Stanchart Asia seeks expansion

Stories By Yap Leng Kuen

STANDARD Chartered Bank is doing well in Asia, and looking for opportunities to expand.  

“The franchise in Asia is in very good shape and we are looking for opportunities to expand organically and inorganically,'' said Kai Nargolwala, group executive director (governance Asia). 

“In Malaysia, we have 35 branches. There are opportunities to grow organically and we're quite happy with the growth prospects.  

“We are looking especially in consumer banking in Korea, and potential alliances in China where we are already one of the largest players,” said Nargolwala, also chairman of wholesale banking (corporate & institutional banking & global markets). 

Stanchart took advantage of the Asian crisis to substantially expand its presence in areas which it felt the bank was under-represented. 

In Thailand, it bought Nakorthon Bank, now called Standard Chartered Nakornthon. Operating with 45 branches, it is 75% owned by Stanchart and 25% by the Thai government.  

“It is viewed as a local bank and allowed to compete with other local banks on an equal footing. 

“That has been a huge expansion of our franchise from one branch in Thailand before the crisis to 45. It has a very vibrant consumer banking and it took us a year and a half to turn around the bank,” he said. 

The second big acquisition was buying Grindlays from ANZ, which gave Stanchart an unrivalled position in India, various countries in South Asia, and the Middle East. These include Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the UAE and several other smaller countries.  

That has been a substantial boost to our profitability. 

Thirdly, Stanchart bought Chase Manhattan's consumer banking business in Hong Kong and with it, came a very important brand called Manhattan. That is a young credit card brand which the bank will be launching in several countries including Malaysia.  

Stanchart has a substantial credit cards base of six million in Asia, placing it among the top players like Citibank. 

About 65% of Stanchart's profits are from its Asian operations. For the overall bank, there has been a 20% increase in net profit year-on-year.  

For the first time this year, Stanchart is bringing together all its Asian CEOs in Kuala Lumpur for a two-day conference on major topics regarding the business, issues on governance and best practices.  

Last year, 55 of its CEOs from around the world gathered in London but this time, it has chosen KL as the venue. 

“The infrastructure here is great for everyone to get in,'' commented Nargolwala. “Hotels are fantastic and it's very much a place we would choose to come.'' 

Stanchart has a sizeable presence in Malaysia not only in banking operations but also a global hub. “It's for two days and the main purpose is to talk about our business and how we do the governance in different countries and spread the best practices among the CEOs.” 

In July, another conference for the top 150 managers in the bank will also be held in KL. The major functions covering technology, operations, finance, human resources, group functions and consumer bank will be represented. 

This annual meeting will be attended by the group CEO, group executive directors on the board of Stanchart and CEOs. 

This is a year of celebration for Stanchart as it enters its 150th year in existence. “Very few companies last so long. To celebrate that, we have programmes to raise enough money to restore sight to 28,000 people. 

“It is upsetting that in many cases of cataracts and eye diseases of young children, sight can be restored for just US$25, yet there are people who will never be able to raise that money in their lifetime,” he said. 

The bank is also a champion of HIV/aids awareness because of its large presence in Africa. That was launched a year ago at the World Economic Forum in Malaysia and it was working with various non-government organisations to increase that awareness. 

“We are undertaking community projects in Malaysia and around the world and our staff have responded incredibly to that. We have launched a new revitalised brand and sense of values, and are excited about the future 150 years,” he said. 

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