Yi Huiman, president and vice chairman of Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, is set to replace chairman Jiang Jianqing, who has retired, to take the helm of the world’s largest lender by assets, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
A Beijing-based spokesperson for ICBC told FinanceAsia on Monday that Yi was named the bank’s party chief by the Central Organisation Department. The sources said the move, which was also announced internally on Monday, paved the way for him to become chairman.
“There’s no doubt he [Yi] will become the new chairman. It just takes some time to go through the formalities,” said one of the sources at ICBC, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The ruling communist party’s powerful Central Organisation Department, known as Zhongzubu in Chinese, oversees important appointments at various central and local government organisations as well as at state-owned enterprises and financial institutions across China.
Yi’s promotion comes at a time when China’s economic slowdown and interest rate cuts by the central bank have reduced the profit margins of the country’s lenders, including ICBC, which has also been challenged by rising bad debt.
ICBC last month posted a rise in first-quarter net income of just 0.6% year-on-year, while its non-performing loans rose to Rmb204.7 billion ($31.4 billion) as of end-March from Rmb179.5 billion at the end of last year, pushing up its NPL ratio to 1.66% of total loans.
Yi, 51, is an ICBC stalwart and has been working at the bank for more than three decades. He joined ICBC in 1985, starting at a local branch in Zhejiang province as a junior loan officer, before leading other branches in Jiangsu province in 2000 and in Beijing in 2005.
He was promoted to vice president of ICBC in 2008, overseeing the bank’s corporate banking business. Five years later, at the age of 48, he succeeded Yang Kaisheng as president of the bank.
Unlike many of its domestic rivals, ICBC is known for promoting from its own ranks to ensure the stability of the bank.
“His ability has been widely recognised here, as he rose steadily up the ranks and has been well trained by the bank. He’s pragmatic and knows how to run the bank comprehensively. There won’t be big strategic changes between him and chairman Jiang,” one of the sources familiar with the matter, a Beijing-based banker at ICBC, told FinanceAsia.
ICBC’s 63-year-old chairman Jiang recently stepped down after leading the bank for 16 years. His retirement was first revealed during an internal meeting at ICBC on May 4, the two sources familiar with the matter said.
According to the second one of these sources and domestic media reports, Jiang, one of the most respected bankers in China, will help to create a new “16+1” multilateral finance company. The company aims to promote Chinese investments and trade in 16 Central and Eastern European countries.
ICBC will take the lead in setting up the company along with two large Chinese policy banks – China Development Bank and China Export-Import Bank.
The “16+1” company, first proposed by Chinese premier Li Keqiang in November last year, will play a big role in Beijing’s grand One Belt, One Road initiative which is looking beyond China’s borders for investment and trade opportunities and to help bolster the country’s influence overseas.
During his 16-year leadership at ICBC, Jiang successfully transformed the bank from an insolvent lender whose NPL ratio reached 34.44% at the end of 2000 into an industry leader. ICBC later reaped the benefits of this transformation with a compound annual growth rate of 29% in net profit between 2003 and 2005.
Under his watch, ICBC also went public in both Shanghai and Hong Kong through its record-breaking $21.9 dual listing in 2006, the world’s largest initial public offering at the time.
In addition ICBC has aggressively expanded its foothold overseas, with a presence in more than 40 countries, the widest coverage of any Chinese bank.
Jiang, who spent almost all his career at ICBC, joined the bank in the mid-1980s as a currency-counting clerk after spending about nine years as a labourer in China’s countryside during the Cultural Revolution. He climbed his way up and became president of ICBC in 2000, at the age of 47, which made him the youngest leader of China’s big four state-owned banks at the time.
Known for his endurance and long-time focus on reforming ICBC’s corporate governance and business model, Jiang has been dubbed by some Chinese bankers and media as a “marathon runner” in the country’s banking industry.
“Running a bank is like running a marathon. Getting fast in the first 100 metres doesn’t assure success. You just have to keep running,” he told Chinese magazine Southern People Weekly in an interview in 2006.