How to use Chinese online banking with a Mac or Linux computer

38 Comments
Distractions

Banking in China. Topped only by shopping the week before Spring Festival and pretty much any time spent at a post office; China’s convoluted and largely archaic banking system is, at best, a torturous experience.

Long lines of clientele that seem downright surprised (and thus appropriately unprepared) to be banking at all; service with a smile … and that’s about it; a number calling system, if present and working, which seems to have been designed by Henri Poincaré; and lest I forget ATMs that upon exposure to foreign banking cards spit out non-descript error messages, or worse, eat your card.

So, by comparison, online banking with Chinese banks is a gift from Cai Shen himself. Skip the lines, skip the “service”, skip the trip out into the smog and traffic. It’s great. Well, it’s great if you have a Microsoft-powered computer circa 2002.

Due to the ActiveX browser-based security that the vast majority of Chinese banks employ, you can only access your account online through Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (though a couple banks are slowly improving). Unfortunately, Apple’s various flavours of Mac OSX haven’t supported Internet Explorer for the better part of a decade — and I’m not sure if any Linux distribution ever has. And, as I learned lately, the new 64-bit versions of Windows 7/IE9 are out as well — at least with my bank, Bank of China.

As a Web developer, it blows my mind that banks would be so narrowly-focused in regards to the needs of their clients. Granted, the vast majority of Chinese are using pirated versions of Windows XP with Internet Explorer 6 still installed. And the Russian botnets thank them for contributing. But these are not the increasingly affluent and tech-savvy middle/upper-class clients I would think a bank would want to keep happy. And yet, it seems as if they just don’t care.

Fine. I’m not here to bitch about the system. I’m here with solutions.

Let’s get on with it…

In looking around, there are a lot of sites that explain how to get Internet Explorer running on a Mac (I’m just going to use “Mac”, but all this applies to you Linux guys too — though if you’re using Linux, you probably already not only know all this, but are scrolling to the comments to blast us “mainstream” OS users).

Much advice points to using the rather simple and straight-forward Wine app. And while this will get you browsing with Internet Explorer, it will not give you access to your Chinese online banking, as the Wine packages for IE do not allow the security applet required by the banks. So, for this to work, we’re going to need an actual copy of Windows running on our machine. No emulators.

This can be done by setting up your Mac to dual-boot using OSX’s Boot Camp, allowing you to have both Mac OSX and a flavour of Windows running on your machine at the same time — selecting which to use when you boot up the system. This is a perfectly suitable solution, but is too involved and committed in my opinion (you need to physically re-partition your hard-drive — seems overkill just to gain use of a browser). However, here’s how to do it.

My suggestion is to use a virtual machine. Using an application installed in OSX, you can create a “virtual” environment in which to install Windows. It’s similar to the Boot Camp method above, but no real partitioning, or permanent changes to your system are required.

There are a lot of virtual machine suppliers, but let’s stick with the well-developed and free ones — the hands-down winner in that category goes to Oracle VM VirtualBox.

How to do it…

  1. Download and install VirtualBox — there are optional VirtualBox extensions, but I didn’t bother with them.
  2. Grab a copy of your favourite flavour of Windows — Years of having PCs has netted me an array of install disks to choose from, but if you’ve until now managed to avoid M$’s pane-laded product, I’m sure this site (or dozens like it) will help you out. Unless you have the latest/greatest MacBook Pro, I’d seriously consider using Windows XP (SP3), as you need to remember that with a virtual machine you’ll be running your OSX operating system + the Windows operating system. Newer versions of Windows tend to be more resource-heavy.
  3. Create your first VM — this is surprisingly straight-forward. The only item I changed on the out-of-the-box install was the amount of RAM to allocate to the VM. Bare minimum for XP is 128MB, but you should probably shoot for 256MB or 512MB.
  4. Install Windows — Once you’ve created the VM, you’ll be walked through the installation of the Windows OS. However, if you went the torrent-route above, you’ll want to make sure you’ve put Windows onto a disc that you can install from (or use a program like MagicISO, which allows you to fool your computer into thinking an ISO file is actually a CD/DVD-ROM drive).
  5. Once the VM and Windows OS are installed, boot up the Windows VM and start up Internet Explorer (it should be the default browser of the newly installed OS) and head over to your bank’s login page. You’ll be asked to install a security applet to login. Once you’ve done that you should be good to go.
  6. That’s it… all done.

