The Asian cash management business has always held a great allure for banks throughout the region.
Its potential is obvious: lots of cash-rich companies – local and multinational – with diverse operations that require numerous different services, all wrapped up into a bespoke package that then cements a deeper client relationship.
And yet, turning that potential into reality is fiendishly difficult. The sheer diversity of Asia – its myriad client types, regulatory regimes, tax systems and currencies – makes executing a successful cash management strategy a big challenge for banks.
To get to the bottom of what clients really think about their Asian cash management service, this year Euromoney’s cash management poll asked a very simple question: are you satisfied with the cash management service of your banks?
|Asiamoney cash management net client satisfaction ratings|
VIEW REGIONAL RESULTS
VIEW COUNTRY RESULTS
SELECTED REGIONAL RESULTS
* Note: Based only on the votes of clients that qualify as regional voters/clients in the survey. Minimum vote count is 300 clients. Winners are the top-ranked bank from individual countries in the overall regional client net satisfaction rating rankings
Clients were asked to rate their relationship banks across 24 products and services in cash management: a rating of 1 was given if the bank’s service was poor; a rating of 2 if it was below expectations; a rating of 3 if it was in line with expectations; a rating of 4 if it exceeded expectations; and if clients thought a bank’s service to be exceptional, they gave it a score of 5.
Having compiled the data, we then added the percentage of clients that awarded positive (4 and 5) ratings and did the same for the negative satisfaction scores (1 and 2), then subtracted the latter from the former to produce an overall net satisfaction rating from clients. [Ratings of 3 were considered neutral and excluded from the calculations].
This gives a gauge of regional satisfaction with individual banks, different types of banks and also the Asian cash management business as a whole.
They are not small sample sizes: to receive a regional rating, a bank had to receive a minimum of 300 appraisals from clients for their cash business.
To add a further angle to this, Asiamoney asked how satisfied the clients were with the cash management offerings of banks in their home markets. Again, the sample size was large – banks had to receive over 100 appraisals from clients to get into the rankings.
In total, more than 12,000 Asian corporate treasury teams voted in the survey.
Some supposedly smaller regional Asian banks do remarkably well. The results for the top three – Fubon, Mizuho and Siam Commercial Bank – show a level of client satisfaction that is far ahead of that achieved by the global banks.
Among regional clients, close to 86% of Fubon’s corporate treasury customers thought its service exceeded expectations or was outstanding; just 8% viewed the Taiwanese bank negatively, giving Fubon a net customer satisfaction rating of +78%. For Japan’s Mizuho and Thailand’s SCB, the net satisfaction ratings were +75% and +54% respectively. Just 4% of Mizuho’s regional clients gave the bank a negative rating.
Clearly these are banks whose regional clients tend to be those that have grown domestically first with their relationship banks before expanding overseas.
The results are therefore arguably skewed in their favour in two ways: first, their relationships run deep; and second, the number of clients they serve regionally is limited compared with bigger international banks, so they can focus their offering to a smaller group of clients and are probably not able to offer the same breadth of service as their more international peers.
Whatever the reasons, for those clients, they are clearly doing something right.
In the next tier, all with regional net satisfaction ratings of +40% or better, are three other banks looking to build pan-Asian cash management capabilities from a strong domestic base: Singapore’s DBS (fourth) and UOB (sixth) sandwiching Bank of China (fifth). Some 51.9% of UOB’s regional clients had a positive view of the bank’s services, 0.1 percentage points more than DBS. But twice as many clients had a negative view of UOB over DBS (11.9% versus 5.9%).
Bank of China’s success – nearly 46% of clients thought positively of its regional franchise, compared with just 5% who took a negative view – was a rare bright spot for Chinese banks, which are trying to use their transaction services businesses to grow in Asia.
Every other Chinese bank had a negative client satisfaction rating at the regional level.
Indeed, the quality of most Chinese banks’ regional cash management offerings is worryingly negative, according to their clients: ICBC scores -24.6%; Bank of Communications -25.9%; CCB -26.7%; ABC -32.6%; and China Merchants Bank -36.5%.
At each of these banks, at least one-third of regional clients considered their offerings to be poor, and in every case, less than 15% viewed their regional franchise positively.
