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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 21:36 GMT
Citibank targets Chinese savings
Chinese girl holding up a yuan note
Citibank is only allowed to conduct business in foreign currency - for now
Citibank has become the first foreign bank to open its doors to Chinese customers.

Citibank's business will be restricted to foreign currency services at first, and is a small step in the banking giant's ultimate goal of moving into business in the local currency.

The US bank heralded the new opportunity by releasing thousands of balloons, birds and streamers along Shanghai's streets.

China promised to allow foreign banks to conduct foreign currency business with locals after it joined the World Trade Organisation in December.

Growth opportunity

"If you look around the world today, some of the greatest opportunities for growth exist in China," Sandy Weill, chief executive of Citigroup told the BBC's World Business Report.

"Over the next decade or two, China is going to need hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign capital to privatise and develop the tens of thousands of companies that will grow and prosper in this country," he explained.

Chinese consumers have an estimated $82bn of foreign currency savings.

But the real goal is the $1.5 trillion in yuan savings.

Service focus

Citibank is planning to compete with domestic banks by offering a more westernised approach to service.

Service in some traditional Chinese banks is notoriously slow, bureaucratic and frustrating.

"Our key differentiation strategy is service," Linda Wong, head of consumer banking for Citibank in China, told the World Business Report.

"Our branch is very different from other banks in the market - there is open space and customers are greeted and escorted to a personal banker," she explained, adding that this is likely to create a "big wow factor".

But Chinese banks are also doing their best to fight back against foreign competition and become more modern.

Tens and thousands of jobs have been already been cut as China seeks to streamline its banking industry.

The BBC's Duncan Hewitt
"Creating a national banking network will be a huge task"
See also:

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05 Oct 01 | Business
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25 Jan 02 | Business
China pledges 'cleaner' banks
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