Chinese banking giant ICBC puts legal panel in spotlight

The world’s largest bank by market capitalisation, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), is overhauling its European legal panel and has sent out pitch invitations to a broad range of firms.

The state-owned lender, headquartered in Beijing, is in the process of managing submissions from advisers, with applications initially due in February. The process was originaly due to complete in March but has now been pushed back by a few months.

It is understood that the company already operates a roster of advisers in Europe, with the panel in question covering the full range of practice areas.

Linklaters has possibly the closest relationship with the client, advising it on the bulk of its stock exchange compliance matters in Hong Kong. It has also advised it on several M&A deals including its 2011 acquisition of 80 per cent of Standard Bank Argentina, Standard Investments and Inversora Diagonal from South Africa’s Standard Bank.

The firm had previously advised ICBC on its purchase of a £2.6bn stake in Standard Bank in 2007 after being recommended by Goldman Sachs (25 October 2007).

Its lending relationships are largely with A&O, Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Norton Rose and White & Case, with Herbert Smith Freehills winning a small slice of work.

ICBC is one of China’s ‘big four’ lenders alongside Agricultural Bank of China, China Construction Bank and Bank of China. US business publication Forbes lists it as the world’s sixth-largest company by market cap, at $237.4bn (£155bn), ahead of any of its global banking rivals.

It floated on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and Shanghai Stock Exchange in 2006 in a deal widely referred to at the time as the world’s largest-ever IPO.

The $12bn listing saw legacy Herbert Smith advise the company (26 June 2006), but lead partners Michael Fosh and Jeremy Xiao in Beijing and Ashley Alder in Hong Kong all later left to join Reed Smith, Credit Suisse and Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission respectively. Xiao later returned to the firm as a consultant.

ICBC could not be contacted for comment.