Bank in Chinese is 银行 – literally “silver merchant”. Alas, like so most countries around the world, China has not had a real “silver merchant” for half a century. With their paper gold accounts, Hong Kong’s banks have arguably come close. But no silver.
That has now changed.
In August 2010, ICBC (工商银行), the world’s “largest” bank in terms of market capitalization, after a break of over 60 years, began offering savings accounts in silver again. ICBC account holders can hold paper silver, paper gold, physical silver and physical gold. Admittedly it’s not yet possible to actually make payments in silver, but with extremely tight buy/sell rates perhaps we can forgive them this blemish for the moment.
According to various online accounts (e.g. this one from goldcore.com), interest in holding real money is considerable. According to an ICBC spokesman, even without calculating paper silver, in January alone about 13 tons of physical silver were purchased, compared with 33 tons in the whole of 2010. Were that demand to continue then demand for silver from ICBC alone could be as high as 156 tons for the entire year.
Gold sales are equally impressive, with the ICBC reporting sales of around 7 tons of gold in January alone. That’s quite a bit – over $300m worth. Reportedly over 1m new accounts have been opened since December.
It seems that a number of people out there between Pearl River and Amur River are reading the writing on the wall.