UBS has gained an edge on its Wall Street competitors in China by becoming the first foreign bank to be allowed to take control of its business there.

The Swiss bank said it had received approval from Chinese authorities to increase its stake in its securities joint venture in the country to 51% from just under 25%.

The announcement late Friday marks a watershed moment for China’s vast financial markets. Before Beijing changed the rules earlier this year, overseas banks were only allowed to hold minority stakes of up to 49% in their Chinese securities businesses — a restriction that drew complaints from top US firms.

Other foreign banks are seeking to follow UBS (UBS). JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Japan’s Nomura (NMR) are still waiting for the green light from Chinese regulators.

Expanding in China is a “key element” of UBS’ strategy, CEO Sergio Ermotti said in a statement.

The Swiss bank set up its China joint venture, UBS Securities, in Beijing a decade ago. Its operations include a stock brokerage, an investment banking unit and asset management services.

UBS will overtake state-owned Beijing Guoxiang Asset Management as the biggest shareholder in the business.

A tantalizing market

China pledged in November 2017 to allow foreign companies to own Chinese banks and investment firms for the first time.

The enormous size and rapid growth of China’s economy make it a huge and tantalizing opportunity for Goldman Sachs (GS), Citigroup (C) and other Wall Street firms. But experts have warned that despite the change in ownership rules, international banks could still face challenges navigating Chinese regulations and competing with well established local players.

HSBC (HSBC), which traces its roots to Hong Kong, has leveraged its special position in the territory to build a presence in mainland China. It owns 51% of a Chinese securities joint venture that opened for business a year ago. HSBC was able to take advantage of a rule that allowed Hong Kong-funded banks to own a majority stake before other foreign financial firms.

International banks have long hoped to gain better access to the Chinese market in order to cash in on its growing wealth.

In October, Britain’s Standard Chartered (SCBFF) became the first foreign lender to receive permission to hold and safeguard the assets of local investors in China following a separate approval process.

By Daniel Shane
CNN

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