If you thought the performance of Fubon, Mizuho and SCB hinted that it was easy for non-Chinese banks to build a strong following among regional clients, think again: Thailand’s Bangkok Bank scores -26%; Malaysia’s Maybank scores -32.3%; and Indonesia’s Bank Danamon has a net satisfaction rating of -47.8%.
We look for bilingual documentation, electronic banking dashboards, ease of administration and coordination of international funds transfers, integration of bank statements with our accounting systems, a respectable depository insurance guarantee and, most importantly, a personal banker who answers his phone- Larry Gerrans, Sanovas
Perhaps the most eye-catching set of results is that showing the discrepancy between the performance of the bigger international and global players in Asian cash management.
They all tend to have positive overall net client satisfaction ratings, but while some banks are clearly in positive territory, others are only just seen in a favourable light by their Asian regional clients.
Top of the global banks is HSBC, with a net rating of +39.5%, and ranking seventh overall in the region. Some 48% of its clients regard it positively, while only 8% have a negative opinion.
The only downside of that data is it means close to half of HSBC’s clients in the region think it only meets expectations. And some international competitors might argue that, with its huge Hong Kong domestic presence, HSBC has distinct local advantages as well.
That makes the performance of Deutsche Bank even more noteworthy. The German bank’s global woes have laid it low, but in Asia it has a stated plan to grow its business – and transaction services is at the centre of those plans. More clients might like what Deutsche has on offer: of its existing regional clients, more than 40% gave Deutsche a positive rating, and it achieves a net satisfaction score of +32.8%.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch is in a similar position to Deutsche, both in terms of trying to build its Asia cash management business and how clients perceive it. With a net client satisfaction rating of +22.3%, it ranks ninth in the regional rankings. BNP Paribas rounds out the top 10, which is good news for another bank with big ambitions in Asia. The less encouraging news is that nearly 23% of the French bank’s clients in the region have a negative view of its services: that’s twice as high as any other bank ranked in the top 10.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the regional rankings is the relatively poor performance of three banks with big franchises in Asia, and which take cash management very seriously as a business line.
No bank has a bigger pan-Asian business than Citi, and treasury services is at the heart of it. But just 29% of its regional clients gave Citi a positive ranking, while 18% viewed the US bank in a negative light, giving it a net satisfaction rating of around 11%.
JPMorgan’s net rating is just +7%, with 22% of its regional clients taking a negative view.
Standard Chartered – for which Asia is around three-quarters of its global revenues and transaction services a core business line – barely scrapes a positive rating, coming in at just +2.5%.
The other important lesson from the data is that, with the notable exception of the top-ranked banks, it is often easier to gain a positive rating among domestic clients than it is with regional ones.
Among Indonesian banks, Mandiri comes highest in the regional client rankings, with a positive net satisfaction rating of +3.2%. Switch to votes from domestic clients, and it tops the tree in Indonesia with a net rating of +58.1%. BCA, which rated -26.4% in regional ratings, scores a positive net client satisfaction rating of 22.6% domestically. Even Bank Danamon achieves a positive rating among domestic clients.
CTBC can’t compete with its Taiwanese rival in the regional rankings, but does score a positive net rating of 14%. Locally, it runs Fubon much closer, but its +53% domestic rating is still 25 percentage points behind.
ANZ has pulled back from a lot of its business across Asia, which probably contributes to its -14.9% rating among regional clients. In the Australian domestic markets, it has a positive net rating of +11.7%, although that still puts it behind both Westpac and NAB.
There are some notable exceptions to this trend. For example, CIMB is the highest-rated Malaysian bank in the regional rankings, with a net satisfaction rating of +6.6%. Among domestic clients, it actually scores a negative net rating of -5.3%.
Indeed, Malaysian banks are arguably the worst performers as a group in the survey: among six banks ranked domestically, only two achieved positive net ratings, with top-rated Hong Leong scoring just +6%. The main reason was clients’ ambivalence: for each bank, at least 65% of Malaysian clients views their relationship banks’ services as in line with expectations.
