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Ma Weihua: Bringing innovation to banking

Opinions seeking to classify Ma are varied: Some say he is a scholar, others a public official, others view him as a banker. Under his leadership, CMB completed a successful IPO in Hong Kong on September 22, 2012, and the last eight years have demonstrated his abundant entrepreneurial capabilities, leading him to implement two major reforms in CMB. His successful shift from public official to businessman exemplifies the spirit of Shenzhen’s business elite.

Leading CMB after Years of Preparation

Born in Jinzhou, Liaoning in June 1949, Ma is a straight talking and passionate man - a typical northeasterner. After finishing high school, Ma went to the countryside like thousands of his peers, and settled in Changxingdian Commune, Beizhen County, Liaoning. At that time, he was expecting to be a farmer for the rest of his life. During his stay in the countryside, however, he enjoyed local renown as a reporter thanks to his writing skills, the first real display of his talents.

In April 1978, the re-opening of the access to China’s universities inspired young students all over the country. That year, Ma passed the entrance exam for JilinUniversity, and was admitted to study management of national economics at the Dept. of Economics. For many, university life is a treasured memory, and Ma is no exception. After graduation, Ma frequently gave lectures at universities to motivate young people, viewing the theories and methods he learnt during his education as key components of his success.

After graduating in 1982, Ma successively worked for the Liaoning Provincial Planning Commission, Liaoning Provincial CPC Commission, Anhui Provincial CPC Commission, and the People’s Bank of China (PBoC). Notably, he served at the PBoC as an economic official in the area of Chinese macroeconomic regulations, and was involved in many significant events in the Chinese banking industry. This experience also built a strong foundation for the multiple reforms he later initiated in CMB.

In October 1992, Ma moved south to work as the president and secretary of the CPC senior management group of the PBoC Haihan Branch, and then later became the director of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange in Hainan Branch until 1999.The strong social and political network he established while working for central and local government bodies helped enable the sweeping reforms he implemented at CMB. 

On June 19, 1998, pressured by poor cash flow and the credit crisis, the PBoC Haihan Branch declared bankrupt, and became the first bank in China to shut down. The next year, Ma assumed office as the president of China Merchants Bank.

Leading Internet Banking with Vision

In the mid and late 1990s, the Internet arrived as a buzzword for modern young people. In 1995, three American banks jointly set up the first online bank. With great vision and timing, Ma identified the strategic value of internet banking, and decided to put CMB’s service online.

The emergence of Internet banking provided an opportunity for Chinese banks to compete on an equal footing on the international stage. Ma selected the ‘Clicks and Mortar’ business mode to become something of a maverick in China’s banking sector.

At that time, CMB had only a few dozen branches across the country while ICBC, the largest domestic bank, had tens of thousands. Compared with the top four banks, CMB lacked scale advantages; however, thanks to the Internet, Ma was able to expand the coverage of CMB’s internet banking service as terminals such as PCs, mobile phones and ATMs became interconnected. The small number of branches incurred low overheads, contributing to a rapid rise in profits.

Ma soon established a new business mode that combined banking and the internet: “Networking, capital marketization, and globalization” started to become synonymous with CMB. 

Moving past conventions  

“A bird in a cage cannot fly with its wings tied; a man in turn must network.” This couplet became Ma’s motto, which he interpreted as embodying culture, systems, and innovation, explaining the bird metaphor as representing the need to delegate to foster success .

From 2004 to the present day, he has prioritized transformation. His first goal was to develop CMB’s retail service. In the eyes of the public, CMB had been traveling in the opposite direction to the industry right from its inception.

Inspired by Ma, CMB’s sales staff visited communities, colleges, and SMEs to develop the bank’s retail business as a one-to-one service. At that time, the wholesale business occupied 90% of the banking industry's total business volume, with the retail business accounting for almost nothing. In terms customer mix, most large enterprises and SMEs were ignored by other banks and Ma sought to change this.

The account opening policy implemented by CMB catered to the new generation’s consumption ideas under the influence of the western consumption concept of deficit consumption.

As early as 2004, Ma noticed the influence the West was having on young Chinese based on the Internet boom, and began focusing on the online banking and retail service systems that underpin CMB’s current success.

Now, customers can enjoy discounts at specified stores, cinemas and restaurants if they hold CMB cards. The CMB credit card policy features high credit limits, few restrictions, and multiple cards – a model that all major banks now follow.

Last year, Ma had a new vision for a second reform over the next three years based on minimizing costs to reduce risks coupled with an intensive strategy to maximize return on capital and the bank’s value.

Ma remarked once, “I’m greatly inspired by Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Although I am not a drifter, my career is not only driven by destiny. To continue to find beautiful scenery ahead, I will never stop moving forward.”