Can a foreign bank acquire 100% shares in a Vietnamese joint stock bank?

There has been an argument that under the new Decree 1/2014 a foreign bank may acquire 100% of the shares in a Vietnamese joint stock bank (Local Bank) if (1) the Local Bank is, among other things, a “weak credit institution”, and (2) the Prime Minister approves to increase the foreign ownership limit in the relevant Local Bank to 100%. However, in order for a foreign bank to acquire 100% of the shares in a Local Bank, various legal issues still need to be clarified. In particular,

  •  It is not clear if Decree 1/2014 is applicable to the scenario where a foreign bank acquires shares in Local Bank and becomes a single-member LLC bank owned by the foreign bank. Decree 1/2014 allows the Prime Minister to increase the foreign ownership limit in a Local Bank. However, Decree 1/2014 appears to be drafted on the assumption that the Local Bank will remain to be a joint stock bank even after the acquisition by a foreign bank. For example, all of the provisions in Decree 1/2014 regarding rights and obligations of a foreign investor after acquiring a Local Bank refer to “share” and “shareholders”.
  • A Local Bank is required to have at least 100 shareholders under the Law on Credit Institutions. If a foreign investor acquires 100% of the shares in a Local Bank, the Local Bank will become a 100% foreign-invested bank existing in the form of a single member limited liability company (LLC). The Law on Credit Institutions and Decree 59/2009 currently do not have any specific procedures for converting a local joint stock bank into a single-member LLC bank owned by a foreign bank. Instead, the Law on Credit Institutions and Decree 59/2009 only generally provide that conversion (chuyển đổi) of legal corporate form of a joint stock bank requires State Bank’s approval. As such presumably, the conversion of a local joint stock bank into a single-member LLC bank will need to follow the procedures under the Enterprise Law and Decree 102/2010. This means that, among other things, the conversion would require (1) super majority approval by the General Meeting of Shareholder of the Local Bank and (2) the share purchase price by the foreign bank to be determined according to market price or price determined by certain valuation methods.
  • After a 100% acquisition, the Local Bank will become a 100% foreign-invested bank. Therefore, presumably, the foreign investor will need to satisfy the conditions of setting up a 100% foreign-invested bank in Vietnam in addition to the conditions of acquiring shares in Local Bank in Vietnam.
  • A Local Bank is also a public joint stock company in Vietnam. Therefore, acquiring 100% shares in a Local Bank will be subject to the tender offer rules under the securities law unless an exemption is granted by the General Meeting of Shareholders.
  • A conversion of a Local Bank into a single-member LLC bank owned by a foreign bank would require (1) consent by all of the shareholders of the Local Bank for selling their shares to the foreign bank and (2) super majority approval by the Local Bank’s shareholders. If a shareholder in the Local Bank objects to the 100% acquisition, it may be difficult to complete the acquisition voluntarily. Under the Law on Credit Institutions, only when a Local Bank is put under “special control” (kiểm soát đặc biệt) by the State Bank, the State Bank may compel the Local Bank to be acquired by another bank or by the State Bank itself. Even in case of special control, the legal ground and procedures for a compulsory transfer of shares is still unclear and untested.
Vietnam Business Law Blog

A new Law on Cybersecurity (Luật an ninh mạng) (the CSL 2018) will come into effect from 1 January 2019 in Vietnam. Not only providing measures to secure the cyber-environment which to some extent has been regulated by the Law on Cyber-information Safety dated 19 November 2015, the CSL 2018 also includes various provisions to control the contents posted or published on the cyber-network. Below are some salient issues of the CSL 2018.

Scope of the CSL 2018

The CSL 2018 applies to all agencies, organizations and individuals involving in the protection of cybersecurity, which is broadly defined as the assurance that activities in cyberspace not causing harm to the national security, social order and safety, lawful rights and interests of agencies, organizations and individuals. In particular, the CSL 2018 will apply to overseas organisations, which have users residing in Vietnam such as Google or Facebook.

The CSL 2018 covers all networks of IT infrastructure, telecommunication, Internet, computer systems, databases, information processing, storage and controlling systems, and regulates activities of every enterprise providing services in cyberspace and Internet users including e-commerce, websites, online forums, social networking and blogs.

Operators of information system (Chủ quản hệ thống thông tin)

The CSL 2018 imposes various obligations on an operator of an information system. Under the  Law on Cyber-information Safety according to which, an operators of information systems means any agencies, organizations or individuals having directly managing authority to an information system.

A new Law on Competition (Competition Law 2018) will take effect from 1 July 2019 in Vietnam. Some key changes in the Competition Law 2018 are as follows:

  • Broader scope of application: The Competition Law 2018 now governs any activities whether by Vietnamese or foreign entity or individual which have or may have the “competition restraining impact” to Vietnam market. Competition restraining impact means impact which excludes, reduces, distorts or hinders competition in the market. Under the Competition Law 2018, the competition authority of Vietnam now has clear authority to deal with offshore activities and transactions which has impact on Vietnam market. In addition, the Competition Law 2018 now also apply to public service units such as hospitals, or schools which are technically not enterprises.

  • Besides the principle of honesty, companies are required to compete with each other in accordance with the principles of justice and fairness.

  • Relationship with other laws: Contrary to the old competition law, the new Competition Law 2018 will not prevail other laws in case such other laws have regulations on action in restraints of competition, form of economic concentration, activities of and dealing with unfair competition.

