Staying ahead of the pack
Many factors contribute to the success of today's leading banks, foremost among them is the ability to anticipate and incorporate change. Whether that is a matter of adopting internet technologies, introducing new investment choices, or setting higher standards of customer service, the key is to embrace innovation without forgetting the importance of core corporate values.
Bank of China (Hong Kong), or BOC (HK), has long realised this combination of progress and principles is the way to win customers and gain a competitive edge. As the bank's parent group celebrates its centenary, the Hong Kong-based organisation, though a separate legal entity, can also look forward to achieving new firsts and steady expansion.
Any doubts can be dispelled by considering BOC (HK)'s record. In terms of assets and customer deposits, it is already one of the leading commercial banks in Hong Kong. With more than 280 branches, supported by 450-plus Jetco ATMs and specialist wealth management centres, it offers a full package of services.
Personal banking customers can arrange everything from mortgages, loans and remittances to insurance and MPF accounts. Corporate clients, from small and medium-sized enterprises to multinationals, are supported in trade finance, e-commerce and cash management services. And tailor-made investment advice and execution is available for dealing in securities, funds and foreign exchange, and precious metals, structured deposits or futures.
Bank of China's presence in Hong Kong goes back to 1917. The present organisational structure, though, dates from October 1, 2001, the point at which the business of 10 banks in Hong Kong belonging to the parent group was brought together under one umbrella. The resulting organisation, Bank of China (Hong Kong), was listed on the local stock market in 2002 and has consolidated its reputation as a pillar of the financial sector. Examples of that are BOC (HK)'s status as one of three note-issuing banks in Hong Kong and its role, since 2004, as a clearing bank for renminbi (RMB) business on behalf of the People's Bank of China. The main responsibilities of the latter function are to help with trade settlement and financing between the mainland and Hong Kong.
With the internationalisation of the renminbi as a tradeable currency, it has offered a platform to develop new RMB-based products and services for retail and commercial customers. In terms of personal banking, these developments now include RMB deposits, remittances, bonds, and standing exchange instructions. It is also possible for visitors from Hong Kong to settle by cheque any payments for consumer spending in Guangdong province. And cards issued by BOC (HK) can be linked to the Hong Kong dollar and RMB accounts. At many ATMs, users can now make withdrawals in either currency, and the number of merchants ready to accept dual currency credit cards is expanding.
With its cross-border network and in-house expertise, BOC (HK) fully expects RMB business to represent an increasingly significant share of transaction volumes and revenue. On one level, this should be seen in further opportunities to act as lead managers and book runners for the issuance of RMB bonds. On another, it will mean overseeing the expected surge in RMB-denominated personal savings accounts and ensuring reasonable returns.
Having professionals with experience of the business environment provides a crucial head start, as do close links with the bank's parent group. Indeed, BOC (HK) is relying on such advantages to expand its coverage and promote RMB wealth management services, two clearly defined corporate targets.
Guided by market conditions, other broad objectives include providing 'tailored cash management services for key customers'. Since 2007, this area of the bank's business - related mainly to treasury products - has steadily gained prominence. It has centred on structured bills, stock derivative warrants, and QDII (qualified domestic institutional investor) products.
As part of the forward plan, another important initiative will be what the bank terms its 'double-force advance' strategy. Specifically, this relates to closer co-operation with subsidiaries Nanyang Commercial Bank and Chiyu Banking Corporation, focusing where appropriate on developing corporate and foreign exchange business on the mainland.
What it also encapsulates is a corporate philosophy designed to capitalise on existing strengths and new areas of opportunity. Step by step, BOC (HK)'s aim is to be recognised as the top financial services group in the region, based on solid foundations in Hong Kong, its reach on the mainland and strategic positioning in other key markets. Already, there are working relationships in place with more than 1,900 correspondent banks around the world. This network makes real the concept of global services and the promise of access to on-the-spot advice and assistance in major cities worldwide.
It also ensures awareness of and compliance with legal codes, industry regulations and best banking practice for every type of transaction. As an example, group policy for internal controls, set out by Bank of China head office, requires three lines of 'defence' with institutions, departments and staff each accepting their respective levels of responsibility.
Individuals must play their part with a proper system of self-evaluation, inspection, rectification and training. Compliance departments and line managers must guide, inspect and supervise. And the audit department is there to check the 'appropriateness and effectiveness' of all business operations, risk management and corporate governance procedures
This three-tier system is viewed as the best way to impose standards, reassure customers, and create a culture where all staff recognise their responsibilities.