Singapore’s OCBC performs well among regional clients, with a positive net customer satisfaction rating of 12.2%. But in highly competitive Singapore, among domestic clients, it rates just +3.8% – the lowest of 10 banks to receive a domestic rating in the southeast Asian hub.
local banks] are catching up in terms of their technology, and so for local transactions, local banks are now at par with international banks- Indrawati Darmawan, IIF
In some countries, the local banks have yet to build regional presences and did not secure sufficient votes to qualify for the regional rankings. But they are building strong domestic businesses that could provide a base for expansion.
For example, in India, top-ranked Kotak has a net positive rating among domestic clients of 39.8%. Second-ranked Yes Bank is not far behind.
In the Philippines, top-rated domestic cash manager BDO scores +39.1%. SCB’s Thai domestic rating is better than its already-impressive regional performance at +77%.
Sri Lanka’s Hatton National Bank leads with a 21.8% positive rating domestically, while Woori Bank wins a close battle with KEB Hana in Korea, as both banks register a positive domestic rating of greater than 30%.
Mizuho Bank unsurprisingly follows up its second-placed regional ranking with a leadership position in Japan, although its rating is lower domestically at 60%. MUFG is a strong challenger, scoring +14% regionally and +42% domestically. Vietinbank is the clear leader in Vietnam.
Three countries bear closer inspection. The two regional hubs are hugely competitive, and in both of these we have included the votes for both regional as well as local banks.
In Hong Kong, the top four rankings will come as a surprise to many in the market. For DBS, BNP Paribas, UOB and MUFG it will be pleasant news that their limited but growing roster of domestic clients rate them highly. DBS scores a particularly impressive net satisfaction rating of +56%. HSBC ranks fifth; its +32% rating is slightly weaker than its score among regional clients. Chinese banks generally fare much better than in the regional rankings, with ICBC the highest rated of the Chinese businesses.
In Singapore, the news for DBS is less positive. It ranks behind local rival UOB, which scores a 48% positive rating. CIMB also scores well in the city state, despite its poor domestic performance. HSBC is again the best-rated of the global banks, while Citi scores a surprisingly weak rating of just +4.4%, given its strong presence in the country.
In China, there is even more of a surprise. The generally held view is that Chinese transaction banks are looking to build regionally from a strong domestic base.
For Bank of China, the one strong regional Chinese bank already, that is the case. All the other Chinese banks, including ICBC, ABC, China Merchants, BoComm and CCB, barely break into positive territory.
One of the longest-standing gripes that Asian companies have with large international banking groups is that they hate the coming and going, the change in strategy at head office, the cyclical expansion and then reduction in their Asian footprint.
Global forces from new technology and regulations are exacerbating this age-old trend. This, in turn, means that not only is it increasingly difficult for banks to have a regional strategy, it is also increasingly hard to stick to that strategy over time. And clients in Asia have long memories.
Many local banks believe that this is opening the way for them to capture the regional business that the international banks have long dominated. But the results of this survey show that this is not going to be as easy as it sounds.
Looking behind the satisfaction data, it is clear that Asian cash management is a challenging business at present with specific issues in various countries causing bottlenecks, while general pressure from regulation and technology are causing headwinds. China is a case in point.
Over the last year, China has first imposed and then rolled back controls on the movement of money into and out of the country. For foreign businesses operating in China, this has created big problems. When the controls were rolled out in December 2016, the EU Chamber of Commerce in China put out a strongly worded statement saying that it was “disruptive to EU companies’ regular business operations.”
From a payments perspective, this included regular dividend payments to head offices. This policy was then rolled back in the third quarter of 2017. But at the same time, new FX regulations came in demanding that international merchants operating in China prove that sales they are making in China for international transactions are genuine.
This chopping and changing of regulations surrounding international transactions makes establishing a working cash management strategy extremely onerous for international companies operating in China.
We haven’t experienced any scale-backs in services in the region from the [international] banks that we are dealing with. What we notice is the stricter implementation of the KYC process- Arnie Tablante, ICTSI
One such international company is Sanovas, a manufacturer of medical devices that is based in Silicon Valley and has extensive operations in China. The firm recently formed a joint venture with the Suzhou Institute of Nanotechnology and Nano-Bionics, one of the largest and best-planned life science innovation hubs in the world, and has set up a $75 million local venture capital fund.
According to Sanovas' chief executive, Larry Gerrans, the company has an extensive list of requirements when it comes to deciding who it can bank with in China.
