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Asiamoney best bank awards 2017: Vietnam

Best domestic bank: Asia Commercial Bank

Best corporate and investment bank: Viet Capital Securities

Best international bank: HSBC 

Best bank for SMEs: VPBank 

Best bank for CSR: Asia Commercial Bank

Best digital bank: Citi

Awards winners:

Best domestic bank: Asia Commercial Bank

Vietnam’s largest private-sector bank by assets has become a genuine leader in its field since its formation in 1993. Asia Commercial Bank’s (ACB) operations span the gamut of banking, from mortgage and consumer lending to corporate and investment banking. It boasts one of the best retail operations in the country, one that includes an impressive online banking service and a solid private banking operation aimed at the mass-affluent market. 

Everything is seamless and impressive: a local bank offering first-class service. Its finances are just as robust. ACB reported a 27% rise in net profit to D1.67 trillion ($73.4 million) in 2016, with pre-tax earnings jumping 89% on an annualized basis in the final quarter. 

And its 2016 data looks good across the board: assets up 16% from the previous year and outstanding loans up 21%, driven by Vietnam’s seemingly insatiable demand for consumer goods. Of the country’s top-tier lenders, it boasts the highest capital adequacy ratio, of 13.1%, and the lowest non-performing loan ratio, which dipped below 1% for the first time at the end of 2016. 

But the bank is also an all-rounder: its corporate and social responsibility division is just as impressive. In 2016, it spent more than D8 billion funding community activities, with a focus on education and caring for disadvantaged people. An impressive bank with a good heart.

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Best corporate and investment bank: Viet Capital Securities

Viet Capital Securities, based in Ho Chi Minh City, is one of the fastest-growing securities houses in Vietnam and is a domestic leader in individual and institutional broking, asset management and investment banking. 

It is in the latter category that the broker really shines, and it fully deserves this award, given its international team of experts, which draws on talent from the UK, India, France, Canada and the US, thanks to its ability to secure plum roles on pretty much every landmark capital markets transaction. 

Viet Capital was the sole domestic underwriter on VietJet Air’s eagerly awaited $166 million initial public offering on the Ho Chi Minh City Stock Exchange, completed in March 2017 – a deal that attracted unprecedented interest from foreign institutions. 

The securities house, now 10 years old, was also an underwriter on VPBank’s initial stock sale in August and valued the privately run lender at $2.3 billion. 

Viet Capital is planning its own $200 million IPO, which is set for completion in late 2017. 

The brokerage expects the next few years to be immensely busy, as well-run private firms push to complete stock sales and the government follows through on a longstanding pledge to sell stakes in leading state-run enterprises.

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Best international bank: HSBC 

HSBC is the leading foreign presence in Vietnam. While some of its regional or global peers have scaled back their operations in the fast-growing economy in recent years, or left the market altogether, HSBC has solidified its presence despite selling its 19.41% stake in local lender Techcombank. Local bankers and analysts praise its stability and reliability. 

The country’s leading corporates rely on its ability to provide world-class corporate and wholesale banking services. And its top-line domestic financials are impressive. HSBC reported a 47% rise in pre-tax profit in Vietnam of D1.8 trillion ($79.2 million) in 2016, with total outstanding lending rising 16% and net other operating income up 12%. 

Its underlying strength is visible in its return on assets (2% in 2016, against 1% the previous year), return on equity (14%, against 9% the previous year), and non-performing loan ratio, which dipped under 1% for the first time last year. And its retail presence remains as strong as ever, with 15 branches nationwide employing 1,300 staff. 

But it is the bank’s client list that, as ever with the British lender, really impresses. It’s a who’s who of the nation’s largest and best-run corporates, from fabric manufacturer Sunrise Luen Thai to apparel firm Hanesbrands, and from galvanized steel maker Hoa Sen Group (HSG) to Siam City Cement (SCC). Many have been with HSBC for years: Hanesbrands has been with the bank since 2007 and HSG since 2008. 

