Greater Bay Area profit to double to $1bn by 2023, says OCBC

OCBC Bank's Group Chief Executive Samuel Tsien says the lender aims to double its profit contribution from the Greater Bay Area by 2023 by tapping on the human, capital and wealth flows in that area. PHOTO: OCBC BANK

OCBC chief executive chief executive Samuel Tsien believes ongoing trade tensions between the United States and China will have limited impact on its operations, which are primed for significant growth in the Hong Kong region.

Mr Tsien told a briefing that the bank aims to hit $1 billion in profit from what is termed the Greater Bay Area by 2023, double the $500 million racked up in 2017.

China's Greater Bay Area comprises nine cities in Guangdong province that make up the Pearl River Delta, as well as Hong Kong and Macau.

Chinese authorities hope it can eventually rival other bay areas such in San Francisco, New York and Tokyo.

Besides the ambitious profit target for the region, Mr Tsien said OCBC is looking to clock a 15 per cent per year growth in customer loans to $80 billion, up from $35 billion in 2017.

It also expects to raise headcount by 40 per cent, from around 3,000 to 4,200.

OCBC will invest $200 million in its Greater Bay Area franchise to meet those targets.

It will earmark two-thirds of the funds going into technology and the building of an IT hub in the Pearl River Delta region. The remaining one-third will go into adding more staff.

The targets fit with the bank's strategy in the Greater Bay Area to capture trade, capital and wealth flows in and out of the area, Mr Tsien said.

"Given the current development of the Chinese economy, it is our belief that there will be a gradual relaxation of capital flow beyond China into other countries," he added.

Mr Tsien noted that the Greater Bay Area could be used as a pilot ground for this purpose and if so, the bank, with its presence in the region, would be able to contribute to this end.

OCBC has a presence in five of the nine cities in the Greater Bay Area, in addition to Hong Kong and Macau.

It also has more than 470 branches spanning South-east Asia, including its core markets of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

China also hopes that the Greater Bay area will act as the gateway for Mainland Chinese companies looking to expand their businesses overseas.

OCBC is also looking at other areas for expansion, including its the asset management business within China.

It already has a 28 per cent share in a fund management firm set up by the Bank of Ningbo of which OCBC owns a 20 per cent stake.

It is also looking to beef up its domestic wealth management operations in China amid the sizable market of high-net-worth individuals.

"The private banking and wealth management area in China is currently not very well-developed yet because of the lack of products," Mr Tsien pointed out, later adding that the idea is to create a well-researched, well-diversified and well-packaged wealth management product portfolio.

By geography, Greater China including the Greater Bay Area, accounts for about 20 per cent of the group's earnings.

The area also represents about half of Greater China's earnings but OCBC expects that to rise to 70 per cent or so.

Mr Tsien also told the briefing that he expects the escalating US-China trade tensions will have limited impact on group operations.

He noted: "In Greater China, our loans (distribution in the first quarter) is $63 billion. Within the $63 billion, $5 billion is booked inside China ... the remaining is in Hong Kong or in Singapore or in other parts. About $30 billion is in Hong Kong, about $20 billion plus is in Singapore."

In addition, China is the only economy in the world that can manage risks more skilfully and avoid a "hard landing" situation, said Mr Tsien.

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