“We look for bilingual documentation, electronic banking dashboards, ease of administration and coordination of international funds transfers, integration of bank statements with our accounting systems, a respectable depository insurance guarantee and, most importantly, a personal banker who answers his phone,” he says from his offices in San Rafael in California. Such a list of requirements would seem to militate against using a purely local service.
For other established local companies in the region, the question is whether or not the local banks can provide them with the level of service that they require. And here the picture is more positive.
“The local banks are able to provide a suite of cash management products and services to meet [our] banking needs,” says Isfaiza Marsayid in the group finance division at Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) in Kuala Lumpur. “Banks are also able to provide customized solution in accordance to TNB’s requirement.”
In particular, she says that local banks can now provide “end-to-end solutions from all aspects, primarily on account payables and account receivables. The post-implementation service has also improved significantly.”
One reason for that is the availability of technology. What used to be prohibitively expensive and technically challenging is now readily available to all banks, local and international. Indeed, some regional banking groups, such as DBS, have world-beating technology in their cash management departments, that – crucially – has been developed from scratch specifically for local markets.
Indrawati Darmawan, CFO of IIF
Indonesia Infrastructure Finance (IIF) started operation in 2012 as a non-bank financial institution lending to and advising on Indonesian infrastructure deals.
According to Indrawati Darmawan, CFO of IIF, the company has between 30 and 40 clients. As such, its receivables amount to only one or two daily transactions as interest payments are made monthly or even quarterly. On payments, it makes regular loan disbursements and supplier payments, while its assets and liabilities are matched in foreign and local currency.
As such it has no need for regional cash management services. But on a local level, it feels that local banks offer as good a service for local cash management as international banks.
“Yes [local banks] are catching up in terms of their technology, and so for local transactions, local banks are now at par with international banks.”
Large Asian companies such as TNB and IIF are satisfied with local banks as their footprint matches the largely local footprint of their own business. But for those Asian companies that are regional and global, the picture is different.
International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) is a Philippines-based global operator of port facilities. It runs port facilities throughout Asia, Europe, Middle East, Africa and the Americas. According to Arnie Tablante, cash and risk manager, global treasury, the firm does not use any local banks for its regional cash management needs; instead it opts for a limited number of relationships with global, international banks.
International banks are responding to this competitive environment by doubling down on their technology investments in cash management.
In November, Bank of America Merrill Lynch announced that it would be rolling out its new Intelligent Receivables product across 12 Asian markets by the middle of 2018.
This product uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and optical recognition to track receivables and match them to invoices that have been sent out.
BAML believes such a product can reduce the manual processing time in the receivables department by up to 50% and follows the trend in Asia for companies moving from paper-based invoicing and receivables systems to purely digital.
Also in November, Standard Chartered announced that it had teamed up with Axis Bank in India and Rakbank in the UAE to use a blockchain solution running on technology firm Ripple’s system for cross-border payments.
It will allow on-demand corporate payments from Standard Chartered to Axis Bank, and retail remittance payments from Rakbank to Axis Bank beneficiaries. The system will be housed on Standard Chartered’s Straight2bank corporate digital banking platform. And by using Ripple, as opposed to traditional Swift processes, the system should be very close to real time.
It is not just international banks that are pushing ahead with new investments in regional cash management. Fintech companies are expanding too, creating more competition in what is already a difficult market.
Ant Financial, the financial services subsidiary of Alibaba, has been expanding in the region; its strategy is to establish joint ventures with local banks to use its digital payments systems. Although primarily aimed at the retail market, they also target small and medium-sized enterprises.
In July, Ant Financial and CIMB in Malaysia announced a new JV to support CIMB’s Touch ‘n Go subsidiary to create a new mobile platform for digital payments and other banking services.
Other international fintech companies are also focused on bringing their services to the region. In early November, TransferWise, the UK-based firm, announced that it had raised $280 million from its investors to finance its expansion into Asia. Initially it would target India, where its clients can send money at present. The new services that are envisaged include allowing Indian clients to make payments from India as well as receiving international payments into the country.
The competitive forces unleashed by new technology are among the headwinds that international banks face when pursuing their regional cash management strategies. Another is regulation.
