China mulls lead role for PBoC in financial oversight

SHANGHAI • China is considering handing the nation’s central bank a key role in coordinating financial oversight, in order to focus efforts on reining in risk in the sector, people familiar with the discussions said.

The move, to be debated as part of the fifth National Financial Work Conference due to start on July 14, would create a new office for coordinating the country’s three main regulatory bodies at the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) to be led by the institution’s governor, currently Zhou Xiao-chuan, the people said, who asked not to be named as the matter isn’t public.

China’s ruling Communist Party is homing in on the threats to stability posed by rapid credit growth, a dynamic shadow banking sector and an overheating property market as it heads toward a leadership transition later this year. While the move would fall short of creating a long-mooted “super-regulator”, corralling the three separate agencies overseeing banks, stock markets and insurance companies is key priority for President Xi Jinping.

Under the PBoC’s leadership, the heads of the three regulators may be joined in the new coordination office by officials from the Finance Ministry and the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s main economic planning agency. Although no decisions on the matter have yet been taken, an option to be discussed is if the PBoC should take more direct oversight of some major institutions, two of the people said.

“It looks like an incremental reform, not a sweeping one, as policymakers try to avoid creating any kind of regulatory gap during a year when the party congress will be convened,” said Ding Shuang, chief China economist at Standard Chartered plc in Hong Kong. “Agency consolidation will cause personnel changes, which may lead to a temporary situation in which areas that used to be well covered are left uncovered now.”

The idea of consolidation — or at least greater cooperation — among the institutions has been around for at least a decade and regained traction after China’s stock market turmoil in 2015.

Its financial markets are currently governed by the China Banking Regulatory Commission, China Securities Regulatory Commission and China Insurance Regulatory Commission, in conjunction with the central bank, a structure that has encouraged regulatory arbitrage and helped fuel the growth of trillions of dollars of risky financial products.

Andrew Polk, co-founder of research firm Trivium China in Beijing, is among analysts expecting this weekend’s financial work conference to unveil the establishment of a regulatory coordination agency overseen by the PBoC.

Still, he said any “serious adjustments” to the financial regulatory structure won’t be made until after the 19th Communist Party Congress this fall, at which officials will reveal details of the party’s twice-a-decade leadership transition.

“Improving financial regulation and coordination will be a long-term positive,” Polk wrote in a report. “But when regulators start to implement those changes late in the year, the possibility for a financial misstep will be nerve-wracking.” — Bloomberg