Hong Kong-based Chong Hing Bank, which is backed by the Guangzhou government’s investment vehicle, Yuexiu Group, is accelerating its expansion in mainland China, in particular the Greater Bay Area (GBA), as lenders vie for a larger share in the growing market. The bank plans to open around seven new branches and sub-branches in mainland cities in the next five years, with the bulk located in the bay area, said Chong Hing Bank executive director and chief executive Zong Jianxin in an interview with the Post last week. The lender opened a new branch in Beijing in September, while a new outlet in Hangzhou, the capital of eastern Zhejiang province, is also being planned, he said. “Actively developing the mainland business is our focus,” said Zong. “Northbound [expansion] is a trend as Hong Kong further integrates into the national blueprint, and we see opportunities there.” The rapid expansion comes as global banks with major presences in Hong Kong and Macau, including HSBC and Standard Chartered , have also sped up their development in the bay area, where the banking sector is projected to reach US$200 billion by 2025 , according to HSBC. “It is a medium- to long-term trend for Hong Kong-based banks to expand northward given the large China market and increasing interconnectivity with Hong Kong,” said Frankie Leung, a partner at consultancy firm Bain & Company. “While the expansion may not be limited to GBA, GBA is definitely the priority area of focus.” Chong Hing, which was bought by Yuexiu in 2014, aims to have the mainland account for around half of its net loans and assets in the next five years, up from close to a third at present, Zong said. The bank, which hopes to become “an integrated commercial bank with cross-border expertise”, currently has six regional branches in first-tier cities Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, as well as in Macau and Shantou in the GBA. It opened a new sub-branch in Zhongshan, which borders Guangzhou, in June, and has set up sub-branches in neighbouring Zhuhai, Shenzhen, Foshan and Dongguan. Chong Hing also wants to broaden its footprint to other developed markets outside the GBA, partly to cater to the investments and businesses of its current customers, especially those in Hong Kong, Zong said. “We want to establish new connections with existing clients,” he said. The bank is betting on the fast economic growth, large number of companies and huge local demand for financing services in those markets to boost the bank’s growth, he added. As part of the expansion, Zong said the bank is devoting more resources to enhance the digitisation of its platforms and services, including a planned service that would allow both Hong Kong and mainland Chinese citizens who are physically in Hong Kong to open savings bank accounts in the city via its mobile banking app. Heated rivalry in the bay area’s banking sector has pushed institutions to produce more digital offerings and tailored products and solutions for specific segments or groups, according to Joe Ngai, chairman of McKinsey in the Greater China region. “Competition in banking has always been very fierce in the Greater Bay Area,” said Ngai. “It is one of the most lucrative markets in the world, with over 80 million customers, many of them middle-class and affluent.” Chong Hing, which was privatised by Yuexiu and delisted from the Hong Kong stock exchange last September, hopes to re-list its shares in around three to five years if it can enhance the scale and quality of its assets and grow client numbers in line with its goals, according to Zong. He did not specify what those goals are.