Baidu, China's largest search engine provider, is applying for a private banking license, according to Chinese news agencies reports.
"Baidu is now applying for multiple banking licenses, including payment, but because we're still in the process of applying it's not convenient to reveal too much," Baidu's chief executive Robin Li told a group of reporters, according to Reuters.
The firm is one of only a few Chinese companies that started offering wealth management products in 2013, including Tencent Holdings and Alibaba Group Holding.
Baidu's effort to turn into a certified financial institution could lead to similar business strategy changes from other online wealth management companies that until now have been acting as a storefront for money market funds.
Internet firms already have attracted millions of investors because they can apply higher interest rates on individual consumer deposits compared to the 3.3% cap annual savings rate offered by traditional commercial banks, whose yields on most savings products usually barely match inflation.
Baidu is preparing to benefit from the current market and expected regulatory changes. If the government liberalizes interest rates, providers of online savings products will compete for higher returns. "This is just a more convenient way of selling currently available financial products," Li said.