Bank of China (BOC), the mainland's largest foreign-exchange lender, will soon have a new chairman, following the appointment of Tian Guoli as party secretary on Monday. Tian, former vice-chairman of Citic Group, replaced Xiao Gang, who moved to head the China Securities Regulatory Commission last month, as BOC's party secretary, paving the way to become chairman. The appointment is widely regarded as a promotion for Tian in China's latest financial reshuffle, following the once-in-a-decade leadership transition last November, bankers said. "Tian's appointment was a surprise to many insiders, as there were candidates who are more well-known bankers and senior in political ranking," one banker said. "Tian's experience with an asset management company and conglomerate Citic Group made him stand out." Tian, 54, graduated from Hubei College of Economics and Finance. After graduation, he spent 16 years working for China Construction Bank (CCB), rising through the ranks to become vice-president of CCB's Beijing branch, division head of CCB headquarters and finally assistant executive president in 1999. Tian's role changed in the following 11 years from banking to disposals of bad loans taken over from state banks on the verge of collapse. He was vice-president, president and chairman of Cinda Asset Management, created to deal with non-performing loans from CCB. Under Tian, Cinda was restructured and expanded into underwriting stock and bond sales, pitting it against Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs. In 2009, Cinda's net profit more than tripled over the previous year's, to 4.37 billion yuan (HK$5.43 billion). Tian's work paved the way for Cinda's introduction of strategic investors including Standard Chartered, UBS and Citic Capital, and Cinda now plans to seek about US$3 billion in an initial public offering in Hong Kong, according to the bankers. Since the end of 2010, Tian has been with the state-owned Citic Group as vice-chairman and general manager of the group, and chairman of China Citic Bank, the mainland's seventh-largest lender by assets. Citic Bank's net profit grew just 0.6 per cent last year, making it one of the worst performers among Hong Kong-listed mainland lenders. Ironically for Tian, the bad-loan expert, that lacklustre performance was mainly due to an 81.8 per cent jump in asset impairment losses. Guo Tianyong, a professor at the Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing, said Tian faced challenges at BOC. "[BOC's] non-performing loans have been rising … and market competition is set to be fiercer with ongoing interest rate deregulation," he said.