Citigroup Inc. aims to triple the size of its branch network in China to about 100 outlets within three years as the U.S. bank vies with HSBC Holdings Plc for a bigger slice of the nation’s banking market.
“We are very excited about China,” Stephen Bird, Citigroup’s co-chief executive officer for the Asia-Pacific region, said in a Bloomberg TV interview. “For us, this is still the beginning of the China story.”
Citigroup, the third-biggest U.S. bank, trails London-based HSBC, which operates 105 outlets in the world’s second-largest economy. The company is drawing closer to severing government ties as the U.S. Treasury Department starts selling its remaining stake, the result of a $45 billion bailout in 2008.
The bank, based in New York, currently has 31 outlets in China. Bird said Citigroup will add outlets in Changsha in Hunan province and Nanjing in Jiangsu province. Standard Chartered Plc has 61 outlets in China.
Citigroup plans to triple its workforce in China to as many as 12,000 people in the next three years, Bird said in August.
Foreign banks’ operations in China are dwarfed by those of competitors like Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., the world’s largest lender by market value. Beijing-based ICBC has more than 16,000 outlets in China and generated 106.5 billion yuan ($16 billion) of pretax profit in the country in the first half, almost double the global total for Citigroup.
“The combined market share of foreign banks in China is less than 2 percent,” said Victor Wang, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Macquarie Capital Securities Ltd. “They can’t go into head-to-head competition with mainland lenders.”
The China expansion is part of Chief Executive Officer Vikram Pandit’s bet on Asia, where economies have rebounded faster than the U.S. and Europe from the global financial crisis. Citigroup generated $1 billion of profit from the region in the third quarter, almost half the bank’s total net income.
In the next six months, Citigroup aims to boost its number of branches in the Greater China region to 150 from 139 now, spokesman James Griffiths said. The company has 65 outlets in Taiwan and 43 in Hong Kong.
Bird said China’s government is taking “prudent and sensible” measures to cool the economy. Chinese regulators have sought to limit credit expansion after record lending in 2009 stoked a surge in property prices and raised the risks that bad debts will balloon.
“They are more aware of the potential bubbles, particularly in housing, than anyone else,” Bird said.
China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency said on Dec. 3 that the country will shift to a “prudent” monetary policy next year as the government seeks to rein in liquidity, combat accelerating inflation and limit the risk of asset bubbles.
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