Toutiao, a leading mobile content platform, and Ofo, a mobile bike rental service, have recently added consumer loan offerings onto their apps. Now almost all major mobile apps in China have begun offering credit to their users, either financing purchases on their online retail platforms or at partner physical stores, or providing unsecured cash loans, or both.
Majors tout instant or near-instant approval decisions made possible through their automated or near-automated underwriting systems, either developed in-house or by third-party lenders or solution providers.
Many claim they apply machine learning, or AI, for credit risk modeling. Their data sources include their own online services and third-party alt-data vendors.
Alternative data is widely used by the local alternative lending industry as China doesn’t have a well-established consumer credit reporting market and the credit information database operated by the central bank serves mainly established financial institutions. Some major Chinese internet companies have data points considered having high predictive values for credit decisioning, such as payment histories, and online and offline purchases.
Thanks to the widely adopted alt-data-assisted credit decisioning, tens of millions of Chinese consumers with previously limited credit histories or limited access to credit now have a variety of credit options on the mobile apps they are using on a regular basis.
By pushing loan offerings to the pre-approved users, the borrower acquisition costs are significantly lower than through traditional offline channels.
While many internet companies partner with established financial institutions or online lenders, major internet companies like Ant Financial (Alibaba’s finance arm), JD and Tencent have been funding loans through their own financial subsidiaries or affiliates. ABS (asset-backed securities) backed by consumer loans became a major source of capital for some of them, particularly Ant Financial which was the biggest issuer of ABS in China in 2017.
A few tech giants have become major players in China’s consumer finance market. Ant Credit Pay, a revolving credit line available to qualified Alipay users, announced 100 million customers in mid-2017. Weilidai, the cash loan available on WeChat and Mobile QQ of Tencent, reached RMB100 billion (US$15 billion) in outstanding loans in 2017.
Given the ongoing regulatory tightening on internet-based consumer finance, some online consumer lenders with end-to-end capabilities plan to switch focus to become more of a lending technology solution provider. Ant Financial announced in May that the Ant Credit Pay would introduce third-party funding partners, banks and other financial institutions. JD Finance, the finance arm of JD, said in April this year that they planned to sell all loan receivables to financial institutions and then focus on providing technology platforms.