China is home to some of the world’s biggest banks.

They hold trillions of dollars in assets and make it possible for more than a billion people and businesses to manage their money.

In this article, I’ll give you an overview of the major China banks that dominate the industry, other big banks, as well as some that aren’t as well known.

And, keep your eyes peeled for some quirky facts along the way!

The Chinese banking system

Before we begin, it’s worth knowing a little bit about the rise of China’s banks.

Since China opened up to the rest of the world in 1979, its economy has grown from strength to strength.

The country’s big, state-owned banks played an important role by modernizing and gaining more independence under a social market economy.

Non-state owned financial institutions also flourished, as they had even more autonomy.

Even foreign banks have been allowed to establish branches in China and invest in the country’s finance sector.

Today, there are thousands of banking institutions in China. There are large commercial banks, city and regional banks, rural banks as well as internet and specialized private banks.

In 2019, assets in the Chinese banking system totalled 285 trillion yuan, equivalent to a whopping US$40.6 trillion.

The Chinese banking system continues to undergo reform as the banks enter new international markets and play an even bigger role on the world stage.

People’s Bank of China

This is the central bank of the People’s Republic of China.

With more than US$5.9 trillion in assets, it’s responsible for carrying out monetary policy and regulation of financial institutions in mainland China.

People's Bank of China

The People’s Bank of China. Image by Gang Liu on Shutterstock.

Although it has some independence, the People’s Bank of China is essentially a department of the government’s State Council.

The central bank is currently developing a digital currency (more on that below).

China’s biggest banks

The country’s biggest banks are:

  • Industrial and Commercial Bank of China
  • China Construction Bank
  • Agricultural Bank of China
  • Bank of China
  • Bank of Communications
  • Postal Savings Bank of China.

They’re all state-controlled banks with commercial banking operations.

The first four are collectively known as the Big Four Banks.

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The Big Four are not only China’s biggest banks in terms of total assets, but globally they’re the biggest as well.

Here’s a brief summary of each of these banks, including some interesting facts you may not know about.

Figures are as at the end of 2019.

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC)

ICBC is China’s mega bank.

It’s also the world’s biggest bank (in terms of assets) and the world’s biggest pubic company.

Established in 1984 as a specialist bank in the industrial sector, ICBC now offers a broad range of financial products and services. This includes corporate banking, personal banking, asset management services and more.

It has customers across the globe, covering 41 countries and regions.

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China ICBC

ICBC leads China’s Big Four Banks. Image by IgorGolovniov on Shutterstock.

The bank was listed on both the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock exchanges in 1996.

  • Total assets: RMB 30 trillion (US$4.6 trillion)
  • Net profit: RMB 313 billion (US$48 billion)
  • Customers: More than 8 million corporate customers and 650 million personal customers
  • Chinese name: 中国工商银行

Quirky fact: In its annual report, the bank says it’s guided by Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. You can read more about this ideology in The New York Times.

China Construction Bank (CCB)

This is China’s second biggest bank, and the world’s second-largest commercial lender.

China Construction Bank provides customers with comprehensive financial services, including personal banking, corporate banking, investment and wealth management.

China Construction Bank

China Construction Bank has trillions in assets. Image by kingkongimagery on Shutterstock.

  • Total assets: RMB 25 trillion (US$3.8 trillion)
  • Net profit: RMB 269 billion (US$41 billion)
  • Customers: million personal customers
  • Chinese name: 中国建设银行

Quirky fact: CCB helped fund the Wuhan Huoshenshan Hospital, the first dedicated coronavirus hospital which was built in just over a week. You can see the amazing images of that here.

Agricultural Bank of China (ABC)

ABC or AgBank is one of China’s biggest banks.

It provides a diverse portfolio of corporate and retail banking products and services for a broad range of customers.

Don’t let the name confuse you. Although ABC does cater to the country’s millions of rural residents and businesses, it’s a bank for all Chinese.

ABC is a big China bank

ABC is one of China’s largest banks. Image by Chintung Lee on Shutterstock.

With more than 23,000 domestic branch outlets across China, there’s an ABC on practically every street corner.

  • Total assets: RMB 24 trillion (US$3.7 trillion)
  • Net profit: RMB 212 billion (US$32 billion)
  • Customers: 837 million retail customers
  • Chinese name: 中国农业银行

Quirky fact: The bank has introduced an AI-based digital human receptionist at one of its branches in Hangzhou. The virtual receptionist can handle customer queries and even cross-sell other banking products.

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Bank of China (BOC)

You’ve probably heard of Bank of China – it’s China’s most well-known bank internationally.

Headquartered in Beijing, Bank of China is one of the oldest banks in China despite numerous structural and name changes. It was formally established in February 1912 by the Republican government at the time.

The bank specializes in corporate banking, personal banking, financial markets, as well as other commercial banking like investments, securities and insurance.

Bank of China in Dalian

Bank of China is well-known outside of China. Image by Mike Cairnduff.

Bank of China used to be the country’s central bank. It still issues banknotes in Hong Kong and Macau today.

The bank has a strong presence on the Chinese mainland as well as in 57 countries and regions.

