“I’m from the lucky generation, born in the 1970s when China was about to open up,” says Sun Yu, executive vice-president of the Bank of China, in Beijing. “What China has experienced over the past 40 years in terms of opening up to the world is something of a miracle.
“That has extended to financial services. Now China has four of the biggest 10 banks in the world.”
Sun Yu, Bank of China
Sun started working in banking 20 years ago, first working in the treasury department.
“In those days, we acted as the borrowing window for China,” he says. “But soon our foreign exchange reserves began to grow, in the country as well as in the bank, and so the role of treasury began to shift from the borrowing side to the investment side.”
Sun is part of the team implementing a new strategy devised by chairman Chen Siqing since his promotion to that level two years ago “to become a world-class bank,” Sun says.
“Just being one of the biggest banks does not necessarily make us one of the strongest,” he adds. “We cannot expect to be world-class in everything, but we do have specific targets in areas that will make us the best in terms of quality.”
The plan will be achieved through two things, he says: technology and globalization.
“Globalization is a comparative advantage for us, because of the internationalization of the Chinese economy and China’s shift from being a global manufacturer to a global investor,” he says. “We have to take advantage of that and build up our infrastructure to a world-class level. For all China-related business, we want to be a market maker, not a market taker.”
In going global, there are obviously some examples to look at.
“We study other banks and try to learn from them,” he says. “Our model is probably comparable to banks such as HSBC and Citi, with China as our home market.
“Many international banks face a similar problem: that regional or local leadership is strong, but the product line management is relatively weak,” he continues. “You have to work hard on the integration of products at a regional level.”
To do this, for example, much of the bank’s southeast Asia business is centralized in Hong Kong.
“My mantra: stick to common sense,” he adds.
Many forgot this during the global financial crisis, he says.
“And running a bank is a long-distance race. You have to balance your speed in the short term with your need for stamina for the longer distance.”