The growing stature of the Chinese yuan in global trade and finance has brought exciting opportunities in yuan-related business, said Standard Chartered Group CEO Peter Sands in Beijing on Tuesday.
Renminbi (RMB), the Chinese currency, is now among the most actively traded currency in the world as the Chinese government moves to make it easier for the yuan to flow across its borders.
"We are very excited at the prospects of renminbi becoming even more integrated into the global economy," said Sands, who is here accompanying British Prime Minister David Cameron on his second visit to China since taking office.
Sands added that the process of promoting the yuan's use beyond Chinese borders, though with many steps to go, has been "extraordinarily rapid."
Trading of the yuan in global foreign exchange markets has more than tripled from three years ago after China allowed the currency to be traded in offshore markets.
Latest figures from global payment services company SWIFT placed the yuan as the second-most used currency in trade finance in October.
"In the beginning of 2010, less than 0.4 percent of China's trade was denominated in renminbi, and now in the first half of this year, it's 14.7 percent," said Sands, calling the increased use of renminbi an "incredibly rapid change."
So far the currency is partially convertible under the capital account, but authorities in China have stepped up their commitment to make it fully convertible in a carefully managed process to prevent systemic risk to the country's sheltered financial market.
Standard Chartered announced on Monday a renewed cooperation with the Agricultural Bank of China (ABC) to be the first two banks to offer renminbi clearing services in London, as the world's leading financial hub competes against Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan to become a key outpost for offshore yuan trade.
According to Sands, it is "logical" for London to become a major offshore yuan center given the city's status as the world's largest foreign exchange market and home to a string of multinational firms' treasury centers.
The emergence of multiple offshore yuan hubs has also brought opportunities to banks like Standard Chartered and HSBC as they help Chinese companies issue yuan-denominated bonds overseas.
The Asia-focused bank also hopes to tap ABC's extensive network in China and strong client base in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
China has pledged reforms of its banking sector to make lenders more attentive to the financing needs of cash-strapped but nimble small businesses.
Such reforms will be coupled with more market-based interest rates, which will be painful for many Chinese banks as cheaper financing costs and higher returns on deposits hurt their profits.
Yet such moves will allow SMEs to compete for financing against state-backed firms on a more equal footing and in the long term, enable efficient allocation of capital.
Banks with a strong SME client base may end up as the winner of such reforms and Standard Chartered wants to be one of them.
The organization prides itself as "the first foreign bank to set up a dedicated SME banking business," with 700 members of staff across 25 Chinese cities.
Sands said the bank will deepen its engagement with Chinese SMEs, calling such banking services "a crucial part of our China strategy."
Standard Chartered grossed most of its profits from emerging countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East while Sands said it has expertise and experiences in SME banking services across many different countries.
"SMEs for most countries in the world are the biggest source of job creation, so ensuring they get effective financing is incredibly important to China's sustained economic progress," he said.