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BBL China 'goes west' with new branch

BANGKOK BANK has set its sights on strengthening its presence in China, focusing on that coun-|try's high-growth cities, the most recent being Chongqing, where |it has opened its fifth Chinese branch.

Chongqing in the country's southwest is set to flourish under the Chinese government's "go west" policy.

"We can expand services to |cover existing and new customers |in Chongqing because the grow-|ing economy in this municipality |is attracting huge foreign direct investment," BBL executive |chairman Kosit Panpiemras said |at the new branch's opening ceremony.

In 2009, BBL became the only Thai bank to receive a local licence to operate in China. With the opening in Chongqing, it now has five branches, the other four being in Shanghai, Beijing, Xiamen and Shenzhen. Globally, it has 28 branches and one representative office in 13 countries.

Kosit said China remained an attractive business destination. Though the economy is slowing, the market is huge, so there is plenty of room for a Thai bank to grow. He said that as BBL's clients from outside mainland China, including those in Taiwan and Hong Kong, expanded their business activities into western China, the bank had to go there as well.

Chongqing has strong upstream industries in automotive, motor-cycle and electronics parts. Many foreign companies, including |some Thai corporates, have set up there.

"We can cater both to our existing customers and new ones in Chongqing because the growing economy in this municipality is attracting foreign direct investment," Kosit noted.

Outperforming the country

Last year, Chongqing's gross domestic product grew by 12.3 |per cent to 1.26 billion yuan (Bt6.57 billion). That compares with 7.7 |per cent GDP growth in China overall.

The municipality last year attracted 5,300 large foreign investors with total investment value of about US$10 billion (Bt325 billion). Total foreign investment during the past five years came to around $41.8 billion.

Suwatchai Songwanich, chief executive officer of Bangkok Bank (China), said it aimed to serve the agricultural industry in Chongqing because of its importance in the area.

He said the bank had significantly increased the number of Chinese clients in the past few years because Chinese businesses had aggressively expanded in Thailand and elsewhere in Asean. Thanks to its presence in China itself, BBL can be an attractive choice for businesses expanding into this region. Chinese account for one-third of BBL's customers, up from 10 per cent a few years ago.

Bangkok Bank (China) aims to resume double-digit growth this year. Growth dropped to single digits last year because the bank was more cautious on its loan approvals after China sent a signal that economic growth was slowing, Suwatchai noted.

BBL president Chartsiri Sophonpanich said the loan portfolio in China had been growing gradually over the past few years, but he declined to reveal a figure.

Kosit said the bank would continue to expand its network in Indochina in conjunction with its activities in nearby China. It plans to resume operations in Cambodia and will open a second branch in Laos.


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