All the attempts since the global financial crisis to make international banking less risky have created big problems for the international cash management business. For US companies especially, the hurdles created by new regulations are making it increasingly difficult to find banks that are willing and able to undertake their Asian cash management business.
“The globalization of the Patriot Act policies – and know-your-customer (KYC) laws mandated by the US government – violate privacy and civil liberties of honest Americans and foreign citizens,” says Sanovas’ Gerrans. “We are seeing many international banks decline the opportunity to bank American companies and individuals because the US compliance mandates violate their laws and beliefs. In most cases compliance with these laws are simply too costly for international banks to administrate, making American businesses and individuals undesirable. In many respects, it is this kind of circumstance that has achieved the objectives of the terrorists’ attacks on capitalism.”
|Arnie Tablante, cash and risk manager,|
global treasury, ICTSI
Tablante at ICTSI agrees that international banks have been affected by the changes in regulations.
“We haven’t experienced any scale-backs in services in the region from the [international] banks that we are dealing with,” he says. “What we notice is the stricter implementation of the KYC process.” For Asian firms such as ICTSI, which has operations in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Ecuador and Honduras, this can make life difficult.
Such enhanced regulatory scrutiny of international banking has also affected correspondent banking relationships, which are generally used by local banks in smaller countries to give their clients access to international banking services. These have suffered at the hands of zealous regulators, making them unattractive for international banks.
In March 2017, the IMF put out a paper looking at the potential problems caused by this issue and notes that “correspondent banking relationships (CBRs)…have been under pressure in several countries.”
While the IMF accepts that overall cross-border payment levels had remained stable despite the reduction in correspondent banking relationships, it notes: “In a limited number of countries, financial fragilities have been accentuated as their cross-border flows are concentrated through fewer CBRs or maintained through alternative arrangements.”
The reasons for the withdrawal of such correspondent banking relationships vary case-by-case, but the IMF points out that “recent changes in the regulatory and enforcement landscape have contributed to this phenomenon, notably with respect to more rigorous prudential requirements, economic and trade sanctions, anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism and tax transparency standards.”
Ironically, for some bank clients in the region, the problems faced by those local banks that rely on correspondent banking plays into the hands of those international banks with their own local branch and rep office network.
“International banks are more advanced with international transactions,” says IIF’s Darmawan. “International banks with their own networks do not have to rely on correspondent banking relationships, so it is easier for them to do international transactions.”
Regional banks and corporate treasurers have expressed concerns about the implementation of Basel III (and up-coming Basel IV) and the treatment of deposits.
What the regulations call operating and non-operating deposits attract a different capital treatment by the banks. This incentivizes them to differentiate between different client types.
Many have decided that high-quality multinational corporation (MNCs) actually require a higher capital charge than local companies. Moreover, local banks generally face more lenient capital charges than international banks for their business with both international and local firms.
One further regulatory change that could harm international banks’ core proposition is the growing ease with which international currency settlements can be done in local currencies without going through a dollar transaction.
In 2016, the Bank of Thailand established such a cross-currency settlement system for Thai and Malaysian transactions; in 2017 this was expanded to include Indonesia and follows a successful programme established in 2015 between Thailand and China.
The Asian financial crisis initially provided the impetus to bolster the region’s own financial system, followed by China’s desire to boost the renminbi into a settlement currency in order to win some of the exorbitant privilege that the global use of the dollar affords the US.
Over the last year, this desire to reduce dependence on the dollar for trade has been exacerbated by the dollar’s volatility, which makes it difficult for regional companies to manage their cash because of the overriding need to hedge out FX moves as opposed to liquidity optimization.
So multi-local currency settlement systems are being set up that will then allow banks to do local netting and pooling for the cash management clients.
All these different trends create a complex competitive environment, with some forces favouring international banks, while others favour local banks. It is a fluid situation, as reflected by international banks coming and going from the region.
Bank clients more than anything want stability from their cash management partners, especially as planning, forecasting and measurement of cash management becomes more important and in some cases an essential business driver.
“We measure expenses against income on a six-month basis and plan accordingly,” says Sanovas’ Gerrans, explaining how cash management is increasingly a strategic part of the modern business environment.
|Sanovas' chief executive Larry Gerrans|
“We assess cash flow and hold the line on our debt and capital expenditures. We keep our inventories low by building to order and we are measured in how we expand our business and where we expand our business. We focus on sales achievement. We drive collections on accounts receivable through discounts and incentives for early payments. We leverage accounts payable through vendor concessions. We assess trends and factor receivables accordingly, if needed. We measure everything...If you cannot measure, you cannot manage.”
