Chasing pots of gold

Foreign asset managers are eyeing China’s vast pool of savings


ZHANG KUN is the rock star of Chinese fund management. His name often makes headlines;whole articles are dedicated to his investment calls. Investors vie to get into his funds, one of which has reportedly delivered a return of 700% since it was launched eight years ago. He is among a growing number of managers who generate more hype than the firms that employ them. With personalities like Mr Zhang on its payroll, E-Fund, a state-owned investment group, hardly needs to advertise.

张坤是中国基金管理界的明星。他的名字常常登上新闻头条;整篇整篇的报道谈论他的投资决策。投资者争相认购他管理的基金——据报道,他的一只基金自八年前推出以来已实现了 700% 的回报率。如今,像张坤这样风头盖过了自己任职的公司的基金经理越来越多。有了张坤这样的明星员工,国有投资集团易方达几乎都不用做广告。

Now a swathe of foreign firms hopes to take on Mr Zhang and his ilk by entering China’s asset-management industry. Last month Goldman Sachs, a Wall Street bank, announced a wealth-management venture with ICBC, China’s largest commercial lender by assets. BlackRock, a giant American asset manager, will join forces with China Construction Bank (CCB). Amundi, a French firm, has linked up with Bank of China and Schroders, a British investment group, with China’s Bank of Communications. In March JPMorgan Asset Management said it would buy a 10% stake in China Merchant Bank’s wealth business. Nearly 20 global investors are setting up fund-management firms; others are launching private securities funds.

现在,许多外国公司希望进入中国的资产管理行业,与张坤及其同行一较高下。上个月,华尔街银行高盛宣布与中国资产规模最大的商业银行工商银行成立合资理财公司。美国资产管理巨头贝莱德(BlackRock)将与中国建设银行联手。法国公司东方汇理(Amundi)、英国投资集团施罗德(Schroders)分别与中国银行、中国交通银行建立了合作关系。今年 3 月,摩根大通资产管理公司表示将收购招商银行理财子公司 10% 的股份。近 20 家全球投资公司正在中国设立基金管理公司,另一些则在推出私募证券基金。

The prize is access to a pot of money worth 120 trn yuan ($18.8 trn), which includes investments made by everyone from the average saver to the ultra-rich in mutual funds, trusts, wealth and other asset-management products. Though the pool of funds is smaller than in the West—asset managers in North America oversaw $59 trn last year, according to PwC, an accounting firm—it is expected to expand rapidly. As more people grow comfortable giving their money to managers instead of picking stocks or buying property, China’s pot could nearly treble, hitting 320 trn yuan by 2030, reckons Oliver Wyman, a consultancy (see chart 1). But foreigners’attempts to crack other parts of China’s financial market have yielded underwhelming results. Could this time be different?

进入中国资产管理行业的好处是能接触到其中 120 万亿元人民币(18.8 万亿美元)的巨额资金,包括从普通储户到超级富豪的各色人等对共同基金、信托产品、理财以及其他资产管理产品的投资。尽管这一资金规模小于西方——会计公司普华永道称北美的资产管理公司去年管理着 59 万亿美元的资金——但预期会迅速扩大。奥纬咨询(Oliver Wyman)估计,随着越来越多的人更放心把自己的钱交给投资经理,而不是自己选股或买房产,到 2030 年,中国的资金规模可能增加近两倍,达到 320 万亿元(见图表 1)。但是,外国公司试图打入中国金融市场其他领域的尝试都没有得到令人满意的结果。这次会有所不同吗?

For China’s regulators, the new ventures are a high-stakes experiment meant to transform how savers think about investing. For years retail investors ploughed cash into deposit-like investment products sold and backed by state banks. The principal on such products was considered guaranteed, but the banks funnelled the cash towards high-risk borrowers such as small property developers or coal-mining outfits. By 2016 the banks’wealth-management arms oversaw around 13% of total banking assets (see chart 2). But regulators cracked down, no longer willing to see banks and ordinary savers exposed to the intensifying risks.

对中国监管机构来说,设立这些新的合资企业是高风险的实验,意在改变储户对投资的认知。多年来,散户投资者购买国有银行发售或背书的类似存款的理财产品,他们认为这类产品的本金是有保障的,但银行把这些资金输送给了小型房地产开发商或煤矿企业等高风险的借款方。到 2016 年,银行的财富管理部门管理的资金占到银行总资产的 13% 左右(见图表 2)。但是监管机构不愿再看着银行和普通储户面临的风险日益加剧,于是出手严厉整治。

Guaranteed products have been banned. Meanwhile banks’wealth assets have been spun into new subsidiaries. These must wind down the old deposit-like products and design new ones based on net asset value. In 2020 the new units had 26 trn yuan in assets under management, reckons CICC, an investment bank. It is with them that foreign investors have been invited to establish joint ventures.

