ICBC Asia, the Hong Kong unit of the mainland's largest bank, plans to expand into direct investment and private equity business in a move to help strengthen non-interest income and broaden client base. Zhu Qi, the bank's managing director and chief executive, said the bank had recently set up an asset management arm to handle private equity business, aiming mainly to invest clients' money into the mainland market. 'We can make use of [our parent] Industrial and Commercial Bank of China's nationwide network to scout for investment opportunities,' he said in an interview. The bank would also work more closely with ICBC, which runs more than 20,000 outlets in the mainland, in businesses such as wealth management and financing, Mr Zhu said. Mr Zhu said there would be enough projects in the mainland in sectors such as property and raw material to meet investors' demand. ICBC Asia might also take part in the equity fund, he said. Expansion into equity fund business would not only help boost the bank's non-interest income, but also broaden its customer base for potential sales of other services, he said. ICBC Asia reported net profit rose 27 per cent last year to HK$1.25 billion, and return of equity of 12.4 per cent, which Mr Zhu said it was confident to take return to 15 per cent in three years. The bank also aimed at tapping the mainland market through its Shenzhen-based unit, Chinese Mercantile Bank, in areas including retail banking and financing, Mr Zhu said. Mr Zhu said Chinese Mercantile Bank would serve mainly its Hong Kong clients in the mainland to avoid direct competition with its parent, from whom it bought the lender in 2005. 'Chinese Mercantile will only handle lendings of less than 200 million yuan each, loan demand exceeding that amount will be referred to our parent,' he added. Chinese Mercantile posted a profit of HK$40 million last year and Mr Zhu said its increasing turnover might double this year. China Mercantile Bank planned to sell two billion yuan of bonds once the regulator allowed the sale of yuan-denominated bonds, he said. Apart from China Mercantile Bank, ICBC Asia also bought Union Bank in 2000 and Belgian Bank's Hong Kong operations in 2004, bringing its total number of workers to 1,300 at present from 50 in 2000. 'We will continue to look for expansion through acquiring retail bank if opportunities arise,' he said.