No matter what version of Windows you install, you’ll have some version of Internet Explorer. I believe it was only after Windows XP SP3 that Microsoft began including IE7 with the OS, so if you install anything below that (XP SP2/SP1, etc.), expect to be using IE6 (not, in my opinion, safe to use on a regular system, however, in a virtual machine, I doubt you’d have to worry too much). If you do have IE6, try upgrading to at least IE7 (though IE8/9 would be best).

Best of luck, and feel free to share additional solutions that you’ve found in the comments below — or just bitch about Chinese banks. And if you know of Chinese banks that offer online banking services in Chrome/Firefox/Safari (and thus work on Mac/Linux systems), please share that as well.

Talk on How to use Chinese online banking with a Mac or Linux computer


38 Comments
  1. Internet banking in China is really quite terrible. About a month ago, I bought a train ticket online (from the terribly designed official website), and had to pay online. I was using Windows 7 32 bit with Internet Explorer 9. I went through to the bank’s website to pay for the ticket (ICBC), and was first greeted with the screen to input my card number and the verification captcha code. I clicked next, and the following page showed my name to verify I’d put in the right card number, and all was fine and dandy so I clicked ‘Next’ again. The final page was where you should submit the payment, so I clicked the ‘Submit Payment’ button, making sure I’d put the usb shield in the usb port, only to be taken back to the very first page again to enter my card details again, and it only seemed to go round and round in this loop. Finally I booted up my Windows XP with IE8 virtual machine and managed to pay first time.

  2. Use SPD Bank. Works perfectly fine in any browser on any operating system. You get your 动态密码 (TAN code) on your mobile phone whenever you log in or do a transaction. The text messages are free.
    Works without any problems on any operating system (tried Linux, Mac and Windows so far) and on any browser (I’ve tried Chrome, Firefox, IE, Safari, Android built-in browser). And the Android app works well too.
    I’ve had my first SPD Bank (浦发银行) (Shanghai branch) card in 2006 and I have since been very happy with it. :)

  3. Ryan, I was so happy to see this that I started skimming until : “No matter what version of Windows you install, you’ll have some version of Internet Explorer.”

    Big frown :(

    At one point I thought maybe there was a Firefox or Chrome plugin that would emulate IE and fool the system into thinking you were indeed using IE. Is that possible?

    • Profile photo of

      It’s certainly possible — using IE Tab (Chrome + Firefox) — but it only works on Windows. Essentially it requires the IE rendering engine to work, and there just isn’t one for Mac. It might be a suitable alternative for people who have a Windows machine, but don’t want to use IE directly.

      The thing to also understand is that “emulation” isn’t good enough. That’s where the Wine stuff fails I think. It needs to fully support the ActiveX security stuff, which just emulating the browser’s rendering engine wouldn’t do.

      Unfortunately, I’ve found nothing that works for Mac/Linux that is simpler than the above described method. If anyone does though, please let me know.

  4. I was so excited at the headline, I just knew someone could figure a way around this problem! But then I realized you’re suggesting the reader does what I’ve been doing for two years now, running a virtual machine (VMFusion in my case), which I hate because it makes my system run like molasses and sometimes even crash. Oh, well!

    • Profile photo of

      I hear ya. :( I heard the other day though that Merchant Bank works in Google Chrome — am considering switching all my banking to them. SPD, as mentioned above, also does — but they’re not nearly as wide-spread.

      • Sorry to disappoint, Ryan. I use China Merchant’s Bank and it’s impossible to log into your account online using anything but the outdated Chinese IE.

        Btw, the reason these banks don’t give a fuck about customers is because they’ll all state-run. They’re not banks at all, just government agencies. Your comparison to the post office was spot-on. China’s banking system has not experienced any of the reforms the rest of the economy has, and it shows.

