Banking & Finance

Guo gusts in

New regulator storms the banking sector


The bankers aren’t smiling...

The Chinese government doesn’t approve of nicknames when referring to the leaders of other countries. In November when Pyongyang asked Beijing to stop Chinese internet users from mocking Kim Jong-un, the phrase “Kim Fatty the Third” quickly got banned across social media. Even fonder references are censored out of existence. Take the Xi Jinping moniker “Xi Dada” for example, which is rarely heard today.

But Guo Shuqing (pictured above), the new head of the China’s Banking Regulatory Commission, has a longstanding nickname based on his record of making big changes in a short period of time.

He is known as “Whirlwind Guo”.

Guo took over from the retiring Shang Fulin in late February. It only took him a few days to give his first press conference on March 1, where he vowed to tackle “chaos” in the banking sector.

That was followed by a period of relative calm as he instructed his staff to review hundreds of regulatory documents – looking for loopholes, the China Economic Weekly said.

But by April Guo was living up to his reputation, issuing seven new policy directives in 12 days. Some are public, some were sent directly to banks. They deal with many of the industry’s knottiest problems: shadow banking, bad debt and corruption.

Guo, 60, has been tipped to take over from Zhou Xiaochuan, China’s central banker, who, at 69 is already two years past the usual retirement age for Chinese officials.

There are also rumours he is being groomed for the job of super regulator – if the central government decides to combine the three agencies that oversee banking, insurance and securities trading.

Guo is seen as a reformer who is close to Xi Jinping. Before joining the CBRC he was governor of Shandong – a province with 96 million people (making it bigger than any Western European country).

Yet it was his stint at the China Securities Regulatory Commission, beginning in late 2011, that gained him his nickname. Akin to what he’s doing now, Guo issued 70 directives in 17 months to curtail insider trading, curb market manipulation and reduce barriers to foreign investors.

In his first press conference in his new role he held his cards close to his chest saying he had just arrived from Shandong.  “I could tell you more about rural toilet reform than banking reform,” he joked.

But since then he has moved fast – a sign, say some, that Xi is ready to push through long-awaited reforms after he consolidates power at the Party Congress this autumn.

Banking was one of the last sectors to be investigated in Xi’s wide ranging anti-corruption drive, largely, it is assumed, because that is where the vested interests are strongest.

The fifth policy document issued by Guo in April tackles the issue of nepotism, cronyism and hiring officials’ relatives as a way of funnelling funds to them in exchange for access and favourable decisions.

The document bans “preferential hiring” policies and asks banks to check that all employees turn up for work and receive benefits commensurate with their positions, Caixin Weekly said.

The most common ruse is to provide the relatives of public servants with fake jobs that command a high salary. “The ‘official’s wife’ problem is a mess,” Caixin said. The term “wives club” came into common parlance two years ago when it emerged that Minsheng Bank was paying generous salaries to the spouses of Hu Jintao’s political advisor Ling Jihua and CPPCC chair Su Rong. Both Ling and Su have now been tried for corruption and sentenced to life in prison. Their wives are still being investigated.

The former Hebei boss Zhou Benshun – now serving 15 years in prison for bribe taking –  is reported to have had a similar arrangement with China Galaxy Securities. As did Wang Bao’an, former Director of the National Bureau of Statistics, who is currently under investigation too.

A statement by the Central Commission of Discipline Inspection in August said Wang was guilty of “moral turpitude”. He “engaged in money-for-sex and power-for-sex transactions, used his power and influence to extract illicit gains for his relatives,” it said.

Both men’s wives are under investigation as well.

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