Citibank (Thailand) sees bids from BBL/BAY and TTB as UOB lurks in the background with regional offer

The planned sale of the Citibank’s Thai operations has seen the number of bidders fall to four bidders from the previously reported eight suitors back in August.

Citibank (Thailand), which has an asset base of just over 51 billion baht as per its reporting to the Bank of Thailand (BoT), is being sold by its parent company Citibank N.A. as part of the company’s plans to exit up to 13 key markets across Asia.

This includes its profitable businesses in Thailand and Taiwan as well as high potential growth markets such as India, Indonesia, and China.

Sources in the industry have confirmed to Thai Enquirer that the bidders who remain in race and made a bid for Citibank (Thailand) asset as of October 22 (the deadline to submit the bids) include three local banks and one regional bank.

The 3 local banks are 

  1. Bangkok Bank Plc (BBL)
  2. Bank of Ayudhya Plc (BAY)
  3. TMB Thanachart Bank Plc (TTB)

While Singapore-based United Overseas Bank has included the Thailand operations as part of a larger bid on Citi’s operations.

The local Thai financial institutions that were interested in buying the assets but have pulled away include:

  1. Kasikorn Bank Plc (KBANK)
  2. Krung Thai Card Plc (KTC)
  3. Siam Commercial Bank Plc (SCB)

“As far as we know both SCB and KBANK have opted not to participate in purchase of the assets” another source in the industry said.

OPTED OUT

The opting out of the 2 of the large Thai banks (SCB & KBANK) stems from the fact that these 2 banks have similar customer base to Citibank (Thailand) and in such a scenario the bidding price would be far lower than the other.

Although Citibank (Thailand) is Thailand’s leading issuer of credit card and personal loans, their customer base overlaps with the wide credit card and personal loan businesses of SCB and KBANK.

SCB, which earlier on September 23rd announced its ‘mothership’ SCB-X as a way forward and was explicit in its intentions to list its card business under ‘Card-X’ brand was considered a candidate to possibly participate in this deal as it would grow SCB’s card business to be the top tier before listing it but people involved in the deal have confirmed that SCB did not bid on October 22nd.

“I cannot confirm or deny that SCB did not participate, but even if they did the price SCB would have bid would be very low due to the overlap,” a person close to the deal said.

“None of the banks would pay for the overlap client base and therefore if you ask me, the only bank that does not have much of an overlap is Bangkok Bank.”

Bangkok Bank has been rumored to be the key bidder for Citibank (Thailand) assets due to the bank’s push towards focusing on consumer banking business.

BBL, which has until recently been purely focused on wholesale banking (corporate lending), has been a laggard when it comes to adopting to the focus that KBANK, SCB and BAY had adopted years ago.

“BBL’s wholesale banking accounts for more than 85% of their portfolio while consumer banking is the remainder, so I think the reports suggesting that they are the most aggressive bidder holds some ground,” another banker in the industry said.

REGIONAL POWERS

Although BBL could be the most aggressive bidder for Citibank (Thailand)’s consumer assets, the fact that some of the regional banks are bidding for assets across various markets makes the bidding more interest and time consuming for the likes of Citibank N.A. as it would need to maximize the money it can make from this divestment process.

Citibank N.A. needs to maximize the money it can get from the divestment that was 1st announced by global chief executive officer – Jane Fraser, in April.

Fraser, who has had a history of divesting assets, announced in April that Citibank N.A. would exit 13 markets as the bank does not have the ‘scale needed to compete’. Among the countries where Citibank was looking to divest includes Australia, Bahrain, China, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Some of the regional banks such as Singapore’s DBS and UOB have been looking to carve out different markets for their growth strategies. To top this off UK based Standard Chartered Bank has also been on the prowl for assets to grow especially in India and China.

“If I was the regional CEO of Citibank sitting in Singapore, I would make a decision based on the ease of doing this entire process, think of it if there are 8-10 bidders for each of the 13 countries, how many people do they have to need to service,” one of the bidding banks told Thai Enquirer.

Regional banks would also be ale to pay higher as these banks are sitting on pile of cash that they have generated from their businesses that has seen a relatively good run over the past couple of years.

The like of DBS is keen on markets such as India, Indonesia, China, Taiwan and possibly Malaysia, while UOB is keen on China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

A regional bid would also mean that the premium that Citibank N.A. can extract from the markets such as Thailand and Taiwan (both are highly profitable business centers) can be offset by the not so good performance from the likes of Malaysia or Indonesia.

The regional banks would also have the scale needed to take on the asset much quicker as Citibank is not selling its systems. Which would mean that if the likes of UOB or DBS gets 3-5 markets that they need, then the development of infrastructure to accommodate the customer base of Citibank would be cheaper and quicker.

“All the bidders know this issue and that is one reason why the regional banks may not be offering the premium that the local banks would,” another bidder said.

NEXT STEP

After the submission of the bidding the next step for each of the 13 markets being sold is to get the bids and terms sorted out.

Insiders in the Citibank have said that it could take months to go through the process of undertaking the sale. The decision-making process is not going to be purely based on the price but what the new buyer brings on to the table for the customers.

Already online buzz had been that if say Bank A gets the deal then many of the customers have vented their frustration saying that they would give up using their card or service from Citibank.

Apart from that the morale of the staff is another issue as the driving force that has pushed Citibank (Thailand) to what its staff, and with a new owner, that morale and drive could possibly be lost.

“As a bidder we all realize what is needed to make the deal work, and we have calculated all this before we submitted the bid,” said one of the bidders.

Whatever the outcome may be, the sale of the highly profitable Thai assets is likely to bring in big bucks for Citibank N.A. and even during the pandemic Citibank (Thailand) reported 1.72 billion baht in 2020 against 5.15 billion baht in 2019.

Citibank (Thailand), as of end of June 2021, as per its reporting to the Bank of Thailand, had non-performing loans of a mere 1.26% of its nearly 91 billion in loans.

“The valuation is likely to be higher than its book value,” a bidder said. Citibank (Thailand) as per the data available had assets of just over 51 billion baht at the end of 2020.

The usual bids would be 1.5 to 1.9x of the book value if not more, a bidder had told Thai Enquirer when the bidding process started earlier this year.

In the past Citibank’s insiders have cited the high valuation offered by investors to KTC which as of last trading was trading at 6.17x price to book value, given the $4.48 billion market capitalization.

The credit card and personal loan portfolio are of similar size although industry insiders says that the portfolio of Citibank (Thailand) are of better quality as the spending power is higher.

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