  5. ICBC, which has had a pretty good English interface for it’s web banking for a few years, finally made the jump to OSX semi-compatability. They have a new plug-in for OSX which, after downloading, at least allows you to login without requiring ActiveX/IE. But the compatibility kind of ended there for more “advanced” functions like online payments, Apple Store purchases, etc. all of which threw you back to the standard ActiveX/USB key/ecard requirements. (USB keys require Windows/ActiveX.)

    They have a new product available at the counter (at least at the bigger branches) called-I don’t know what it’s called-but it’s a dynamic PW generator that looks like a very small calculator, and when set up and registered, will generate a dynamic password for each transaction made through ICBC’s main site. No need for the Windows/ActiveX tethered USB key. I simply told the counterperson as I was recently setting up a new ICBC account that I had a Mac and wanted internet banking, and they nodded their head and pulled this thing out. It takes a few extra minutes to get it set up (have to connect it to your account and create a password and then test it) but once enabled, it lets you make transfers in your ICBC account on your OSX device (once you’ve logged in through the aforesaid plug-in).

    No more need to use Parallels or VM just to open a new virtual machine to satisfy ActiveX requirements for some functions on ICBCs site.

    Evolution, of sorts.

  6. I’m gonna try this out. China’s online banking system really sucks.. I’ve been using Macbook pro for years now and now that I’ve recently moved to beijing, it sucks that I need windows/IE 6.0 or higher for Internet banking etc… bought a small ish lenovo one specifically for banking purposes (which worked fine at first) and now its completely pointless as they’re saying i NEED a higher screen resolution.. wtf… I’m not buying another (bigger screen) laptop for this… I’m sticking to my macbook… Tho I’m completely clueless on how to get this online banking stuff to work on mac.

    Bank of China sucks (well for online banking purposes that is) but I’m not considering switching banks as I heard that the other banks are much worse than BOC. :|

    Fingers crossed Hoping this helps!

  7. Thanks for the post. I have ICBC and have had no luck logging in on my Mac, despite the supposed Safari plugin. It tells me I need to download the control first, which is an EXE file (obviously not for Mac). So something is broken there. Their iPhone app does work at least for checking balances, but I haven’t figured out how to any remittences with it (it’s all in Chinese). (I also have BOC but they’re still stuck with ActiveX.)

    If SPD does have decent online banking on the Mac, I would open an account with them just for that. Can anyone else confirm this is indeed the case? I don’t want to go through the hassle of opening an account with them only to find out that it doesn’t quite work on Mac – and not just checking balances, but remittences (within China).

    • I have ICBC and use online banking without problems on my Mac. Try re-downloading and make sure you’re computer is fully updated.

        • They used to have a software, apparently now you just need to be running the most updated software on your Mac. You can only the website through Safari

  8. Eh, I also came here hoping for a “proper” work around the IE requirements; guess I’ll be sticking w/ VirtualBox.

    Anyone know if BoC can setup your online banking security to NOT require an SMS? I don’t know if I could actually get text messages on my ChinaMobile SIM from outside the country, or whether that would cost a fortune (probably would). I like the 3 way security (Password, SMS and OTP) but it’s inconvenient if outside the country.

    Can any other bank do that? I’ll already be looking into SPD if only for the browser compatability stuffs.

  9. Read this page today. I use ICBC with accounts registered in both Shanghai and Guangzhou. I run OSX 10.8.2 and was able to login through Safari, but not Opera. Had to download a safecontrol.dmg ad then run the setup. After that is run, then restart Safari. Login and functions worked a charm. Didnt do any transfers yet…waiting for my payroll so I have money to move! Now much looking forward to moving last remnants of daily life off my old HP-PC on which i rant linux Mint and Win7.

    • Hi Matt,

      I’m also using OSX 10.8.2. I was able to log on to ICBC e-banking up until early February. Then the troubles started. Where did you found this “safecontrol.dmg”?
      I’m able to download only some .exe or .msi files which are no good for Mac.

      Thank you for your help in advance.

  10. Hi there,

    incredible that nothing changed the last 3 years. Even though before 3 years I became crazy doing online banking with BOC on a mac. Now that I am back in china I realize there was no development in the online banking world at all. Though I become somehow skeptical.

    Had someone ever had a look into those “security_controll” exe or dmg files? As chinas banks all all state-run this well could be spyware. So government could control private moneytransfers.

