China will launch pilot programs testing the development of privately owned banks in Tianjin, Shanghai, Zhejiang and Guangdong, the country’s bank regulator Shang Fulin said. The pilot, which was approved by China’s government in January, is the first tentative step by the country to open its hitherto closely guarded banking sector to private investors. According to news reports, companies that have been approved to participate in the pilot project included e-commerce firms Alibaba and Tencent. A total of 10 companies will participate in the pilot, the report said, adding that five privately owned banks will be approved as the first batch. It did not give names of these banks.