A Guide to Banks & Mobile Banking in China

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If you’re living and working in China you’ll need a bank account. These days you’ll most likely also want to start mobile banking too.

This post covers the world of China’s brick and mortar banking establishments, its booming mobile banking industry, and some practical Chinese languages to draw on when you’re managing your money in the P.R.C. (including when you lose your bank card!).

China Merchant Bank
China Merchant Bank

Banks in China

Before we dive into China’s many banks, note that the word for “bank” in Mandarin is 银行 (yínháng , 银 means silver, cash, money or wealth). 银行 features in the names of most of the following banks.

First up, you have The People’s Bank of China, (中国人民银行, Zhōngguó Rénmín Yínháng), which is the country’s central bank and has the power to control monetary policy and regulate financial institutions across the mainland. It’s an enormous institution, worth US$3.201 trillion. Don’t get this one confused with the Bank of China (see below).

Other banks across the country can be divided into three types: state-owned commercial; shareholder-owned commercial; and policy-led banks, established with the purpose of progressing a particular developmental policy. The biggest are listed below:

State-owned commercial banks:

  • Industrial and Commercial Bank of China / 中国工商银行/ Zhōngguó Gōngshāng Yínháng
  • China Construction Bank / 中国建设银行 / Zhōngguó Jiànshè Yínháng
  • Bank of China / 中国银行/ Zhōngguó Yínháng
  • Agricultural Bank of China / 中国农业银行 / Zhōngguó Nóngyè Yínháng
  • Bank of Communications / 交通银行 / Jiāotōng Yínháng

Shareholding commercial banks

  • China Merchant’s Bank / 招商银行 / Zhāoshāng Yínháng
  • China CITIC Bank / 中信银行 / Zhōng Xìn Yínháng
  • China Everbright Bank / 中国光大银行 / Zhōngguó Guāngdà Yínháng
  • Huaxia Bank / 华夏银行 / Huáxià Yínháng
  • Shanghai Pudong Development Bank / 浦发银行/ Pǔfā Yínháng
  • Industrial bank / 兴业银行/Xīngyè Yínháng
  • China Minsheng Bank / 民生银行 / Mínshēng Yínháng
  • Ping An Bank / 平安银行 / Píng’ān Yínháng

Policy-led banks:

  • China Development Bank / 国家开发银行/ Guójiā Kāifā Yínháng
  • The Export-Import Bank of China / 国家进出口银行/ Guójiā Jìnchū Kǒu
  • Agricultural Development Bank of China/ 中国农业发展银行 / Zhōngguó Nóngyè Fāzhǎn Yínháng

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You Can’t Choose Your Bank!

Well, at least not the bank into which your salary is deposited. This is because companies in China are obliged to pay all salaries into the same bank at which it’s registered. A company will choose a bank based on its annual fees and distance from the office. So while you can’t pick your bank at least it should be close by.

With any luck, you’ll have a bank that has decent service too. According to the teachers at Lingo Bus, the customer service and mobile app provided by China Merchant’s Bank is known as the best.

I won’t go through the steps of opening and closing an account here (it’s a little convoluted) but just be sure to bring your passport and residence permit (and a Chinese-speaking co-worker to help, if possible).

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Mobile banking

Mobile banking (手机银行 / shǒujī yínháng) and mobile payments (手机支付 /  shǒujī zhīfù or 移动支付 / yídòng zhīfù) are well-established and booming in China

手机银行 

手机支付/移动支付

The adoption rate of mobile banking has been up to 70% in 2015 – miles ahead of western countries –  as the Chinese embrace the ease of paying through their cell phones. The main options are as follows:

  • AliPay / 支付宝 / Zhīfùbǎo   
  • WeChat Pay / 微信支付 / Wēixìn zhīfù  
  • QQ Wallet / QQ钱包 / QQ Qiánbāo  

In stores, restaurants, taxis, movie theaters and beyond, your phone is all you need now – forget the credit card, just scan away.

Unfortunately, there is a significant amount of fraud relating to mobile payments in China, which is probably its most limiting factor. Helen, one of our teachers, said she “daren’t let my mom use it”, suggesting there is a way to go before traditional options are obsolete.

Useful Phrases for Banking in China

Nǐhǎo,wǒ yào kāihù.

你好,我要开户
Hi, I’d like to open a bank account please.

Wǒ de kǎ diū le, wǒ yào guàshī.

我的卡丢了,我要挂失。
I’ve lost my bank card. Can I get a new one please?

Wǒ yào cúnqián.

我要存钱。
I’d like to deposit some cash (into my bank account).

Wǒ yào zhuǎnzhàng。

我要转账。
I’d like to make a transfer.

Wǒ de (yín háng) zhànghào shì …

我的(银行)账号是…
My bank account number is….

Kěyǐ yòng Zhīfùbǎo ma ?

可以用支付宝吗?
Do you accept AliPay?

Kěyǐ shuā měiguó yùntōngkǎ ma ?

可以刷美国运通卡吗?
Do you accept American Express?

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