World Economy

As Crisis Fears Build China Targets Booming Online Microlending

As Crisis Fears Build China Targets Booming Online Microlending
As Crisis Fears Build China Targets Booming Online Microlending

When Jia Xinru needed to borrow money to buy new clothes, order food and buy a projector, she had instant access to China’s growing number of lenders via her mobile phone.

The 24-year-old secretary is among millions of Chinese who have turned to proliferating online companies that dish out quick loans—and are worrying the country’s leadership, AFP reported.

On Friday authorities issued new rules on microlending, designed to protect consumers and limit risk for creditors. The move was the latest aimed at tackling financial risks as the world’s number two economy faces ballooning debt that has drawn warnings of a potential global financial crisis.

While most economists and analysts have focused their concerns on corporate debt, household debt has risen rapidly, roughly doubling since 2012, according to the Bank for International Settlements, known as the central banks’ central bank.

And smartphones have made it even easier for consumers to borrow cash in China, with e-commerce apps and mobile payment increasingly prevalent.

Jia started accumulating her debt when she was in college, turning to tech titan Alibaba when she could not get a credit card. The ease of a few taps on her phone and a four-minute wait led Jia to borrow and borrow and when she was finally able to take out a card, she used it to repay Alibaba’s affiliate Ant Financial.

But her debt reached roughly $9,000 this summer, and her monthly interest payments eclipsed her meager salary. She described the debts as “snowballing”, finding it harder to pay one debt as she borrowed to pay another.

Alternative lending, with loans that can be wired to accounts within minutes, has taken off in China and accounts for 85% of the global market, according to a University of Cambridge report. By 2020, some estimates forecast the business could approach that of credit cards, suggesting some Chinese may be leapfrogging from plastic to mobile loans.

Online lenders say most of their business comes from consumers and small businesses with little access to the formal banking system—only a third of Chinese have credit cards, according to the central bank. “Most of our borrowers are in third or fourth tier cities,” said a marketing employee at lending platform Guangxindai, who declined to give her name. “They have a hard time getting credit cards from banks.”

The business’s growth comes as a new generation of Chinese shed their parents penchant for saving and embrace the credit culture. “There’s a shift in China where people are now far more willing to take on debt,” said Jason Bedford, executive director of Asian Financials Research at UBS Investment Bank.


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