Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, is advancing plans to launch its own credit card in China in a partnership with GE Money and Shenzhen Development Bank.

The Wal-Mart card will be the first of its kind to be issued by a foreign retailer in China. The US group currently operates 57 stores with a further 18-20 planned this year.

The card would be issued by SDB, a mid-sized lender in the rapidly developing south of China, with support from GE’s consumer finance unit, which announced plans for a $100m investment in the bank last October.

GE Money is recruiting an account manager to handle Wal-Mart’s relationship with SDB, as well as a card product risk manager whose duties are described as lying “primarily with the Shenzhen Development Bank/Wal-Mart partnership product”.

GE is also recruiting an executive for SDB to oversee the business development of partnerships with other foreign retailers in China, citing Wal-Mart, France’s Carrefour – the biggest foreign retailer in China – and Tesco, the UK supermarket chain.

Wal-Mart declined to comment on its partnership with SDB, saying it had not announced any plans in China to launch a credit card. “For obvious competitive reasons, we do not speculate on whether we have specific business plans,” a spokeswoman said.

The move to create a private-label credit card reflects Wal-Mart’s commitment to expand its operations in China, where it is rolling out its network of stores beyond the coastal regions to secondary inland cities.

GE Money currently issues Wal-Mart’s private-label credit cards in the US, and in Latin America. It has also issued a private-label card with Tesco’s Lotus stores in Thailand.

Tesco, which has also issued a card in South Korea with its partner Samsung, declined to comment on whether it was looking at extending card products to other Asian countries in which it operates.

SDB is a publicly traded bank, with Newbridge Capital, the private equity investor, holding 18 per cent of its shares. GE Money has agreed to buy a 7 per cent stake in SDB as part of a strategic partnership to develop consumer finance products that are expected to include mortgages and wealth management services. However, the deal is still awaiting regulatory approval.

Completion of the deal is complicated by the fact that SDB and Newbridge, its largest shareholders, are trying to convince minority investors to make all of the lenders’ shares tradeable.

Nearly one-third of SDB’s shares, including Newbridge’s 18 per cent stake, are non-tradeable and a significant portion is held by state entities – a common problem in China’s underdeveloped stock market.

SDB officials have said they expect the GE stake purchase will be approved by the end of the year.

China’s consumer credit industry is in its infancy, and currently represents only 15 per cent of the total lending market in China.

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