada's second largest single-nation trading partner.

The acquisition of Bank of East Asia (Canada) allowed a smooth entry into the local market. The three and half years that followed built a solid foundation to enable stable future growth. Today, the bank has grown to include seven branches in Toronto and Vancouver, all located close to sizeable Chinese communities.

With the opening of a prominent downtown branch in the center of Toronto's financial district in September 2011, the bank group is shifting gears towards a more diversified client base. Plans are afoot to open more branches in Canada. The first wholesale branch in Calgary is underway and a Montreal location is in the planning stage.

Today, the bank offers both retail and corporate banking services. While operating on a par with international standards in banking practices, Zhu stressed that the bank group is finding its niche, a specialty that sets it apart from the other Canadian banks. Time and resources are being invested in advancing the in-house IT infrastructure. Through advanced electronic banking, the bank is able to explore this market and provide a convenient, cutting edge platform for banking services and operations. The bank group is also strong in electronic channels like bank cards, online banking, telephone banking and cell phone banking, said Zhu. Of Canada's 76 banks, only a handful provide cell phone banking.

"By providing more services through the electronic channel which is the new industry trend, we don't have to compete in the physical network but rather in easy usage and unique services," said Zhu. "Using one central data center, effective solutions and prompt remittance services can be provided globally."

Other competitive services have been launched, including the CUP Dual Currency Credit Card, which can be used with UnionPay's worldwide network. It's the first UnionPay credit card in North America, and the second in the world. The 2.5 percent foreign currency conversion fee associated with credit cards is waived.

"With our dual currency Global Debit card, our clients in Canada can withdraw money from 2,400 ATM machines without charge. When purchasing goods globally, there is no currency conversion fee. When used in China, it is treated as a local debit card, which makes it especially convenient for frequent travelers," Zhu said.

With the increasing number of immigrants and tourists in Canada comes a higher demand for inter-continental services. "When Chinese citizens immigrate to Canada, or come here for study or vacation, we can provide them with the services they need. Many prefer to bank with us because they are familiar with our products and quality of service," Zhu said.

For Chinese investors, Canada is safe and fertile ground for foreign investments. China's huge population encourages its need to look overseas for resources ranging from oil, gas, and agri-food to renewable energy and real estate. "They know we can help reach a deal. We have an established IT platform sourcing information for the Canadian businesses. We emphasize good relations with local major banks, global accounting firms, law firms, investment banks and local companies," Zhu continued.

"While we want to help Chinese investors start businesses and invest in Canada easily, we also want our local Canadian companies to see the vast opportunities investing in China can bring to them. We want to be the preferred financial bridge of the two sides," said Zhu. "Canadian companies coming into China should see the importance of forming a partnership with a bank that understands Chinese businesses and has excellent connections.

"The bank group has over 18,000 branches covering all corners of the mainland, ongoing connections with the Chinese government, VIPs and local business communities," Zhu said. "We can assist with everything from finding a local partner to trade finance."

"With continuous development of new innovative products and continuous support from our parent bank, the bank group will become more competitive over time. Taking advantage of its strengths of a vast clientele base and IT platform, we will further provide our customers with comprehensive products and services with local characteristics, developing our competitive edge along the way," said Zhu.

Asked if the bank group is pushing for globalization and internationalization, Zhu said the bank wants to be a "globalized local bank".

"We appreciate the Canadian culture and know we must conduct business with local business and local people," he said "We want to be the preferred China-Canada financial bridge."

(China Daily USA 09/13/2013 page10)