Business / Corporate

Japan regional bank Concordia targets comeback abroad with Southeast Asia foray

by Taiga Uranaka and Yuki Hagiwara

Bloomberg

One of Japan’s biggest regional banks is resuming an expansion overseas, 20 years after the country’s financial crisis forced it to retreat.

Concordia Financial Group Ltd. plans to expand in Asia to offer cash management services to its Japanese corporate clients and infrastructure loans to local entities, President Kenichi Kawamura said.

It aims to hire specialists and double overseas loans to more than ¥400 billion in three years, he said.

The lender, which operates in Tokyo and Yokohama, is following a path taken by Japan’s largest banks to make up for negative interest rates and weak loan demand at home. It’s one of the few regional banks that has the luxury; most are too small and rural, leaving them exposed to their decaying local economies.

“It’s hard to secure returns from banking business in Japan alone, given its low growth and mature society,” Kawamura, 59, said in an interview. The bank can obtain much higher returns “if we can use our capital and funds in growing regions,” he added.

The country’s second-biggest regional bank by assets aims to set up a branch in Singapore as a transaction banking hub for Japanese corporate clients operating in Southeast Asia, Kawamura said.

Many of the bank’s customers such as auto parts makers operate in the region and need help with trade finance and managing their cash flows more efficiently, he said. About 1,500 of Concordia’s corporate clients do business in Southeast Asia and India.

The push into overseas transaction banking should give the lender better access to foreign currency deposits, in turn providing funding for its lending plans, Kawamura said.

The bank sees opportunities to provide loans to local borrowers in Asia for projects such as railroads and power plants, he said.

Concordia was formed in 2016 as the parent company of Bank of Yokohama Ltd. and Higashi-Nippon Bank Ltd. Like many financial firms, Bank of Yokohama aggressively expanded abroad during the nation’s bubble era in the 1980s, setting up shop in places like London, New York and Brussels before retreating in the late 1990s. It opened a Shanghai branch in 2009.

Now the bank needs to find people with overseas experience to rebuild the business abroad, which will require changes to its compensation and career development policies, Kawamura said.

“We have to do whatever it takes” to attract outside talent, including possibly poaching from overseas banks, he said. “We’re trying to build highly a specialized business, and so we have no choice but to hire specialists.”

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