Stanbic Bank again makes Chinese businesses irresistible offers
Uganda imported US$700 million worth of goods from China last year and exported goods valued at US$30 million over the same period, according to the latest government data.
But the skewed trade figures between Uganda and the world’s second largest economy do not reveal three significant facts; first that both sides of the trade equation are controlled by one side –China, the second fact is that commercial banks are keenly aware of this, and finally that the banks are, as a result, aggressively courting the Chinese business community in Kampala.
The latest courtship event was hosted on March 16 by Uganda’s largest commercial bank, Stanbic, at the plush Sheraton Kampala Hotel.
Flagged as the Chinese Economic Forum 2017, the event was held under the theme of `Enhancing investment, economic and technical partnerships’ and was the second time Stanbic was feting the Chinese community.
This is not a Chinese only event and any business in Uganda interested in issues surrounding local and international business opportunities could attend.
Although the forum this time attracted about 150 businesses, over 90% of them were from the Chinese business community. There were no representatives from government of Uganda (Bank of Uganda and Ministry of Finance) and Uganda’s private sector. Only members from the Embassy of China in Kampala and Stanbic Bank officials in Kampala and beyond attended.
Two languages – Chinese and English were interchangeably used throughout the half day economic forum.
To facilitate easy penetration of the Ugandan business sector, Stanbic has set up special desks manned by Chinese staff.
In an interview, one of Stanbic’s Chinese staff, a transactional banker in the Corporate and Investment Banking Department called Lu Miao Miao, explained her role.
“I serve Chinese corporate clients for transactional and other payments,” she told The Independent, “I am here to support Chinese companies to do business in Uganda. We want to ease their way because sometimes the language and culture is different. We are also supporting the bank to grow.”
Apart from Stanbic, Standard Chartered Bank, Ecobank, and Equity bank have previously organised similar fora for the Chinese business community. These banks have established independent desks with Chinese nationals to handle Chinese business clients.
As a sign of the high competition, Lu Miao Miao told The Independent that she had only worked for Ecobank for only six months when Stanbic poached her in January 2015.
The agenda of these meetings are quite direct. In one presentation, Stanbic’s Head for Global Markets, Anne Juuko, took guests through opportunities and risks presented by foreign exchange and money markets, interest rates, equities and other structured products.
Other areas included available services for Chinese businesses in banks; ranging from business guarantees for project financing, advance payment guarantees, contract and supply financing, letters of credit, import financing solutions, vehicle and asset financing, and online business services.
Also on offer were the bank’s advisory services on economic data, research reports, and assessment of customer needs.
Most of these services were being offered at discounted rates because, according to one official, the bank regards Chinese as serious, capable business people.
Standard Bank, the parent company of Stanbic Uganda, has also partnered with one of the largest multinational banks in the world, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) to handle transactions related to foreign exchange currencies; especially China’s official currency the Renminbi (RMB), for traders across many markets.