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Is ICBC creating a new type of Chinese banker?

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China’s recent hiring of Deutsche Bank’s top Asian executive Lee Zhang as its new vice president is a landmark appointment for a Chinese bank and will also help ICBC to expand globally.

This is the first time a senior management position at a major state-run bank will be filled by an executive from a Western firm, and Zhang is the only one at this level with global experience.

His coming to ICBC takes the trend of Chinese financial institutions hiring overseas returnees or Western bankers – such as Frank Newman joining Ping An Bank and Bank of Communications hiring Ye Diqi from HSBC – to a whole new level.

“Zhang’s case is the most high profile so far and is a signal of management style changes at ICBC,” says She Minhua, a banking analyst at Haitong Securities.

“As ICBC is also listed in Hong Kong, the new appointment will enhance the image of China’s state-owned bank among overseas investors,” she adds.

At Deutsche, Zhang held dual posts as China chairman and head of global banking for Asia Pacific ex-Japan.

His extensive overseas investment banking experience means “he can assist ICBC’s global expansion, such as opening foreign branches and handling off-shore listing deals of domestic companies,” comments Stephen He, banking and finance division senior consultant at Randstad China.

But Chinese nationals working at Western banks shouldn’t expect an easy ride into the upper echelons of the domestic lenders. “I don’t think Chinese banks will hire overseas returnees just for sake of it. Zhang is really a suitable candidate to lead ICBC,” says Minhua.

Zhang’s resume is the perfect mix of East meets West. He went abroad in 1986 and started his banking career in Hong Kong in 1994. Led by Zhang, Deutsche Bank has underwritten high profile IPOs for People’s Insurance Company of China, China Shenhua, and Dongfeng Auto.

Back in Beijing, Zhang has established a profound connection with top Chinese leaders. In 2003, he became a delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China’s top political advisory body, an honoured status rarely offered to those working for Western organisations.

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