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Best domestic bank: MUFG
Nobuyuki Hirano’s MUFG is a powerhouse, achieving superlative after superlative: Japan’s biggest bank; its second-largest company (after Toyota); the world’s leading provider of project finance; etcetera etcetera. The list goes on and on.
Best corporate and investment bank: MUFG + Morgan Stanley
Best international bank: Morgan Stanley
From muck comes brass, as the saying goes, and the MUFG-Morgan Stanley joint venture in Japan proves that axiom better than most.
Best private bank: Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley PB Securities
Is there anything MUFG’s dynamic joint venture with Morgan Stanley in Japan doesn’t do? The short answer appears to be not much.
Best digital bank: Rakuten Bank
Rakuten Bank is the big Japanese bank you may not have heard of. That may be because Rakuten – Japanese for ‘optimism’ – is better known as an e-commerce play, a 20-year-old site widely regarded as Japan’s equivalent of Amazon. But unlike Rakuten’s Hiroshi Mikitani, Jeff Bezos doesn’t (yet) own a bank.
Best bank for SMEs: MUFG
Arrive in any medium-sized Japanese town during April and there’s every chance you will be able to join a party. That would be MUFG’s ‘Rise up festa’ initiative – a celebration of and for Japan’s small and medium-sized businesses. It is all about unlocking Japanese creative spirit – and monetizing it.
MUFG’s boss Kanetsugu Mike delves into his client base and network to identify up-and-coming companies, be they in science, robotics, information technology or just a funky idea that needs help in catching on beyond its home base.
As MUFG describes Rise up festa, the programme aims to use the bank’s networks and know-how to “extend the boundaries” of growing SMEs.
It’s all very cheery, upbeat and very Japanese, one of the several stages MUFG methodically maps out for its journey nurturing local SMEs.
Another stage is MUFG’s ‘Regional revitalization fund’, which aligns with a government programme dubbed ‘Dynamic engagement of all citizens’ aimed at keeping communities active, productive and employed.
Under the plan, MUFG provides financing for SME procurement and working capital, and business advice to get projects underway.
In addition, there are the annual ‘Shobai hanjo’ conferences held across Japan that focus on sustaining and maturing small and medium-sized businesses.
Best bank for CSR: Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Group
Community and social responsibility as the ideal is understood – and practiced – elsewhere isn’t much of a thing in Japan. More nationalistically inclined Japanese bankers argue that such ideals are inbuilt into normal banking and business practice in the country: helping each other is just what Japanese banks do. But many shrug or draw a blank when asked about it, not entirely sure what it is, explaining that it is something for other countries where wealth is less evenly spread than Japan, where 90% of the people identify as middle class.
Takeshi Kunibe’s SMBC is an exception that proves the rule in Japan, recognizing that CSR is not just about corporate clean-up days with enthusiastic staff gadding about in baseball caps and trainers, but about delivering something more profound societally.
SMBC has launched green initiatives on environmental preservation at home and at its operations abroad, notably in Indonesia and Myanmar, ensuring its financing meets environmental targets, while tracking the recommendations of the G20’s task force on climate-related financial disclosures.
More recently, SMBC has promoted LGBT-related initiatives, increasing the female presence in traditionally male-dominated management ranks and promoting diversity and inclusion inside the bank and beyond.
Oh, and SMBC also does those baseball-hatted clean-up days too, a lot of them, and more.