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

On 28 December 2018, the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) issued Circular 42 amending current foreign currency borrowing regulations (in Circular 24 of the SBV dated 8 December 2015, as amended from time to time (Circular 24/2015)) (Circular 42/2018). Circular 42/2018 will take effect from 1 January 2019.

Changes to permitted lending purpose

Vietnamese banks only lend in foreign currency for a few limited purposes. Circular 42/2018 has following changes to these purposes:

On 20 June 2018, the Ministry of Justice issued Circular 8 on the registration and provision of information on security interest and contracts (Circular 8/2018). Circular 8/2018 will replace Circular 5/2011 on the same subject from 4 August 2018.

Name of the object of the registration

The object of registration under Circular 5/2011 is secured transactions (giao dịch bảo đảm), which is in line with the Civil Code 2005. However, the term “secured transaction” is almost removed from the Civil Code 2015 and the registration is now the registration of security interest (biện pháp bảo đảm). Circular 8/2018 adopts such approach and determined the object of registration is security interest to be consistent with the new Civil Code 2015.

The Ministry of Finance has released a latest draft amendment to the Securities Law 2006 (https://tinyurl.com/ydc44zyd), which is scheduled to be passed in the second half of 2019. It looks like that any major law in Vietnam will need to undergo major changes in every 10 years whether or not the changes are necessary. The draft amendments include the following major changes regarding capital raising process:

In December 2018, the Government issues Decree 163/2018 to replace Decree 90/2011 on private issuance of corporate by Vietnamese companies from February 2019. Decree 163/2018 introduces certain new important points as follows:

·        To be able issue bonds, a company is no longer required to be profitable in year before the proposed issuance. Instead, the company only needs to operate for at least one year and its financial statement is audited by a qualified auditor. Issuer who has undergone certain restructuring (e.g., merger, conversion or division) may rely on the historical operation of other related companies to meet the one year operating test;

·        Secondary trading of privately-issued bonds is limited within up to 100 investors excluding “professional investors” within one year from the issuance date. The new limitation seems to aim at the practice of issuing bonds privately at the first place and reselling the same to public investors in secondary market;

Vietnamese banking regulations do not provide for a clear definition of a financial lease (cho thuê tài chính). The lack of a clear definition may result in unnecessary legal risks for parties to a cross-border lease transaction (e.g., an aircraft lease). For example, if a cross-border lease is regarded as a financial lease, then the lease may need to be registered with the State Bank of Vietnam as a foreign loan.

Under the Law on Credit Institution 2010, the act of finance leasing is defined to be (1) the extension of medium and long-term credit; (2) on the basis of a finance leasing contract; and(3) satisfying one of the following conditions:

  • upon expiry of the lease under the contract, the lessee may take over ownership of leased assets or may continue to lease them under the agreement of the parties; or

  • upon expiry of the lease under the contract, the lessee shall have the priority right to purchase the leased assets at a nominal value less than the actual value of the leased assets as at the date of purchase; or

  • the minimum term of the lease of any single asset must equal at least 60% of the period necessary for depreciation of such leased asset; or

  • the total rent for any single asset stipulated in the finance lease contract must be equal at least to the value of such asset at the signing date of the contract.