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Banking

Private banking: Banks race to keep up with China’s rich

They are China’s emerging rich: hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs making money hand over fist. They want that money to work hard for them. And they are the target market for a new domestic industry: private banking. Chris Wright reports.

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OFFSHORE BANKS HAVE long targeted China’s ultra-wealthy through desks in Hong Kong, Singapore and Zurich. The arrival of specialist private banking or wealth management divisions in China’s own domestic banks is a newer trend. Now most of the bigger home-grown banks have built businesses in this area, and they expect it to be one of the biggest drivers of growth in coming years.

Just how big is the wealth management opportunity in China? One of the most useful sources of data on this is a report published in October by Boston Consulting Group. It estimates that households own about $2.5 trillion in China, making it the largest market in ex-Japan Asia; if one considers Greater China, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, it accounts for 45% of wealth in the region ex-Japan. BCG says Chinese wealth grew by a 23.4% compound annual growth rate between 2001 and 2006 – the world’s fastest – and at 31.6% in the year running up to the report’s publication, despite the fact that Chinese households have historically put a large proportion of their wealth into cash.

This pace is likely to be sustained.

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