Bank profits fading as interest rate reform begins

By Wang Xinyuan Source:Global Times Published: 2012-12-27 0:24:07

A majority of Chinese bankers believe that the best time to push for market-driven interest rates would be three to five years from now, revealing that banks were not prepared for the reform that began this year, according to a report jointly released by PricewaterhouseCoopers and China Banking Association Wednesday.

About 52 percent of surveyed bankers said that interest rate liberalization should take place in the period from 2015 to 2017, while only 2.8 percent of the bankers agreed that 2012 is the right time, the report showed.

The result indicates most of the bankers were not prepared when the central bank made the first move toward a more market-driven rate by doing away with a universal fixed deposit benchmark interest rate. The central bank lowered the benchmark on June 7, and allowed rates to fluctuate up to 10 percent above the benchmark for commercial banks.

The survey was distributed in April to 850 banking executives of 42 Chinese banks.

More than half of those surveyed expressed concerns about further liberalizations that may come, especially an expected cancellation of the upper limit of the deposit interest rate, the report said.

Market-driven interest rates mean that commercial banks will have intensified competition in winning customers and securing deposits. Previously, commercial banks enjoyed stable and lucrative interest margins based on the official rate.

"The era of high profit is over (for Chinese banks)," Shou Meisheng, vice president of the Bank of Communications, said at the Chinese Bankers Summit Wednesday, noting that Chinese banks are expected to lose at least 100 basis points or 1 percent in interest margin if the ceiling of deposit and floor of lending rates are removed.

Without enough deposits, banks will lack funding for their lending business, and current regulation fixes a 75 percent loan-to-deposit rate which commercial banks must meet.

Bankers hope that regulators will make appropriate changes to the loan-to-deposit ratio, the report said.

Many bankers also agreed that in the face of these difficulties, banks should develop a capital-saving business model.

Capital-saving business models include shifting focus from large State-owned enterprises to micro, small and medium-sized customers, and from lending to intermediary fee-based business, Xia Lingwu, general manager of strategy management at China Everbright Bank, told the Global Times Wednesday.

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