China’s biggest lender starts local operations

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THE INDUSTRIAL and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) Ltd. has started operations in the Philippines, two months after it secured its license from the central bank.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said it has given ICBC a certificate of authority to put up a branch here and operate as a commercial bank.

Circular Letter 2019-017 signed by BSP Deputy Governor Chuchi G. Fonacier stated that ICBC started its operations in Manila on Feb. 14. This comes after the China-based lender registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission in August last year and secured a banking license from the central bank in November.

ICBC is the biggest lender in China in terms of total assets. It is listed at the Shanghai Stock Exchange and the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Ltd.

The bank’s foray into the local market comes at a time of warmer trade ties between China and the Philippines, which came after President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s announcement of a “pivot” towards the East Asian country during his visit to Beijing in October 2016.

ICBC is the 12th foreign lender to secure the BSP’s nod to start operations in the country, following the passage of a 2014 law allowing more global banks to offer their services here. It is also the first Chinese bank to set up shop in recent years after Bank of China’s entry in 2002.

Republic Act 10641 signed by then-President Benigno S.C. Aquino III removed the limit that only 10 foreign-owned banks can operate in the country at any given time. Prior to this, a new foreign bank can set up a branch here only if one of the previously accredited foreign lenders pulls out.

Malaysia’s CIMB Bank is the latest lender to secure the BSP’s approval to set up a Manila branch.

Five Taiwanese banks have opened branches in the Philippines over the last three years: Cathay United Bank, Yuanta Commercial Bank Co. Ltd., First Commercial Bank, Hua Nan Commercial Bank Ltd., and the Chang Hwa Commercial Bank, Ltd.

The South Korean lenders Industrial Bank of Korea, Shinhan Bank, and Woori Bank also started their businesses here, as well as the Japan-based Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. and the Singapore-based United Overseas Bank Ltd. — Melissa Luz T. Lopez