The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank has caused panic not just in the U.S. tech industry but also in China, where the bank has been a key player for years among Chinese startups.
In recent days, many startups in China have issued statements to reassure their investors that their deposits with SVB will not impact their operations.
Before the bank failed and was taken over by U.S. regulators this month, Silicon Valley Bank was the 16th-largest American bank. In foreign markets, SVB’s reputation for financing about half of all U.S. venture-backed technology and health care companies made it a popular choice for companies, including those based in China and backed by U.S. venture capitalists.
BeiGene, one of China’s largest biotech companies that specializes in the development of cancer drugs, said that the collapse of SVB would have “no major impact” on its operations, and that its uninsured cash deposits in Silicon Valley Bank totaled only $175 million, or about 3.9% of its cash and other investments.
Zai Lab, a biopharmaceutical company headquartered in Shanghai, issued a statement saying that SVB’s collapse would have no impact on its operations, including the ability to pay wages and make payments to third parties.
Other startups, including Andon Health, Sirnaomics, Everest Medicines and Jacobio Pharma, have issued similar statements.
After SVB failed, the Biden administration stepped in and ensured that all customers would be able to get their deposits back, even those who had more than $250,000 in their accounts. That’s the maximum amount that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation typically covers when a bank fails, but more than 90% of Silicon Valley Bank accounts were above that amount.
With their SVB deposits frozen, many companies could have been at risk of failing themselves, so the Biden administration said it would step in to guarantee they would get their funds back.
FDIC reimbursements for Chinese customers?
On Chinese social media, there has been concern that the reimbursements may apply only to customers in America.
“Is it true that only depositors who are U.S. citizens can get their money back? What about us?” asked one post on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.
William Hanlon, a partner at Seyfarth Shaw LLP, told VOA Mandarin in an email that the FDIC as receiver “will not categorize account holders by nationality” and “will treat all depositors equally based on their status as depositors.”
David M. Bizar, another partner at Seyfarth Shaw, said the FDIC is continuing to operate SVB as a full-service bridge bank while it searches for buyers of the bank’s assets.
“It can be expected that the United States will continue to maintain these deposit accounts and keep them from losing their value so long as it maintains them in its receivership, and that the FDIC as receiver will not sell these deposit accounts to purchasers who would be permitted under the sale agreements to reduce their values after the transfers,” he told VOA.
So far, several Chinese companies have publicly said they were able to withdraw all their deposits at SVB.
SVB’s role in China
The now-failed SVB carved out a unique role in the Chinese banking scene. It served roughly 2,200 clients and advised government regulators who were eager to build the country’s tech sector. The Santa Clara, California-based bank supported startup companies that not all banks, especially the big commercial ones in China, would accept because of higher risks.
In 2010, then-CEO Ken Wilcox brought the entire board of directors to China to showcase the importance he attached to the China market, according to Chinese media reports. In a 2019 interview, when he was SVB’s chief credit officer, he said SVB was “a model bank for China.”
SVB approached China in two different ways. One involved wholly owned operations in major tech centers, including Beijing, Shenzhen and Shanghai, where it advised startups on how to manage overseas funding. The other involved a 50-50 joint-venture with Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, also known as SPD Silicon Valley bank, that operates under a similar model as SVB.
Following the collapse of SVB, the Chinese policymakers signaled stricter oversight to improve financial market security.
The South China Morning Post quoted Liu Xiaochun, deputy director of the Shanghai Finance Institute, as saying it was inappropriate to set up a similar specialist bank in China.
He argued that to avoid potential losses in supporting tech and health startups, large commercial banks should establish branches to finance innovation, while managing risk exposure at headquarters.