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OPINION

Regulation: China turns tough on banks – but with subtlety

New penalties from China’s bank regulator suggest a firmer stance on trying to bury bad debts, but it’s not just a bludgeoning.

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Something interesting is happening in Chinese bank regulation: it is getting a lot tougher. 

New research by UBS, led by analyst Jason Bedford, shows that the amount of bank fines issued under the new head of the regulator, Guo Shuqing at the China Bank and Insurance Regulatory Commission, last year showed a 14-fold increase over 2017, and in fact amount to almost six times the total of the previous 14 years put together.

Genuinely stinging penalties are being awarded for the first time in years.

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Jason Bedford,
UBS

Guangfa Bank, an unlisted institution whose major shareholder is China Life, was fined Rmb722 million ($107 million) last year, equivalent to 7.1% of the bank’s full-year net profit for 2017. Pudong Shanghai Bank has received a range of fines approaching Rmb2 billion in total.

But what impresses Bedford is not so much the scale of fines as the nature of the overall approach.