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China: European bank averts height of folly

It has long been a feature of foreign banks’ attempts to break in to the Chinese market that they will go to any lengths to avoid offending the local regulators. Too many have seen their businesses set back by official reprimands, or faced the even worse fate of an unofficial but effective temporary blacklisting. Euromoney heard of a striking example of self-abnegation that took place recently at an event on the mainland. The senior banker involved told us the story (confirmed by somewhat shell-shocked colleagues) on condition that his firm would not be identified beyond it’s being a leading European bank. The banker was just returning from a lavish dinner on the night before the conference, only to be grabbed by a subordinate and rushed to a developing crisis in the event hall. The bank had set up its stall next to that of an important Chinese regulator. A senior official from that regulator remarked in passing that it was a shame that the foreign bank’s display stand was an inch or so higher than the regulator’s. Within minutes a delegation of very senior bankers from the foreign firm were gathered around the offending stand, contemplating its offensive elevation in horror and discussing solutions ranging from sawing off the top inch to just throwing the whole thing away. In the end, they worked feverishly to dismantle it and reassemble it safely at the far end of the event hall, where it could no longer loom over the Chinese regulator’s display. “It could have set our business in this country back five years,” the banker said sheepishly as he remembered the debacle.

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