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March 17, 2009

HSBC eyes bigger stake in Vietnamese insurer
HSBC, Europe's biggest bank, wants to increase its stake in Vietnam's Bao Viet Insurance to 18 percent despite tough global economic times, Reuters quoted a senior company official as saying.

"We are looking to do more with the strategic partners," Paul Leech, Hong Kong-based head of international operations for HSBC, told reporters in Hanoi on Monday.

HSBC bought a 10 percent stake in Bao Viet, Vietnam's biggest insurer, in 2007. Leech said the bank wanted to increase the stake to 18 percent but did not offer details.

HSBC owns a 20 percent stake in partly private Techcombank, which is the maximum that foreign strategic investors are allowed to hold in financial institutions in Vietnam.

In January, HSBC became the first foreign bank to open a fully owned operation in Vietnam.

"When we made the strategy to open, the world was a little different," Leech said. "The interesting thing is, actually, our strategy really hasn't changed."

The bank was planning to add offices in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi and open a new branch in Binh Duong province in the south. Leech said HSBC would be looking at new lending carefully "but, again, I think our balance sheet will be bigger in Vietnam at the end of 2009 than it will be at the beginning".

"We hope to get a bigger share of the banking and insurance market here in Vietnam," Leech said.

"Life is difficult but that's not going to deflect us from the fact that in our opinion Vietnam remains one of the most interesting emerging markets in the Asia-Pacific region."

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