    I mean, this is just a thought. But for me Ryan’s approach of setting up a VM makes even more sense under security issues. If youre running your laowai online banking in a sandbox, even though the security controll exe spys for VM windows, so what… At least I shouldnt get access to confidential documents (which more or less all of us do have on their macbooks),

    regards!!

  11. I’ve been able to get on ICBC online banking through Safari, but trying to make payments through Alipay or online is ridiculously complex.

    Any idea which shanghai branches have this PW generator? I really need this for making payments online, buying tickets, flights etc.

  12. Whenever I need to do an internet banking transaction, i just take my laptop to the bank and ask them to do it for me. Simple. Usually they can find someone in the bank who knows how to use it.

  13. Pingback: Why is Chinese Internet Banking fixated on IE6 | The World of Chinese

  14. It is great to read about all the responses, and I am gonna get one of those dynamic password devices for my ICBC account. Maybe I can get it working on my Ubuntu. Otherwise, I will try PDB.

    On the same note, does anyone use personal financial management software, such as Moneydance? I am struggling to get the csv imported into my Moneydance. Anyone has better luck with other banks? What does PDB offer?

    Thanks!

  15. I don’t have a copy of Windows XP on hand so I downloaded the torrent but I have not been able to download MagicISO to get it working. Can you elaborate more on this?

  16. Anyone ever get round to opening A Pudong Development Bank Account? I did manage to set-up ICBC, but not got round to ordering anything. The ICBC online banking site is as clear as mud.

  17. Hi Ryan,

    Just wanted to thank you!!! I’ve been in China since 2009 and have done everything I could think of to be able to do online banking. Thank goodness I have a merchants bank card and after clicking your link, I can finally finally access online banking!! Just, thank you thank you for!!!!

  18. Pingback: The Epic Saga of a Foreigner Buying on Taobao | Writer. Traveler. Tea Drinker.

  19. Just to advise, set-up a Shanghai Pudong Development Bank (SPDB) account today.

    Took 10 mins at their Zhongshan Park branch. Just ask them to open online banking and mobile phone banking.

    The SPDB online banking system is a dream to use compared to BoC and ICBC. Works perfectly on a Mac (though initial sign-in is a bit confusing. No need to DL anything for Mac, just ignore the “Download this” which is for Windows only).

    Online banking has an English site which is clear and simple. There is also an iPhone/android/smartphone app available which allows you to top-up your cellphone, full online transactions, pay bills and buy flight tickets, apply for credit cards etc. Only catch is its Chinese only, so no good if you can’t read Chinese.

    Not actually set-up or made online payments with the card yet. But believe me, SPD is lightyears ahead of the Big 4. On a par, maybe even better than my UK HSBC online/mobile banking system.

  20. Thanks for this post, I’ve been using Virtual Box for several months, and it’s basically solved all my Bank of China online banking issues (and all associated online purchasing, ie taobao, train tickets, China Mobile payments, etc.).

  21. Hi. Has anyone experience with HSBC online banking? i am considering going through the trouble to install a virtual machine on my mac to get BOC to work, but since I am not so tech savy might be easier for me just to get a new bank account. I am frequently traveling by train and sadly also cannot get my china railway & banking expresspay card to work for online ticket purchases (even on pc at BOC). Any idea whether this works in conjunction with HSBC online banking?

  22. I have issues with the corporate BOC account online. They are still stuck in the past and I’m really frustrated by it because I have to now go to the bank for transactions and it’s not very productive. However, for personal banking, BOC online is ok to run to Google Chrome even on Macs.

    I’m fine so far running Bank of Communications online on Windows 8 and the latest IE.

  23. hi there!!

    i have great news!!

    i currently purchased something from http://www.taobao.com and to my surprise when it got to the BOC login page… it worked!!! a message from BOC came up on the screen asking me to download an installation file for MAC and voila! my payment went through! FINALLY! they have come to their senses! I was actually meant to go and change to ICBC TODAY but it seems that i won’t have to… fingers crossed this wasn’t just a one time lucky thing!

    • Can’t help thinking you may have bought into a security issue. I’m no expert though. You don’t mention the name of the device…

Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Return to Top ▲Return to Top ▲