保本理财产品已被取缔。与此同时,财富管理部门从银行剥离出来,成为新的子公司。这些子公司必须逐步减少过去那些类似存款的理财产品,并设计基于资产净值的新产品。投资银行中金公司估计,2020 年,这些新子公司管理的资产达到了 26 万亿元。外国投资机构正是受邀和这些子公司成立合资公司。

The call sounds familiar. Foreign financiers have been knocking at China’s door for generations, with an eye to every corner of the industry, from retail banking to securities. In 1995 CCB and Morgan Stanley, another Wall Street bank, set up CICC; in 2004 Goldman was allowed to establish the first foreign securities joint venture. But when you look back over the past two decades, the developments seem underwhelming and the returns meagre.

这种呼唤似曾相识。几代外国金融家都在敲中国市场的大门,他们看上了这个行业从零售银行到证券的每个角落。1995 年,中国建设银行和另一家华尔街银行摩根士丹利成立了中金公司;2004 年,高盛获准成立了中国第一家外国合资证券公司。但回顾过去 20 年会发现,事情的发展似乎不尽如人意,回报也很有限。

That was largely because China opened up only when home-grown firms were big enough to withstand competition. Some foreign retail banks launched gung-ho expansion plans only to quit the market later, defeated by domestic giants’extensive branch networks. Securities joint ventures have taken more than a decade to pass majority control to foreign investors. Payments firms such as Visa and Mastercard were shut out until mobile payments became dominant and competition futile.

这在很大程度上是因为中国只有在本土企业发展壮大到足以抵御竞争时才会对外开放。一些外国零售银行推出了狂热的扩张计划,后来却被国内银行巨头庞大的支行网络击败,退出了市场。在合资证券公司,外国投资者花了十几年时间才获得多数控股权。Visa 和万事达等支付公司一直被拦在门外,直到移动支付变成了主导支付手段,竞争已变得徒有其名。

Wealth management could be different. For one, the foreigners do not face a mature market with insurmountable competition. Regulators’sweeping reforms mean that they are in fact entering what could become the world’s largest market for retail wealth at an early stage.


This is evident in the financial products on offer today. China’s mutual-fund industry has grown at a fantastic pace in recent years. Many firms now oversee 1 trn yuan in assets. Money-market funds are ubiquitous. But product design is still in its infancy. Global firms are expected to bring a new level of sophistication. Tuan Lam of Goldman says his group will offer quantitative products such as algorithmic and factor-based strategies, and cross-border and alternative-asset investments.“These are not present in China right now,”he notes.


Another benefit of the joint ventures is their links to China’s largest financial firms. The banks and their tens of thousands of branches were key intermediaries during the first era of wealth management and, say experts, may also define the next. Their wealth-management subsidiaries have vast portfolios and huge numbers of clients. Take CCB. It has more than 14,700 branches; last year it managed 2.2 trn yuan in wealth-management products and attracted more than 4.4 m new investment and wealth-management clients. Access to customers is“one of the benefits of partnering with one of the largest banks in China”,says Susan Chan of BlackRock.

成立合资公司的另一个好处是能与中国最大的几家金融公司建立联系。在财富管理的第一个时代,这些银行及其数以万计的支行是关键的中间环节,而且据专家们说,它们可能也会定义下一个时代。它们的理财子公司拥有大量投资组合和庞大客户群。以建行为例,它拥有超过 1.47 万家支行,去年它管理了 2.2 万亿元的理财产品,吸引了 440 多万名新的投资和理财客户。能接触客户是「与这家中国最大银行之一合作的一个好处」,贝莱德的陈蕙兰表示。

Yet success will depend on foreigners’ability to establish and market themselves. Goldman and BlackRock have some name recognition in China by virtue of their size. Amundi and Schroders, by contrast, are unknown outside financial circles. And teaming up with home-grown banks has some downsides. A potential customer at a bank branch will be offered a suite of products, which will include those designed and branded by the joint ventures, but also those designed solely by the bank. Online, joint-venture offerings will probably appear on smartphone apps on a list of commoditised products. The foreign groups will therefore have to make sure their offering is advertised sufficiently to clients—no easy task given that tens of thousands of banks’relationship managers will be responsible for sales. It can be done, but only with hefty investment in staff training, says Philip Leung of Bain, a consultancy.


Another problem is competing with superstars such as Mr Zhang, who often manage money for giant mutual funds. Financial news in China is abuzz with stories on the performance of star managers. Many retail investors make decisions based on such information. Few clients are interested in a fund’s risk controls, notes Fabrice Maraval, an executive who has worked at two Sino-foreign financial ventures. Instead, they ask,“What’s your ranking on the list of top fund managers?”,he says.

另一个难题是与像张坤这样的超级明星们竞争,他们大多为大型共同基金管理资金。中国的财经新闻充斥着有关明星经理业绩的报道。许多散户投资者根据这类信息做决策。很少有客户关注基金的风险控制,曾在两家中外合资金融公司工作过的高管法布里斯・马拉瓦尔(Fabrice Maraval)指出。相反,他说,他们常常会问「你在顶级基金经理名单上排第几?」

Executives at several joint ventures bristle at the idea of hiring stars who market their funds.“It’s just not our culture,”says one. Instead they must slowly build trust with clients through solid performance and prudent risk controls. Zhong Xiaofeng of Amundi describes his group’s strategy in China as a“long-haul effort”。If foreigners are to give the stars a run for their money, it will have to be.


Published since September 1843 to take part in “a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.”


Project Che