  • Total assets: RMB 22 trillion (US$3.4 trillion)
  • Net profit: RMB 201 billion (US$31 billion)
  • Customers: 300 million personal customers
  • Chinese name: 中国银行

Quirky fact: The bank unashamedly differentiates between ordinary personal customers and VIP personal customers with prominent online logins side-by-side.

Bank of Communications (BoCom)

Bank of Communications was founded in 1908, making it one of the oldest China banks.

Sometimes, it’s included with the biggest four banks and the group is referred to collectively as the Big Five Banks instead.

BoComm has over 3,000 outlets. While most are in China, the bank has branches in major global cities including New York, Tokyo, Singapore and Frankfurt.

Bank of Communications China

Bank of Communications China is found across the country. Image by Kanok Sulaiman on Shutterstock.

The bank’s primary business includes corporate banking, personal banking, and inter-bank and financial market businesses.

  • Total assets: RMB 9 trillion (US$1.4 trillion)
  • Net profit: RMB 77 billion (US$12 billion)
  • Chinese name: 交通銀行

Quirky fact: The Chinese government gave away RMB 10 million (US$1.5 million) to 50,000 random people during Lunar New Year in 2021 as part of a digital currency trial. BoComm is one of the banks participating in the trial.

Postal Savings Bank of China (PSBC)

The Postal Bank is China’s sixth big bank.

It’s a little different from the rest because it focuses on providing financial services to san nong (三农) customers. This means those in agriculture, rural areas and farming.

But the bank also has plenty of urban and small business customers.

Postal Savings Bank of China branch

Postal Savings Bank of China caters to working class Chinese. Image by Brookgardener on Shutterstock.

  • Total assets: RMB 10 trillion (US$1.5 trillion)
  • Net profit: RMB 60 billion (US$9 billion)
  • Customers: 600 million individual customers
  • Chinese name: 中国邮政储蓄银行

Quirky fact: PSBC has a massive network of 40,000 outlets across China, the majority of which are located within post offices.

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Other big banks in China

The country is home to plenty of other big banks. Some have a national presence while others focus on a particular region or city.

Here’s how they rank in terms of total assets at the end of 2019, unless stated otherwise (source: S&P Global).

Name Total assets US$B
China Merchants Bank 980
Industrial Bank 952*
Shanghai Pudong Development Bank 914
China CITIC Bank Corp 882
China Minsheng Banking Corp 871
China Everbright Bank 633
Ping An Bank 497
HuaXia Bank 380*
Bank of Beijing 368*
China Guangfa Bank 318
Bank of Shanghai 285*
Bank of Jiangsu 282*
China Zheshang Bank 239

*As at Sept. 30, 2018.

China Everbright Bank

China Everbright Bank is another national, commercial bank. Image by zhaoliang70 on Shutterstock.

China banks you may not have heard about

Economic reforms have led to the establishment of non-government, private banks.

WeBank

This is a private Chinese neobank backed by one of the world’s biggest internet companies, Tencent. (You can find out more about Tencent’s popular China apps here.)

WeBank bank has no physical branches or outlets – it’s online only. It grants loans through facial recognition technology and big data credit ratings.

The bank has only been around since 2015 but it’s already valued at US$21 billion. And it’s looking at expanding in Australia.

MYbank

This is another private online commercial bank in China focused on serving SMEs and farmers.

It’s one of the brands under Ant Group, part of the Chinese Alibaba Group. The group owns China’s largest digital payment platform Alipay, which serves over one billion users and 80 million merchants.

MYbank is part of Ant Financial

MYbank is part of Ant Group. Image by Ascannio on Shutterstock.

MYbank leverages AI to improve customer service and reduce costs.

Wenzhou Minshang Bank

Wenzhou is a city on China’s east coast famous for its smart businesspeople.

It’s no wonder then that this bank was the country’s first private bank. It opened its doors in March 2015.

Wenzhou Minshang Bank aims to help small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), self-employed individuals, and others in the local community.

China’s digital currency

China is rushing towards the development and distribution of a central bank digital currency while the rest of the world watches.

The structure China envisages for its digital currency would see the People’s Bank of China issue yuan directly into the ‘e-wallets’ of customers of state-owned banks. This would effectively cut out the e-payments middlemen, such as Ant Group and Tencent, while preserving an intermediary role for its banks.

About 200 million yuan (US$30 million) has already been given away in pilot projects in major cities.

China is also testing digital yuan for international use. There is now intense collaboration with Thailand and the United Arab Emirates for cross-border payments.

Are you heading to China?

If you’re planning on using your hotel’s Wi-Fi in China during your trip, you’ll need to get a virtual private network (VPN) before you leave your country.

If you don’t, you won’t have access to all your favorite websites and apps like Facebook, Instagram, Google, Gmail, WhatsApp, and countless others.

Check out my review of the best VPN for China.

Summary of banks in China

China is home to some of the world’s leading banks as well as a flourishing domestic market of smaller banks (which are still pretty big!).

The largest banks are still state-controlled, meaning the Chinese government has an active role in how the banks operate.

As Chinese banks continue to grow their pool of assets, they play a critical role in the world economy.

If you liked some of the quirky facts in this article, then check out the one called 7 really interesting things about China. It’s written from a foreign traveler’s perspective.

References: Annual reports for ICBC, CCB, ABCBOC, BoCom, PSBC.