If anyone doubts the intensity of the competition for the China banking business of multinationals, one need only look at the resum? of 31-year-old Karen Chan. With a bachelor's in economics from Shanghai University and almost no experience beyond the borders of her native China, Chan is an unlikely candidate for the role of super banker to arguably the most promising and certainly the largest emerging market on the planet. Yet, over the past year, Chan has moved from Standard Chartered Bank to Bank of America and then back to Standard Chartered, and to increasingly more important jobs with each move. Today, as Standard Chartered's branch manager in Shanghai and leader of a solutions delivery team, Chan heads up transactional sales for China for the U.K.-based bank. Why? Because Chan turns out to be a secret weapon of sorts when it comes to banking in China. "We were losing the China business of some of our best global customers," says Bill Evans, BofA's regional sales manager for North Asia. "When we pressed to find out why, we heard two words over and over: 'Karen Chan.'" Such is the market for people who fathom the complexities of the Chinese banking system, speak fluent English and understand sophisticated treasury demands.


Think of the bidding frenzy around M&A mavens in the 1980s or technology wunderkinder in the 1990s, and you get a sense of the game of musical chairs that has begun among global banks trying to stake out turf and talent in the voluminous China market. The winning banks are the ones with the winning bankers. The right locations, the right systems and the right products help, of course. But venturing into the enigmatic Chinese business community means finding guides who can assist corporate treasuries that wish to set up shop in a country where the currency isn't even convertible, a Communist bureaucracy micromanages which companies get access and business practices are decidedly foreign to westerners. "What troubles U.S. treasurers most is all the different governmental and regulatory bodies they have to deal with, all the licenses they need, all the approvals that they must apply for in writing," Chan says, explaining what makes her or any knowledgeable banker so valuable. "It's still pretty complicated. They don't want to be overwhelmed by red tape. It's important to them to have a partner who understands that process and can do much of the application and compliance work on their behalf."

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