Chinese banks, desperate to attract customers who are finding alternatives for their savings, are turning to giveaways. On offer at one branch in Beijing: an iPhone 6 Plus or a Mercedes-Benz.
Cash rebates, trips abroad, interest rates at the highest premium ever over the official benchmark rate, even free vegetables are among other goodies banks are dangling to get Chinese savers to deposit their yuan in savings accounts. The competition is expensive.
“Chinese banks are hemorrhaging their deposits,” said Rainy Yuan, a Shanghai-based analyst at brokerage Masterlink Securities Corp. “There is no fix for this. All the efforts they made to win savers back will only push up the costs, so it’s a losing battle to fight.”
Higher returns from Internet funds and investment products such as trusts, combined with the promise of a soaring stock market, have China’s banks feeling the drain. They lost 950 billion yuan ($154 billion) of deposits in the three months through September, the first quarterly drop since 1999. In the first 11 months, new deposits were 23 percent lower than in the same period last year, People’s Bank of China data show.
The iPhone promotion, by Shenzhen-based Ping An Bank Co. in October at a branch in Beijing, offered a 128-gigabyte iPhone 6 Plus in lieu of interest payments for depositing 38,000 yuan for five years. For parking 903,000 yuan for the same period, savers could pick one of four Mercedes-Benz models. A Mercedes A180, which costs 252,000 yuan, would give investors the equivalent of an annualized return of almost 7 percent, compared with the benchmark rate of 4 percent on five-year deposits.
The China Banking Regulatory Commission in September banned what it called “illicit” deposit-gathering practices, including gifts and rebates on deposits. Banks that flout the curbs could face punishment, the regulator said, without clarifying whether product giveaways in lieu of interest payments qualify as gifts.
A spokesman for Ping An Bank in Shenzhen declined to comment on the giveaways.
China’s investors have been pouring money into online money-market funds offered by the likes of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA) and Baidu Inc. Yu’E Bao, pioneered last year by Alibaba affiliate Alipay, drew 535 billion yuan in its first 15 months of existence from 149 million customers, more than the populations of France and the U.K. combined. Users simply tapped a few buttons on their mobile phones to secure an annual rate of return that soared as high as 6.8 percent before falling to about 4 percent recently.
Read more at Bloomberg.