CIMB puts China at heart of growth push

Building on burgeoning trade flows, Malaysian bank is opening offices on the mainland and linking with key companies such as Alibaba

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 August, 2013, 8:18am

Regional banking group CIMB, which acquired key Asian assets of Royal Bank of Scotland last year, is targeting China for rapid business expansion outside its home market in Malaysia.

In April last year, the Kuala Lumpur-based investment and consumer banking group agreed to pay US$140 million for some Asian assets of loss-making RBS, which was bailed out by the British government during the 2008 financial crisis.

Now chief executive Nazir Razak is aiming to open new offices in China, with a view to expanding the group's presence in the world's No2 economy.

"Malaysia has already become the third-biggest trading partner of China after Japan and South Korea, with annual bilateral trade volume generating more than US$100 billion," Betty Zhao, the head of CIMB's China investment banking unit, told the South China Morning Post.

"We want to be part of the growth story and help bilateral trade grow further," added Zhao, a former senior RBS banker in Hong Kong who decided to stay with CIMB following the CIMB-RBS deal last year.

China is already the largest trading partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes most of the major economic powers in the region, such as Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Zhao, a television producer-turned banker who led a number of major transactions during her days at JP Morgan and RBS in Asia, said CIMB recently won approval from China's banking regulator to set up a branch in Shanghai, which would serve as an important platform for the bank to grow new clients and businesses in the country.

Ahead of the prospective launch of its Shanghai branch, CIMB had already reached out to major mainland companies to help them expand business outside their home market, Zhao said.

Earlier this month, CIMB and China's biggest e-commence company Alibaba agreed to join forces to start an electronic payment service.

The service will allow the bank's Malaysian customers, many of whom are Malaysian Chinese who represent about 25 per cent of the country's population, to use their credit cards to pay for their purchases on the mainland's No1 online store owned by Alibaba.

Among the selling points of the service, CIMB said, were that it would enable customers to avoid foreign-exchange transaction losses and would come with free shipping for up to three months of its start-up date of August 15.

The tie-up with Alibaba and the decision to open a Shanghai branch come after a visit to Beijing by Nazir.

During the trip, the CIMB chief held closed-door meetings with top Chinese officials including Vice-Premier Ma Kai, who is now in charge of the mainland's economic and financial affairs, and Shang Fulin, the chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission.

He also met Jack Ma Yun, the founder and chairman of Alibaba.

It was the first "courtesy visit" to top Chinese leaders for CIMB, and Vice-Premier Ma welcomed Nazir and his bank to do business in China, Zhao said.

"The latest co-operation with Alibaba clearly shows CIMB's active engagement with the mainland market and our old and new clients in China," said Zhao, who accompanied Nazir during his trip to China.

Nazir's father was the second prime minister of Malaysia and his brother Najib is the country's current prime minister.

As part of its regional expansion drive, CIMB last month officially launched its institutional brokerage business in Taiwan after receiving regulatory approval.