  • Under the new Competition Law 2018, a State agency is prohibited not only from forcing but also from “requesting or recommending” enterprises or individuals or organisations to perform or not to produce and sell specific goods, provide and use specific service, or produce and sell goods to or provide and use services of specific enterprises.

Decree 71/2017 replaced Circular 121/2012 on corporate governance of public join-stock company (Public JSC) since 1 August 2017. Decree 71/2017 does not have its own criteria for being an independent director but refers to the criteria under the Enterprise Law 2014. The table below compares the old criteria of an independent director in a Public JSC with the new criteria under the Enterprise Law 2014. Although in some areas, the Enterprise Law 2014 provides stricter criteria, the Enterprise Law 2014 contains certain major omission (e.g., including omission to exclude managers of an affiliate or representatives or related persons of a major shareholder in a Public JSC from acting as an independent director of a Public JSC).

Under a recent announcement in Official Letter No. 4486/UBCK-GSDC dated 20 July 2018, the State Securities Commission of Vietnam (SSC) requires public companies, securities companies, asset management companies, and securities investment funds (quỹ đầu tư chứng khoán) (i) not to conduct any illegal offering, transaction or transaction brokerage relating to virtual money (tiền ảo) which should include cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and to (ii) adhere to the legal regulations on anti-money laundering.

The above official letter was based on Directive 10/CT-TTg of the Prime Minister dated 11 April 2018. Both of them once again confirm the view of Vietnamese government on virtual money that was stated by the State Bank of Vietnam in its press release dated 27 February 2014 about Bitcoin in Vietnam:

(a)        virtual money is not currency; and

(b)        virtual money is not a legal tender.

1.    Where a member (the Conflicted Member) in a limited liability company with two or more members (the LLC) has an interest in a related-party transaction or contract (an RPT) with the Multi-Member LLC, the Enterprise Law 2014 requires the RPT to be approved by the Members’ Council (MC) of the LLC excluding the votes of the Conflicted Member. However, relating to the approval process, the Enterprise Law 2014 is not clear on the following issues:

1.1.    whether the charter capital of the Conflicted Member should be excluded from the calculation of quorum of the MC’s meeting to approve the RPT? and 

1.2.    if the Conflicted Member is the chairman of the MC, whether the Conflicted Member can still preside over the MC’s meeting?

Vietnamese banking regulations do not have clear mechanics for transfer of loan commitments between banks or credit institutions in Vietnam. In particular:

  • Under Circular 9/2015 of the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) on loan transfer, loan transfer is defined to mean the transfer of “the right to collect loan” arising from the lending operation by a bank (the Original Bank) to a loan purchaser, which may or may not be a bank. The definition of loan under Circular 9/2015 does not include loan commitment where a bank only commits to lend to a borrower but has not actually disbursed the loan. Accordingly, all the loan transfer mechanics under Circular 9/2015 do not directly apply to transfer of loan commitment.

  • One way for banks to overcome the lack of regulations on transfer of loan commitment is for the Original Bank to actually disburse the loan and then transfer such loan to another bank (New Bank) in accordance with Circular 9/2015. However, under Circular 9/2015, if the loan purchaser is a bank, then the SBV requires the New Bank to have a loan purchase license. Not all banks in Vietnam are granted a loan trading licence by the SBV.

  • Under the lending regulations (Circular 39/2016), a loan commitment could be understood to be an undertaking by a bank to handover to the client an amount of money to use. Therefore, it appears that a loan commitment is regarded as an obligation to lend by a bank (which, of course, is usually conditional on the borrower’s satisfying certain conditions precedent). Therefore, transfer of a loan commitment is regarded as a transfer of obligation and will require the consent of the borrower. Borrower’s consent is usually not a problem since any proper loan agreement will include a transfer clause which allows the bank to transfer any of its rights and obligations under the loan agreement to a third party.


On 15 May 2018, the Supreme Court issued Resolution 3 on expedited proceedings for disputes arising from handling of non-performing loans (NPL) and security assets of NPL (Resolution 3). Resolution 3 is an implementing legislation of Resolution 42 of the National Assembly on NPLs (Resolution 42). Resolution 3 takes effect from 1 July 2018 and will expire when Resolution 42 expires in August 2022. Resolution 3 will apply to claims (1) accepted for hearing by the courts before 1 July 2018 but have not been brought to trial; and (2) accepted during its term but still in process when it expires. Resolution 3 cannot be based on to protest against effective judgment under retrial and cassation.

Resolution 42 allows disputes relating to security asset of an NPL to be conducted under expedited proceedings. Resolution 3 further clarifies that:

  • Disputes on obligations to hand-over security assets of an NPL is clarified to be dispute relating to the case where the securing party or the party holding the security asset (1) does not hand-over the security asset, or (2) does not hand-over correctly according to the request of the secured party or the party having right to enforce the security asset; and

  • Dispute on right to enforce security asset of NPL is clarified to be dispute on the determination of person having right to enforce the security asset of an NPL.

In Vietnam, if a real estate investor (Investor) cannot Acquire A Land Area Through Common Options to implement its investment projects, it may consider entering into a business cooperation contract (BCC) with a local land user. Under a BCC structure, the parties do not establish an entity but usually cooperate to use their available resources (including land use rights) to do business. In this case, the party having land use rights (Landlord) retains the title over the land without transferring them to the Investor, but the Investor may obtain certificate(s) which evidence its title over assets attached to the relevant land area (generally, ownership certificate). There is a risk that a BCC contract may be regarded as a land sub-lease contract between the local land user and the Investor.  However, a BCC structure is quite common in practice and there are certain legal basis for such a structure.