Standard closes risky accounts

Standard Chartered has made a big "pre-emptive strike" against possible defaults by closing 550 corporate accounts in Asia last year. A credit scoring system was used by the bank for the first time to decide the closures, which amounted to about 5 per cent of its total corporate clients.

Malcolm Williamson, chief executive, acknowledged that closing down accounts was a sensitive task. "It's a case of encouraging people to go elsewhere while they have a bankable prospect," he said. Often, the accounts were transferred to local banks which felt more comfortable with the risk.

News of the account closures accompanied results for 1996 from Standard, which is a specialist Asian-Pacific bank based in London. It claimed the results showed it had achieved its ambition to double profits in three years by announcing a 32 per cent rise to pounds 870m before tax. Trading profits in the last three years have risen from pounds 358m to pounds 818m.

The bank has undertaken extensive restructuring in the last couple of years, and has sold off business which it did not believe would generate good profits, such as private banking.

"We really think we've finished the renovation and renewal," Patrick Gillam, chairman of Standard, said yesterday.

However, he said the bank would make investments this year and in subsequent years in the areas in which it had chosen to specialise in Asia, such as credit cards and cash management and custody business. For 1997 alone it has earmarked pounds 90m to pounds 100m for investment, primarily in Asia, he said.

Mr Gillam said Asia Pacific remained the most important region for the bank. The bank is one of only eight international banks with a licence to handle currency business in Shanghai.

Standard shares closed up 13.5p at 783.5p last night.

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