Small US businesses using RMB for transactions: Survey

Updated: 2015-03-25 06:07

By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York(China Daily USA)

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Small US businesses are embracing the Chinese currency renminbi (RMB or yuan) to settle cross-border trades, more than large or middle-market US companies, according to a global survey commissioned by HSBC bank.

Twelve percent of US small businesses in the survey said they had used the RMB in the last 12 months, compared to 9 percent of large or middle-market companies, said the report released Tuesday by the London-based bank.

"We found that SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) and middle-market enterprises were the early adopters of the renminbi and not necessarily the large conglomerates," Kevin Quinn, head of corporate banking at HSBC, said in an interview on Tuesday.

The survey was done by Nielsen, which contacted 106 American companies and over 1,600 companies worldwide. It explored the attitudes and use of renminbi by decision makers at international companies in 14 markets and showed that 65 percent of US businesses expect trade with China to increase over the next year, up from 55 percent in 2014 and higher than the global average of 54 percent.

Even as a majority of US businesses expect to buy and sell more goods in China over the next year, only 10 percent of US businesses said they had used the RMB, compared with the global average of 17 percent, according to the report.

Quinn said US usage of the RMB has been as high as 17 percent. "The strengthening dollars has cut into that a bit. The US dollar has and will continue to be the currency of trade. But we believe that US businesses can take advantage of the renminbi to deepen relationships with supplier and expand their customer base in China," he said.

"China continues to reduce financial and bureaucratic barriers to using the RMB. There are incentives to using the RMB when doing business in China," Quinn said. "Many companies in China do not have the documentation to use US dollars. Plus US firms have found they receive better pricing when they use the Chinese currency."

Alfred Nader, vice-president Latin America and the Caribbean for Western Union Business Solutions, said that large companies across the Americas are already using the RMB, "but the real benefit will come when the SMEs of the region start to see the benefits".

Nader said in an e-mail that the argument that the adoption of the RMB exposes a US business to foreign exchange (FX) volatility is faulty for two reasons: "They are already paying for the volatility by the padding Chinese companies do to their prices to protect themselves from FX movements and they can eliminate any volatility by entering into a simple forward."

Close to one-fifth of US management teams have had discussions on using the Chinese currency as a potential opportunity or business enabler, in line with their peers in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom, though behind senior management in Singapore, Malaysia, Germany and the United Arab Emirates, where about a quarter have done so, and well behind those in Asia, the report said.

Last year the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a financial-services firm that monitors global currency flows, said payments from US companies in the yuan quadrupled from 2013 and the US passed Taiwan to become the fourth-largest hub for trade in the yuan outside of China.

Late last year, the renminbi also became the fifth most-used currency for global payments, according to data from SWIFT.