Hong Kong banks see profit growth in 2019 despite challenges; an increased focus on costs set to continue, finds KPMG report

HONG KONG, June 16, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Hong Kong's banking sector showed resilience in 2019 despite a challenging year for the overall economy. The industry will need to manage the impact of COVID-19 on their financial results and operating models, by focusing on costs and strengthening resilience, according to KPMG analysis. 

The KPMG Hong Kong Banking Report 2020, the 32nd annual edition, shows the total assets of all licensed banks expanded by 4.8% to HK$21 trillion in 2019, with a growth of 6.4% in loans and advances (compared to 3.5% in 2018) and hitting HK$10 trillion for the first time. The operating profit before impairment charges for all licensed banks increased by 4% from HK$276 billion in 2018 to HK$287 billion in 2019. The average net interest margin (NIM) across all surveyed licensed banks increased by 13 basis points to 1.79% in 2019, with that of the top 10 locally incorporated licensed banks with highest total assets increasing by 2 basis points to 1.71% in 2019, driven by wider customer deposit spreads. Credit quality also remained strong in 2019 among the surveyed licensed banks, with the impaired loan ratio for marginally improved by 1 basis point from 0.51 percent to 0.50 percent.

Paul McSheaffrey, Partner, Head of Banking & Capital Markets, Hong Kong, KPMG China, says: "There were some difficult times operationally in 2019 but banks generally fared well and profitability was up. Moving into 2020, the onset of COVID-19, coupled with macroeconomic uncertainty, is likely to have a significant impact on profitability as banks grapple with challenges in generating revenue, as well as rising credit impairment costs that cannot be avoided. To maintain profitability, many banks will need to place an increased focus on costs as the primary lever to manage profitability." 

Meanwhile, one virtual bank has launched and the remaining seven virtual banks are set to launch in Hong Kong soon and are expected to compete with traditional banks on price to attract customers and deposits and could push up the cost of funding. The full launch of all the virtual banks could cause price competition for term deposits however deposits at virtual banks as a percent of total balances are likely to be relatively minor, at around 2 to 3 percent of the total, at least in the short term so the impact on overall margin compression will be limited.

Terence Fong, Partner, Head of Chinese Banks, Hong Kong, KPMG China, says: "We expect banks to increase their focus on automation from a cost and resilience perspective. Ensuring that banks can continue to operate and offer their core services is key, and customers are also increasingly demanding more digital solutions for their banking needs, especially as COVID-19 has led to the increasing use of digital channels. To support this, banks are realising that more of their products and transaction processing will need to be digitalised."

The banking landscape continues to rapidly evolve, and banks no longer do everything by themselves – there is more reliance on third parties as part of the overall ecosystem to provide not just banking services, but broader lifestyle services to customers. However, COVID-19 has shown that this increasing reliance on third parties can present significant challenges for banks. Going forward, managing third party risk will become increasingly important in ensuring that banks can continue to offer a seamless service to their clients and can preserve the trust that customers in Hong Kong continue to place in them.

McSheaffrey concludes: "Hong Kong's infrastructure and ability to get back up and running quickly in light of COVID-19 may cause some international banks to consider building up capacity in the city for their global operations to strengthen their resilience. Having global operation centres in Hong Kong, albeit not necessarily on the scale of traditional outsourcing locations, could therefore be an attractive proposition for some banks – the value gained from operational resilience is arguably more important than costs."

About KPMG China

KPMG member firms and its affiliates operating in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau are collectively referred to as "KPMG China". KPMG China is based in 26 offices across 24 cities with around 12,000 partners and staff in Beijing, Changsha, Chengdu, Chongqing, Foshan, Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Haikou, Hangzhou, Jinan, Nanjing, Ningbo, Qingdao, Shanghai, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Suzhou, Tianjin, Wuhan, Xiamen, Xi'an, Zhengzhou, Hong Kong SAR and Macau SAR. Working collaboratively across all these offices, KPMG China can deploy experienced professionals efficiently, wherever our client is located.

KPMG is a global network of professional services firms providing Audit, Tax and Advisory services. We operate in 147 countries and territories and have more than 219,000 people working in member firms around the world. The independent member firms of the KPMG network are affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative ("KPMG International"), a Swiss entity. Each KPMG firm is a legally distinct and separate entity and describes itself as such. In 1992, KPMG became the first international accounting network to be granted a joint venture licence in mainland China. KPMG was also the first among the Big Four in mainland China to convert from a joint venture to a special general partnership, as of 1 August 2012. Additionally, the Hong Kong firm can trace its origins to 1945. This early commitment to this market, together with an unwavering focus on quality, has been the foundation for accumulated industry experience, and is reflected in KPMG's appointment for multidisciplinary services (including audit, tax and advisory) by some of China's most prestigious companies.

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