Development and Regulation of P2P Lending and Equity-based Crowdfunding in Hongkong

This is a guest post by Hungyi Chen, Ph.D. candidate at the Graduate School of Law, Nagoya University. He is researching alternative finance in East Asia.

1. The recent development of online alternative finance

Given the recent trend that Fintech is rapidly growing in the world, in order to maintain the role of international financial center, the financial authority of Hong Kong has been aware of issues relating to Fintech industry[1]. On November 13th, 2015, Stored Value Facilities Payment Systems, such as online stored payment business as PayPal, is allowed to operate by non-bank[2]. This is a milestone for Hong Kong including non-bank of operating business highly relevant to conventional bank.

In order to enhance the development of startups in Hong Kong, financial technologies (Fintech) are emphasized by the authority since the investment of Fintech is a target of many venture capitalists[3]. Nevertheless, compared with other jurisdictions in Asian countries, which already lightened entry requirement to encourage non-bank for engaging business of equity-based crowdfunding, such as Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Thailand, the entry requirement of Fintech, especially alternative finance may be stricter in Hong Kong.

Until now, there is still no equity-based crowdfunding platform established in Hong Kong. However, the huge demand from capital market gradually leads the development of crowdfunding in Hong Kong, especially debt-based crowdfunding, which is also known as Peer-to-Peer Lending. Currently, there are 4 major peer-to-peer lending platforms, including BestLend, GoLend, Monexo, and WeLend.

2. Relevant industry background

With unique selling factors, the peer-to-peer lending platforms may have a rapid growth in the near future. On one hand, from viewpoints of investors, the deposit rates of savings are from 0%~0.001%[4]. Even the deposit rates of fixed deposit of 12 months are from 0.15%~0.2%[5]. Additionally, inflation rates are around 4% continuously in 2013 and 2014[6], which means the real interest rate may be negative in Hong Kong. Accordingly, there are strong incentives for investors to vitalize their capital.

On the other hand, from viewpoints of borrowers, there are two fundraising channels for loans, including banks (Licensed Banks, Restricted License Banks, Deposit-taking Companies) and Money Lenders. Since the financial authority restricted the mortgage market of banks to prevent a real-estate bubble, it is difficult for borrowers to get the loan amount they need from banks by mortgage. As a result, they turn to Money Lenders as an alternative opportunity. Although the interest rates of Money Lender are generally higher than banks, compared with banks which normally take 1-6 weeks for examining procedure, the process of Money Lender is more simplified[7]. Continue reading

Ppdai Closes Series B Round

Shanghai-based p2p lending service Ppdai.com has completed series B round (rumoured to be at 45M US$). The round was led by Lightspeed China Partners, an early stage investment company. Wealth management company Noah Private Wealth Management and Sequoia Capital also invested.

The Largest P2P Lending Service Is …

Creditease.cn in China. Founded in 2006, Creditease has grown strongly and now has 2,200 employees in 20 cities. The new loan volume originated each month is about 25 million US$.

Only the lender offer is available online. The borrower application is mainly an offline process, with all borrowers subject to a 30 minute personal interview. After background checks about 20% of applications succeed. According to the company, the historical default rate is at a low default rate of 1%.

The maximum loan amount is 60,000 RMB (approx 9,100 US$). Figures on the fee for borrowers differ but most secondary source quote 1 to 10% of the loan amount.

Lenders don’t choose individual borrowers but rather select a term length between 3 and 12 month. Based on this selection they get interest rates between 7 and 10% p.a. Minimum investment is 100 RMB (about 15 US$). Returns are automatically reinvested. Lending is fee-free and lenders do not bear the default risk, as these are covered by Creditease’s  Risk Fund.

Additionally Crediteasy has a p2p microfinance offer, where it partners with local MFIs to loan to woman in rural area. On these p2p microfinance loans lenders have the option to get 2% interest.

Founder Tang Ning, a graduate of Peking University, said in mid 2010 that he sees CreditEase in the second phase of a 3 phase development and currently the focus is to build a larger customer base. In 5 years he aims for CreditEase to be a brand name as well established as EBay.

(Sources: company website, ceibs.edu, Beijing Rundschau, GlobalTimes.cn, China.org.cn)

P2P Lending Service Ppdai growing in China

The Chinese p2p lending service Ppdai.com announced that over 2.5 million RMB (approx. 365,000 US$) in loans were facilitated since it’s launch.

