Putting the ICBC brand on the European map
Banker Gao Ming is widely credited with having put ICBC (Asia) on the European map, having played an instrumental role in steering the lender back on a sound track in the aftermath of one of the most stunning financial crises to engulf the European continent.
Before taking the helm as chairwoman of ICBC (Asia), she was with ICBC (Europe) over an eight-year span from 2007 to 2015, right after the European debt crisis which saw some of the wealthiest European nations mired in economic malaise.
Gao’s stint in Europe started off with a small presence of only one ICBC office in Luxembourg. Under her leadership, the bank quickly expanded its footprint in the new market, culminating in the opening of five offices across Europe within a week in 2011 — in France, Belgium, Holland, Italy and Spain.
“The whole of Europe was then clouded by anxiety and uncertainties and we brought confidence to the local with the launch of five offices in a week,” recalls Gao.
“Every cloud does have a silver lining,” she professes, pointing to the fact that amid the debt crisis, major European banks were seriously affected, while some big local enterprises which, nonetheless, were less affected. “But, we took the opportunity and provided the financing needed by these enterprises.”
Sparked by the US subprime mortgage crisis, the European debt cataclysm erupted in late 2009 with multiple European countries, including Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus, defaulting on government debt payments and dealing a hard hit on local banks.
When Gao began her stint with ICBC (Europe) in 2007, total assets amounted to 100 million euros. It saw explosive growth of up to 25 billion euros by the time she left the office in 2015. It also expanded from one office in Luxembourg to 15 entities, covering nine countries across the region.
The “Luxembourg model”, which was used to extend the bank’s operations to European countries using Luxembourg as the gateway, was quickly adopted by other Chinese commercial banks. “After us, there were seven or eight Chinese commercial banks which set up offices in Luxembourg before venturing into other markets,” says Gao.
Closer to home, she says the parent company took a dual listing in Shanghai and Hong Kong in 2006. It was then the biggest initial public offering on the Hong Kong bourse. “The flotation worked well for our branding and we soon earned the trust of local clients. The strengthening of the yuan then also lifted our economic strengths.”
Since 1989, Gao has amassed more than 28 years’ experience working for ICBC.
“I started working for ICBC in its international business division. The past decades have seen the bank expand rapidly on a global scale, bringing new challenges each year. I’ve gained a lot from the international exposure and I hope my employees can reap the same benefits.”
To nurture young talents, Gao says she would try to give them proper international exposure to help them ascend the career ladder.
“We hope ICBC can serve as a grand stage for each of our employees to grow.”