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China Merchants Bank to expand focus on fintech

Jiang Xueqing
Updated: May 30,2018 9:17 AM     China Daily

Pedestrians walk past a China Merchants Bank branch in Yichang, Hubei province.[Photo/China Daily]

Positioning itself as a fintech bank, China Merchants Bank Co Ltd will increase technology investment to deepen its transition toward asset-light operations and management, said a senior executive of the bank.

The Shenzhen-headquartered China Merchants Bank, one of the largest listed national joint-stock commercial lenders by assets, has set up a fund of about 2.2 billion yuan ($344 million), or 1 percent of its net operating income in 2017, to encourage financial technology innovation associated with the banking business.

The majority of the funds have been spent on projects that seek to increase the monthly active users for the bank’s mobile applications and also on the exploration of big data, artificial intelligence and a wider variety of business scenarios, said Chen Kunde, chief information officer of the bank.

By the end of March, 174 projects had entered the evaluation stage in the sandbox approach for fintech solutions.

“Financial technology is at core of our work at the current stage … We are trying hard to learn from fintech companies in terms of infrastructure construction, the integration of information technology and banking business, the building of innovation mechanisms, and the restructuring of human resources to hire more talents specialized in digital and information technologies,” said Chen at a news conference in Beijing.

China Merchants Bank will expand its reach outside of just financial services by integrating such services into a growing number of lifestyle scenarios, just like what the internet companies did the other way round, he said.

“We lost the battle against tech giants in the first round because we fell behind in terms of the investment in research and development of user interaction, user behavior and internet technologies. Now that we have realized this, we must catch up,” he said.

What Chinese banks are doing in terms of going digital and exploring technologies is very innovative, according to Stephane Nappo, chief information security officer of international banking and financial services at Societe Generale, a French multinational financial services company.

All bankers in the world-Chinese, French or American-are conscious about the risks, and they have increased the security level of their banks, said Nappo during an interview at The Asian Banker’s the Future of Finance Summit 2018 in Beijing on May 24.

“From my knowledge with my Chinese colleagues, the investment in the Chinese banking industry is rising on the security topic because of the risk consciousness and the hackers … Today, the question is no longer ‘if you will be attacked’ but ‘when you will be attacked’. Any banker is a responsible manager and is happy to end the risk,” he said.

In his speech at the summit, Nappo noted that although technology and innovation has enabled faster financial services, the number of fraud cases is also on the rise, and no innovation is immune to cyber hacking.

Because of the ease of data circulation today-not only into China but between China and the other countries-he said it is an absolute need that the regulation on data management will be more consistent worldwide.

China’s banking and insurance regulator has recently issued data management guidelines for financial institutions in the banking industry, effective May 21.