HSBC is also an active financial services provider on so many levels: it increased its credit line to Sunrise, which makes garments for the likes of Ralph Lauren and Uniqlo, to $57 million in February 2017 and was sole financial adviser to SCC during its $875 million acquisition of a 65% stake in the local operations of Swiss cement giant LafargeHolcim in August 2016

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Best bank for SMEs: VPBank 

Fung kai jin 160x186
Fung kai jin 

VPBank, formerly Vietnam Prosperity Bank, is the clear and deserved winner of this award. It has been a leader in providing valued services to the country’s growing army of small and medium-sized enterprises since 2013, when a standalone SME division was established with eight dedicated business centres. That division is led by Fung Kai Jin. These days it has 63 such centres, manned by 600 SME-focused staff, helping VPBank to snag 12% of the lending market in 2016. 

Trade financing and foreign exchange hedging products tailored to larger SMEs in the import-export business have proven immensely popular, as has its business instalment loan service that targets the long-underserved micro SME segment. Last year, VPBank strengthened that model by expressly focusing on the country’s estimated 400,000 micro SMEs, 70% of which are reckoned to have little or no access to credit. To cater to this vast and financially excluded segment, VPBank invested heavily in its risk infrastructure and data analytics, introducing credit scorecards to improve customer selection and launching an early warning system to pinpoint potential loan defaults early. 

In 2016, the revenue it generated from the country’s SME segment increased 40% on an annualized basis, driven by a 35% rise in fee income derived from trade, FX and insurance products. It has set a target for SME-related revenue growth of 45% in 2017, is the unalloyed leader in this category – and appears unlikely to be overtaken any time soon.

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Best bank for CSR: Asia Commercial Bank

 Do Minh Toan 160x186
Do Minh Toan

ACB is the standout lender in this category. From its inception in 1993, it has made itself an invaluable force for social change, while never losing sight of the need to dish up quality banking services and generate handsome returns for shareholders.

In 2016, the Ho Chi Minh City-based lender spent more than D8 billion ($350,000) on community activities, with a clear focus on two main areas: education and caring for disadvantaged people. 

Its ‘I love life’ campaign brings much-needed medical assistance and literacy to cities and rural areas, and includes a blood donor drive and the distribution of much-needed medication to outlying regions. It also works in tandem with charities that help people with sight loss, with veteran soldiers and with impoverished and isolated ethnic communities, where the need for charitable help is at its greatest. 

It has a long-standing aid effort in two areas of Phu Yen Province, where it works to alleviate the suffering of Agent Orange victims. 

In all, the bank’s corporate and social responsibility programme spans 18 charities and activities across 21 provinces. Asia Commercial Bank, led by Do Minh Toan, is a worthy winner of this award.

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Best digital bank: Citi

Vietnam is no ordinary digital banking market. The country’s overwhelmingly young population is increasingly found online. Look at the figures: internet penetration of 53%, smartphone penetration of 77%, 4G networks available in every big city. Not bad for a frontier market. 

So Citi deserves a round of applause for beating its peers to this award, having steadily built up its local repertoire of digital financial services. In 2014, the US lender launched CitiDirect BE, a collaborative online platform that helps companies to reduce fraud exposure and improve their operational efficiency, and which is available via desktop, mobile and tablet. It updated that service for the second year in a row in 2016, speeding up information enquiries and payment processing. One in every five new credit card accounts is applied for digitally, while 97% of customers have opted for electronic statements. 

More than half of Citi’s customers actively use digital banking services, and it has continued to invest. In 2016, it launched MobilePass, a digital service that enables users of its treasury and trade and cash management services to access their CitiDirect accounts seamlessly and digitally. A revamped Citi Mobile offering was also unveiled last year that included a new app called Mobile Snapshot, which enables customers to view information such as account balances and recent transactions at a glance. 

Citi also remains at the cutting edge of digital innovation. In July 2017, the bank teamed up with taxi fleet Grab to launch Grab Taxi, allowing credit card holders to pay for their cab rides with miles or points. 

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