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Japan banking: Five approaches to taking on the world

Japanese banks must go overseas to build sustainable profits, each in their own way. Nomura is streamlining global operations and applying itself in China; Daiwa wants to be a global mid-market M&A house; MUFG has bought Asean banks; Mizuho prefers organic growth; and SMBC is somewhere in between. Who’s ahead?


"The key for growth for us,” says Jun Ohta, president and chief executive of Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group (SMBC), “is outside of Japan.”

He’s not alone. All five of the biggest financial services groups in Japan – the three megabanks plus Nomura and Daiwa – have long since realized that the dismal macro and demographic backdrop in Japan means that if they want to seek profits, they must go overseas. But all five have approached it in different ways.

The best known, and somewhat notorious, attempt to take on the world came from Nomura. The Japanese house has been a player internationally for decades – Euromoney’s first cover story on Nomura’s international strategy was in June 1980 – but it was the acquisition of Lehman Brothers’ businesses during the global financial crisis that really represented an attempt to take a bold and transformative step.