Chengdu’s rapid growth as the economic engine of China’s western region has attracted diverse industries, and where there’s good business, banks are not far behind.
Among the financial institutions eager to take advantage of new opportunities is Bank of East Asia, the third largest bank in Hong Kong.
Cartier Lam, deputy chief executive of BEA China, said that the lender has established what he calls a dynamic relationship with companies in Chengdu since it first set up a representative office in the city in 1999. The office became a branch in 2004, and three sub-branches were later added.
Lam, 48, has been with BEA for 23 years. He is now responsible for the lender’s operations in China, including retail banking, personal banking and wealth management, credit cards and consumer finance. He earned a doctorate in business administration and a master’s degree in advanced business practices from the University of South Australia, and an MBA from Murdoch University.
Following the conclusion of the successful Fortune Global Forum in Chengdu, Lam told Shanghai Daily that increasing ties between Chengdu and Hong Kong will bring new opportunities for overseas lenders like BEA.
Q: What makes Chengdu an attractive place to do business?
Sichuan Province is the technology, commerce, finance, transportation and information center of western China. The government has made a lot of efforts to build services and infrastructure, with international standards of living and business in the region.
Sichuan’s strong consumption is another key reason why companies want to be here. In recent years, the government has given policy and funding support to carry out a large number of development projects aimed at propelling economic and social development in Sichuan. It has created lots of investment opportunities for enterprises.
Sichuan is also a stronghold of financial development in western China. The area is the home to more than 40 banks, outnumbering any other province in the western region.
Generally speaking, the city has an excellent financial environment.
I like the market atmosphere here in particular — a trend of steady growth.
Q: How does BEA approach its customers in Chengdu?
We made “operational differentiation” our top priority. We look at ourselves as the foreign bank among Chinese banks and the Chinese bank among foreign banks. We have a global vision and a powerful global network, and we have local experience.
We’ve been working hard to provide financial services to the trade and manufacturing sectors. After studying local consumption trends, we started to explore business in the pharmaceutical, steel and other sectors.
We know homogeneous products don’t provide any advantage, so we keep asking ourselves how to present our products to the customer, how to meet customer’s needs, how to improve service efficiency and how to differentiate our bank from the others.
We know the market needs a comprehensive solution. Doing great in only one aspect won’t win customers. So differentiation must be embedded in all the aspects.
At BEA, we focus on industry channels, segment marketing and customer development to expand our customer base in Chengdu. We seek to retain those whom we call “core customers.”
Most of our customers are small and medium-sized enterprises, and businesses in the private sector. SME loans comprise more than 80 percent of our total lending.
A large number of those loans are in real estate, automobile trade, steel wholesaling, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, food and beverages, and high-tech services industries.
These companies come from different sectors, but they do share something in common, which reflects the culture of local business in Chengdu. They have a high degree of integrity and do not seek quick success and instant benefits. And that makes them quality customers.
Q: Do you think BEA’s presence in Chengdu provides advantages for your business in the wider western region?
As China speeds up its economic transformation and promotes further development in western regions, the Chengdu-Chongqing economic zone has been attracting more and more companies to set up offices here. We see that transition as a significant opportunity for our business development in the region.
Q: What’s your vision for business in Chengdu?
I see a vista of limitless promise in the cooperation between Chengdu and Hong Kong, especially in the finance sector.
On one side, Hong Kong’s financial industry could channel international capital into the western region.
And on the other side, the financial sector in Chengdu can support business in western China to expand abroad. Inbound and outbound investments will go ahead easily and unhindered through the collaboration between Chengdu and Hong Kong.
Our branch in Chengdu is a bridge in that process.
Through the platform we built, we can help local companies “go out” and overseas capital “come in.”