Being a good cash management partner bank requires helping clients with these planning and measurement requirements, and helping clients achieve this should result in a high satisfaction score.
Evidence shows that there is still strong demand for regional cash management services, despite the obvious difficulties in supplying these services. According to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, 30 different MNCs are looking to set up regional treasury centres in Hong Kong alone.
In September, The Walt Disney Company announced that it was setting up a regional treasury centre in Singapore, its third such centre after London and Buenos Aires. The RTC will undertake all treasury functions in the region, including its global cash management. According to the company, this RTC function will be “responsible for increasing shareholders value through the execution of innovative financial solutions and opportunistic funding in the global financial markets”.
It will also be responsible for “providing adequate and stable liquidity to support company’s short- and long-term needs; reducing the company’s earnings volatility associated with movements in foreign currency rates and interest rates; supporting all businesses with required banking services and credit-card processing while maintaining adequate controls over the company assets, minimizing cost and optimizing interest.”
This again shows the strategic importance that global companies attach to regional cash management.
While it may be harder and harder for banks to be able to service such demanding clients, the demand is nevertheless strong.
How should banks seek to increase their regional clients’ satisfaction levels with their services?
As ever, it comes down to getting as close to the clients’ business operations as possible. In many cases, companies say that this means going to the clients themselves and offering bespoke solutions.
“Banks [need] to tailor their solutions [to] suit and boost customer business operations to be more efficient and cost effective for both parties,” says TNB’s Marsayid.
This includes establishing end-to-end process to achieve fully automated cash management services, such as system integration from customer system to bank and bank to customer system in real time.
Local banks need to better commit to fulfilling the promises and obligations they have made, as this is how TNB evaluates their performance, Marsayid says, adding that local banks need to offer better pricing.
For international banks, there appears to be high demand for multi-currency netting to help MNCs centralize their inter-company payments. Also, cash pooling structures, such as notional pooling and cash concentration, will allow for more optimal use of cash as an asset.
ICTSI’s Tablante suggests that international banks need to become more local to serve clients like him.
International banks “could improve on their local presence and local competitiveness,” he says, while “a few of our subsidiaries in emerging markets have relationships with local banking institutions that are not equipped, or the costs are too prohibitive, to provide automatic daily cash balance reports.”
Finally, with cash accumulating on international banks’ balance sheets, and the continued low interest rate environment, the pressure to find returns from excess liquidity is as acute as ever.
For many international banks, this means being able to offer seamless access to the money market funds offered by their asset management arms to a corporate client base.
Not all banks can do this. And the direction of overall travel is difficult to discern.
International banks still dominate the regional cash management business, but will the examples of growing local-to-regional banks force them to double down on their presence, or retreat?
Some may return to their home markets. Others really have nowhere else to go.
Non-financial institutions clients participating in the Euromoney/Asiamoney Cash Management Survey were asked to rate the quality of service provided by their relationship banks across 23 core products and services.
They were asked to rate clients on a scale where
1 = Poor quality of service
2 = Quality of service is below expectations
3 = Quality of service is in line with expectations
4 = Quality of service exceeds expectations
5 = Excellent quality of service
To calculate the customer satisfaction rating, Asiamoney added the percentage of clients that had voted their banks (4) or (5) to create a positive score, and added the percentage of clients that had voted their banks (1) and (2) to create a negative score.
The negative combined score (1+2) was then subtracted from the positive combined score (4+5) to create a net customer satisfaction score.
Clients who ranked a bank’s quality of service as (3) – in line with expectations – were regarded as neutral.
When completing the survey, clients were asked to specify whether they were voting on their relationship banks’ cash management operations on a domestic or regional basis.
Only regional clients’ votes are incorporated in the regional customer satisfaction ratings; only domestic clients’ votes are included in the country customer satisfaction ratings.
In total, 12,843 Asian corporate clients voted in the survey.
For any questions about the survey, please contact Alex Pang: firstname.lastname@example.org.