BNP Paribas has promoted Francois Cristofari to chairman of the group’s China business, in recognition of his contribution to the bank’s achievements in the country.

Before this appointment, Cristofari was the chief executive officer of BNP Paribas (China) as well as country head for the BNP Paribas Group in China. He will retain the latter position, while Clarence Tao, former regional co-head of structured finance at the firm, will take over as China CEO.

“China is one of our priority markets with a wealth of potential brought on by the strong growth of its economy. We have operated in China almost uninterruptedly for over 150 years and we have a team with in-depth market insight and experience to fully leverage our global expertise for the benefit of our clients. The appointments of Francois and Clarence bear testament to our commitment to this market,” Eric Raynaud, head of BNP Paribas Asia-Pacific, said in a statement.

According to the bank, Cristofari has helped the French lender to complete the conversion of its branches in Beijing, Tianjin and Guangzhou into branches of its local subsidiary BNP Paribas (China).

He also contributed to the process of securing full renminbi licences, thereby paving the way for the bank to do business with all categories of customers in China. In his new role, Cristofari will continue to lead an enhanced China management team to capitalise fully on the substantial business opportunities in this country. 

As the new CEO, Tao will aim to expand BNP’s franchise in China. In particular, he will focus on deepening the bank’s relationships with its existing clients and building its business with clients who have global expansion plans.

Tao joined BNP Paribas in 2000 and since then has worked within the regional loan syndication and structured finance businesses. Prior to joining BNP Paribas, he held senior positions at various banks in both Asia and North America.

Leading financial institutions around the globe are racing to become part of the success story that is the world’s second largest economy, but their market share remains small. Increasing competition from domestic lenders, with their extensive branch networks and rising service expertise, was listed as the top challenge for foreign banks in China in 2010, according to an annual survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

BNP Paribas, which has a 12.6% stake in Bank of Nanjing, opened its first China office in Shanghai in 1860. Its China business currently employs more than 300 staff and provides banking, financing and advisory services, both on the corporate and investment bank (CIB) and the investment solutions side. It has offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou and Chengdu, but does not have any retail branches.

BNP Paribas' China equity capital markets business (offshore only) was ranked No 34 last year, according to Dealogic. It completed seven equity deals that involved a total of $999 million. In terms of fixed-income business, the bank had an even lower ranking at No 61 with one China deal valued at $200 million.

HSBC is the largest foreign bank in China in terms of branch networks with around 100 outlets nationwide.