ON THE WEB, 22 May 2013
Amid global economic woes and the fluctuating fortunes of China’s economy, last year would hardly be considered the best time to launch a new bank, especially in a relatively remote area where only 3 million people live on a 1.2 million square kilometre plateau.
But against all odds, including bitter competition between eight established lenders in Lhasa, capital of the Tibet autonomous region, Bank of Tibet made its debut on 22 May 2012.
The new bank notched an 18 million yuan ($2.9 million) profit in 2012 and a bad-debt ratio of nil, a figure that very few banks in China can boast of.
“We have experienced hardships and challenges,” said Tian Wei, executive director of the bank.
In 2012, Tibet’s GDP was 70 billion yuan, while the bank received 6.6 billion yuan in deposits and made 4.3 billion yuan in loans.
The loans were made to major infrastructure projects in the rail, hydropower and energy sectors, as well as to smaller local businesses engaged in traditional Tibetan medicine, farming and animal husbandry, which previously had difficulties obtaining funding.
The bank said it has started preparations to begin operations in other parts of the region, including the city of Xigaze (Tib: Shigatse), with four new branches due to open this year.
By 2015, it will extend its operations to coastal provinces.
“Our achievements are to some extent a result of the favorable financial policies Tibet enjoys,” Tian said.
Though major State-owned commercial, policy or development banks boast extensive networks, products and talented staff, Tian insists Bank of Tibet has its own unparalleled competitive edge.
He said that banks operating across China allocate most investment and loans to developed, coastal regions, where “returns are guaranteed and healthy”.
Tian said Bank of Tibet would leverage its understanding of the local market to ensure it was better positioned to serve local people.
A desire to improve local people’s access to banking services is also the driving force behind Bank of Tibet’s plan to develop a loan center for small and medium-sized enterprises.
Asong, the owner of a ghee blender manufacturer in Lhasa, said he used to borrow from a State-owned bank, which took at least a month to process his loan applications, and gave him only three years to make repayments.
“The autonomous region now has its own bank, which we should surely support,” said Asong, who added that he likes the fact that the bank’s staff can converse with him in either Mandarin or Tibetan.
His application for a 5 million yuan loan was approved within a week.
According to Tian, one target group of his loan center is the more than 100,000 shops in Lhasa, which account for more than 40 percent of civilian deposits in Lhasa.
Meanwhile, Bank of Tibet is discussing with chambers of commerce from other parts of China the possibility of providing loans to member of the chambers, if the chambers act as guarantors.
In the near future, the bank also aims to provide mobile banking services such as “banks on horseback”, “motorbike banks” and “car banks” to very remote parts of the autonomous region.