Probably the greatest change seen in the world of banking and finance in the 21st century has been the emergence of Chinese banking as one of the major forces in all aspects of global economies.
Before 1978, China had a mono-bank model, in which all banks were part of one administrative government-owned hierarchy. Slowly governmental loans were replaced by bank loans, which were more profit oriented. The Government-owned People’s Bank of China was broken up into four specialized state-owned banks, also known as the “Big Four”.
These banks were the Bank of China (BOC), the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), the China Construction Bank and the Agricultural Bank of China (ABC). These four banks now occupy the first four ranks in the table of world banks rated by total assets.
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Altogether, Chinese banks make up 19% of the total number of banks in the top one hundred rated by total assets, and the country ranks #2, just after the USA, in terms of the total market capitalization of the listed banks. Between them, the US and Chinese banks account for 25 of the top 70 listed banks, with USA having 13 and China having12. Together the two countries account for 54% of the world’s total market in banking share values.
The biggest bank in China ranked by assets is Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, which is also the largest bank in the world in assets. However, when banks are rated by revenue, the biggest bank in China is Agricultural Bank of China, which ranks #2 in the world, after Bank of America.
Moving out of the previous centrally controlled banking mode, China now has 3 tiers of domestic banks. The first tier consists of the “Big Four” state-owned banks. The second tier consists of national-level domestic joint-equity banks and the third tier consists of approximately 100 city-level commercial banks. Besides the policy banks, Chinese-foreign joint-equity banks, banks fully capitalized by foreign funds are active on the Chinese market.
The reformation of the banking sector and the opening to the world economy steered China into enormous economic growth. The agricultural sector learned from foreign countries and became more efficient, foreign trade exploded, and foreign technologies were implemented rapidly with the support of foreign investments. From 1976 to 2020 China’s total GDP increased from $793.568 billion to $14.34 trillion. The GDP per capita grew from $853 to $8130 in 2020. China developed far faster than worldwide GDP.
Commercial banks in China only started to develop when the central governments changed the policy of tight control at the beginning of the 1990s. After 30 years without commercial banking China started to use foreign expertise (China imported textbooks, established business schools and trained their staff by foreign experts) to build the commercial banking sector in China.