“We witnessed strong growth in 2008 and incredible growth in the first quarter of 2009. In less than one year we have achieved over 2 million RMB in loans with roughly half a million RMB in March 2009 alone. … . What we realized was that we were able to provide a solution that has gained popularity as the global credit crisis worsened and left many borrowers with little alternative for funding.” Said Jack Gu, PPDai’s CEO and Founder.

Being that China does not have a robust credit rating system for consumers, the company developed its own proprietary credit system to filter potentially good borrowers from bad borrowers. This system creates a unique profile for each borrower and leverages other Chinese platforms such as TaoBao to accurately project whether a borrower has the financial ability to pay back a loan. PPDai’s credit rating system has helped achieve loan default rates of less than 2% for 2008.

“PPDai’s core value is to create a well customized credit scoring system for Chinese borrowers,” said Tony Li, PPDai’s Director, “We believe that this is the main reason why investors have been willing to lend money to borrowers on the PPDai network.”

PPDai closed an initial round of financing from Essentia Equity in March 2008 and is about to raise an additional round in the third quarter of 2009.

“We were attracted to PPDai because it offers a unique opportunity to benefit from the extraordinary growth being witnessed in China,” said Roy Sebag, Managing Partner at Essentia Equity, “There are currently 298 million internet users in China and an offline non-banking lending market that is said to be in the range of over 1 Trillion RMB per annum.”

(Source: press release)

Wokai launch

Wokai.org launched today. Wokai allows contributers to aid small entrepreneurs in China through microfinance. A month ago I wrote a preview about Wokai.

Here is what founders Casey Wilson and Courtney McColgan wrote about launching:

Dear Friends,

We are delighted to report that Wokai.org is now live! Just two years ago, we were students in Beijing, dreaming about starting a microfinance organization.

Now, thanks to our advisors, chapters, designers, donors, families, field partners, friends, interns, investment committee, lawyers, pilot participants, programmers, volunteers and so many more, this idea has transformed into a dynamic international organization with an amazing website, to empower people in China to lift themselves from poverty.

We needed you and you were there, and for this we can’t thank you enough. Over the next two years, 44OO families from all across rural China will receive loans through Wokai. These loans will enable people to start and grow businesses in their communities. With the proceeds, they will send their children to school, and invest in their housing and health and brighter futures.

In the words of an entrepreneur we met in Ningxia province, “Microfinance allowed us to go from existing to living … existing is merely finding enough food to eat, but living is truly feeling the substance of life, our hearts, and minds.”

Thank you so much!

Wokai preview – donate to enable microfinance

Non profit Wokai.org will allow contributers to donate to give microfinance loans to borrowers in China. Like Kiva and MyC4, Wokai partners with local MFIs which identify and screen potential microentrepreneur clients. Selected clients are then posted on the Wokai website through profiles that outline their business ventures and loan request. Contributers can select borrowers to fund and pay via Google Checkout, the money is then transferred to the MFI who disperse the capital to the microentrepreneurs. Field partners charge interest rates typically ranging from 8-20% to cover the high costs associated with providing loans, training, monitoring and support services to our borrowers. At the end of the loan-cycle the money is collected and re-issued by the MFI for new loans – so there is no payback to the contributers.

See this video for a good overview on Wokai.

The name “Wokai” means “I start” in Chinese.

Wokai has not launched yet, but I could participate in a pre-launch test drive. The platform has more social networking features then other platforms allowing for discussions and users asking questions to the MFIs/borrowers.

Wokai began in the fall of 2006 when Wokai co-founders Courtney McColgan and Casey Wilson met while studying advanced Chinese at Tsinghua University. The idea of Wokai gradually transformed into a plan of action and, with the help of a team of supporters, evolved into a startup nonprofit.

Wokai screenshot (pre-launch 10/20/08)

Wokai screenshot (pre-launch 10/20/08)

P2P lending Asia

Some news from p2p lending in Asian markets:

Chinese PPdai.com (see earlier coverage) says it has received a first round of funding from Essentia Private equity. The amount was not disclosed.

On February 27th, Zopa's managing director Giles Andrews mentioned in a webchat "I have also been spending time in Asia and hope that we will launch in 2 very significant markets there in 2008, one of which we may even announce shortly….".
In the webchat Giles Andrews also said regarding the US market: "@Tealer We also think that our "competitors" over there are illegal, and I don't want to go to jail!".
Furthermore Zopa said it plans to launch an (optional) capital guarantee product in the UK market.

See earlier coverage of P2P-Banking.com on the p2p lending markets in Corea, China, India or Japan.