China Merchants Bank Company said late on April 18 it has relieved President Tian Huiyu with immediate effect.
The Shenzhen-based bank says it is assigning Tian to another unspecified post. Chief financial officer Wang Liang will take over as interim CEO.
The announcement came after China Merchants Bank suffered a record stock sell-off of 7.4% that day. Bloomberg reported the highest loss in almost seven years, triggered by unverified reports that Tian has been involved in an anti-corruption probe.
According to South China Morning Post, Wang Zheng, chief investment officer at Jingxi Investment Management in Shanghai, said, “There’s market speculation that the executive is under probe. The impact on the stock price is palpable.”
On April 19, the lender’s shares slipped 3% in Shanghai in early trade, marking a market loss of about 19 billion in value in just two days. This year, its stock has slumped 11%, turning the bank into the worst performer among mainland publicly-listed peers.
Tian Huiyu has spent nine years at the bank, overseeing its growth into the country’s top retail banking during his tenure. His sudden termination comes as Beijing is determined to weed out corruption in the 60 trillion dollar finance sector to keep systematic risks under control.
In February, China’s top disciplinary body criticized more than two dozen financial regulators and state banking institutions. It claimed they all had similar problems, such as corruption in critical positions and sectors.
Last year, Merchants Bank recorded a 23% increase in net profits, the fastest growth since 2012. Under Tian’s leadership, the lender’s total assets had more than doubled to 9.25 trillion yuan (1.45 trillion dollars) by December 2021.
Its market value before the stock meltdown was 1.1 trillion yuan (172 billion dollars), the third-most valuable lender after the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and Construction Bank.