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E-commerce Gets ICBC Support

The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) 's e-banking business received a shot in the arm yesterday with the signing of strategic agreements with 12 new partners.


The partnerships with leading Chinese e-commerce companies including Sohu.com, cover areas like online payment and client sharing resources. Connecting the firms to the country's largest online banking system is expected to help solve a payment bottleneck that has long impeded China's e-commerce.


Jiang Jianqing, president of ICBC, said e-banking is becoming an increasingly key part of his bank's business structure. While online turnover accounted for 20 per cent of the bank's total settlement transactions last year, the percentage rose to 25 per cent in the first quarter of this year.


"Given the some 20,000 outlets we have, a 25 per cent share in turnover means online banking is already doing the job of some 6,000 outlets," Jiang said during the signing ceremony.


While recapitalization and joint-stock reform are important tasks, Chinese banks like the ICBC need to improve their core competitiveness, including improved business structure and growth models, the official said.


"E-banking is hugely important to banking reform," Jiang said.


Jiang's bank, China's largest State-owned commercial bank, received a US$15 billion capital injection in April, more than a year after Bank of China and China Construction Bank won a combined US$45 billion recapitalization.


All three banks are undergoing joint-stock restructuring and have plans to sell shares to the public, but analysts say they will need to substantially improve profitability to woo investors.


The ICBC has been working hard in recent years to promote intermediary services and e-banking, including online banking and telephone banking services, to help reduce reliance on interest income and its physical networks, as well as to improve competitiveness.


While online turnover totalled only 15.4 billion yuan (US$1.8 billion) in 2000, when the bank first launched its online banking platform, the figure became a staggering 38 trillion yuan (US$4.6 trillion) last year.


"Unlike in 2000 when we were overjoyed, we were not excited at all this time (last year)," Jiang said. "We believe it is only the start."


Although e-commerce is only contributing a small part to the ICBC's online banking business, totalling 5.7 billion yuan (US$686 million) last year, the potential looks enormous.


(China Daily May 19, 2005)


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