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China Recruits Tencent and Alibaba for Private Bank Pilot

Written by Jack Hu On 21 March 2014 @ 1:44 am | No Comments

In China, Citizen Media, East Asia, Economics & Business, English, Weblog

Headquarters of China's central bank. Photo by Flickr user George Chen. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 [1]

Headquarters of China's central bank. Photo by Flickr user George Chen. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

China is set [2] to allow private banks to play a bigger role, a key move for its financial system reform despite the government's plans to impose restrictions on them.

On March 11, the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) named [3] ten companies, including Internet giants Alibaba and Tencent, to set up five privately owned banks with two co-sponsors for each bank. Regulators had announced last year that Beijing would allow the creation of privately financed banks as part of the effort to make the economy more productive by giving market forces a bigger role. 

The news was [4] followed by the country's central bank cracking down on Tencent's and Alibaba's online payment businesses. The regulator also plans to impose restrictions on transfer amounts through the third-party online payment servers, potentially hurting Internet finance.

Limitations 

In one example, Alibaba's bank, which will be created in cooperation with China Wanxiang Holding Co., China’s biggest auto-parts manufacturer, will impose limits on the deposits it can bring in from any company or individual and how much it can lend to any one borrower.

While Tencent's bank will be able to take in large-scale deposits, but only make small-scale loans. The government wants to reduce the burden that the banks bear from booming Internet finance and maintain the stability of the banking system, even though China’s leaders have felt the looming risks generated by huge local government debts and shadow banking. 

Economists have long decried the tendency of China's state-dominated banking system to grant loans primarily to large state-owned firms, even as small and medium enterprises account for [5] 60 percent of gross domestic product and around 80 percent of new jobs.

“Financial parasites”

Lack of lending by state banks to entrepreneurs has fueled growth of an underground market of high-interest loans. Regulators permitted the market to exist in order to support private business, but more recently have tried to tighten control over it after discovering state companies and banks were involved.

Foreign-owned banks still face a strict operating environment and have a tiny share of the country’s deposits. Many who fail to get access to formal bank financing resort to high-interest loans, part of the country's worrisome shadow banking sector. 

Alibaba Group is one of the world's biggest e-commerce companies, and Tencent Holdings Ltd. is China's most popular social networking and online games server. Both have launched online financial services that have drawn deposits away from banks by paying higher interest. 

Premier Li Keqiang pledged  [6]in an annual policy speech to promote growth of online financial services.

The traditional banking industry accuses them of hurting state banks. State-owned China Central Television's securities channel chief commentator condemned Alibaba’s investment fund Yu’e Bao as “vampire” and called [7] for a ban over it:

余额宝是趴在银行身上的“吸血鬼”,典型的“金融寄生虫”。它们并未创造价值,而是通过拉高全社会的经济成本并从中渔利。它们通过向公众输送一点点蝇头小利,为自己赢得了巨额利润,同时让全社会为之买单。

Yu’e Bao is the “vampire” feeding on banks, the typical “financial parasite”. They don’t create value, but instead benefit from increasing economical costs of the whole society. They’ve gained huge profits by funneling tiny benefits to the public while society foots the bill.

His words quickly sparked retorts online, and some experts countered that it is the banks that are the true “vampires” feeding on the public.

Liu Shengjun, a popular economist and reformist responded [8] by decrying how China banking system is lagging:

刘胜军:【中国银行业+中国股市=无耻+无能】我认识的几乎每个朋友、同事,都在为如何不让存款贬值而愁白头,我认识的几乎每个民营企业家都悲叹融资难、融资贵。影子银行、互联网金融大爆炸,反证了中国银行业与股市的无能与无耻,已沦为吸血鬼,吸的是普罗大众的血、实体经济的血。坚决支持余额宝革银行的命

China’s banking industry + China’s stock market = impudence + incompetence. Nearly every friend and colleague of mine is worried about how to prevent their deposits from devaluation. Nearly every private entrepreneur I know is complaining about the difficulty and high costs of financing. The shadow banks and Internet finance boom have proven the incompetence and impudence of China’s banking industry and stock market, which have ended up as vampires feeding on blood of the public and real economy. Stand firmly with Yu’E Bao to overthrow traditional banks! 

Ma Guangyuan, another famous economist, argued [9] that the outdated state banking system has hampered economic growth: 

马光远:影子银行的扩张、产能过剩的痼疾,以及中小企业长期制度性的融资难题,根子都在于金融改革的滞后和金融垄断。垄断的国有银行体系既无法满足实体经济的需求,更无法保证中国金融系统安全,反而成了中国金融最大的体制风险。

The expansion of shadow banks, the chronic disease of over-capacity and the financing problems for small and medium enterprises are rooted in the financial monopoly and the lag in financial reform. The monopoly of the state banking system is neither able to meet the demands of real economy, nor guarantee the security of the financial system. Instead, it has become the biggest risk in China’s financial system.  

Online financial commentator Yu Fenghui hailed [10] the founding of private banks:

余丰慧:阿里小贷曾经将银行吓出一身冷汗,余额宝更让银行胆战心惊,纷纷使出歪招进行围剿。这次阿里腾讯进入首批民营银行试点,平台更大了,舞台更广了,同时,对传统银行的冲击将更加严重了。

Alibaba’s small loan business has scared banks, Yu’e Bao has been doing the same, so the banks conspire to oppress it. Now Alibaba and Tencent are listed in the first batch of the private bank pilot, meaning their financial platforms will become bigger and their impact on traditional banks more serious.

Zhou Zhanhong, a former editor-in-chief of Fortune Chinese, said [11] private banks would not impact China’s existing banking industry in any big way:

周展宏:互联网公司开银行是不是会像余额宝一样对银行业形成巨大的冲击呢?我以为这种现象基本不会发生:首先,从牌照和监管的角度看,就没有这种可能性。银监会明确要求这些试点银行“坚持服务小微企业和社区民众的市场定位,为实体经济发展提供高效和差异化的金融服务,实行有限牌照”。

即使给了互联网企业全业务牌照,短期内也不大可能对传统的银行业形成大的冲击。互联网企业办的银行在服务个人客户方面会做得很好,但是,服务企业客户的经验则不足,尤其是如何确定风险并进行风险定价方面。

Will the new banks set up by Internet companies have any serous impact on the banking industry? I doubt it. Firstly, it should never happen according to the license and regulation rules. China's Banking Regulatory Commission demands that these pilot banks “stick to market positions of serving small and micro enterprises and communities, provide productive and differentiating finance serves for real economy growth. They will be granted limited licenses.”

These banks will not represent any great threat to the traditional banking industry in the short term, even if they are granted full-service licenses. They might do well in personal business, but lack experience in serving enterprise clients, especially in how to confirm risks and make venture prices. 


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