Harbin Bank is set to become the first lender to list in Hong Kong this year.
The city commercial lender, based in Heilongjiang province, plans to apply next week for an initial public offering to raise up to US$1 billion.
If it succeeds, the deal could herald a new wave of mainland bank flotations in Hong Kong in the coming months, as capital-hungry lenders queue up to raise funds in the city.
However, investors might not be too enthusiastic, if recent experience is any indication.
Sources close to the situation told the South China Morning Post that Harbin Bank was scheduled to file its listing application with Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing as early as next week and then await a hearing after the Lunar New Year.
If successful, it would launch its share offering in the middle of the year, depending on market conditions, the sources said.
Calls to the bank's press office were not answered.
Harbin Bank's application comes about a month after the lacklustre HK$23.2 billion public offering in Hong Kong of its bigger domestic rival, state-owned China Everbright Bank, amid persistent worries over dubious lending to local governments.
A steady march of cash-strapped mainland city commercial banks, including Bank of Shanghai and Guangfa Bank, are also looking for a listing window.
Citigroup holds a nearly 20 per cent stake in Guangfa, and it is understood it is working closely with Guangfa to make its Hong Kong float happen this year.
Many mainland banks, especially small city banks such as Harbin Bank, are keen to boost their capital base to cope with declining capital adequacy ratios, high level of non-performing loans and limited market penetration.
Everbright Bank, Bank of Chongqing and Huishang Bank have had a bumpy ride on the stock market since their listing in October last year. The three banks raised US$4.9 billion in their offerings.
Everbright Bank and Bank of Chongqing are trading below their issue prices, while Huishang is up 1.7 per cent since listing in November.
Husihang, which priced its shares at HK$3.53 in its offering, yesterday closed at HK$3.59. Everbright Bank ended at HK$3.73 against its issue price of HK$3.98 and Bank of Chongqing last traded at HK$5.18 from its issue price of HK$6.
The mainland regulator stopped approving listing applications of city commercial banks on the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges in 2007 because of concerns about the lenders' asset quality. Non-systemically important lenders have been required to meet a capital adequacy ratio of 10.5 per cent since January last year, but the ratio at some city lenders is only marginally above that level.
Founded in 1997, Harbin Bank has 15 outlets and owns 24 rural lenders nationwide. At the end of 2012, it had assets of 270.4 billion yuan (HK$346.7 billion) and liabilities of 253.1 billion yuan.
Its capital adequacy ratio stood at 13.13 per cent, 0.57 percentage point lower than a year earlier, according to the company website.
Harbin Bank has mandated ABC International, BOC International and China International Capital Corp to work on the deal.