Monday | April 12, 2021

Ep. 76: Lufax IPO and the tip of P2P lending in China

In episode 76 of Tech Buzz China, co-hosts Rui Ma and Ying Lu reap the benefits of the current Lufax IPO submitting (Chinese language identify: 陆金所 lùjīnsuǒ) to speak in regards to the P2P lending business in China, which has been an oft-requested subject! We get into China’s (lack of) regulation of the nontraditional type of financing, drivers behind the business’s fast growth and bust, and among the causes Lufax is without doubt one of the few, and largest, survivors. 

We’ve got began importing all of our previous episodes onto the brand new Tech Buzz China YouTube channel and placing them collectively into playlists by sector — test it out. You’ll quickly be capable to discover this and different related episodes underneath the “fintech” class. 

Sure, Rui continues to be researching and writing on ByteDance, for publication as an book! You’ll need to get front-row updates on it by subscribing to our publication, at techbuzzchina.com. As all the time, our previous transcripts and different content material are additionally viewable at crackcons.com and supchina.com

If you happen to get pleasure from our work, please do tell us by leaving us an iTunes assessment (drop us a be aware saying you probably did, and we’ll ship you an Further Buzz publication subscription), and by tweeting at us at @techbuzzchina. We additionally learn your emails, at rui@techbuzzchina.com and ying@techbuzzchina.com. Thanks to our rising group to your all the time worthwhile suggestions! 

Thanks to our ever-talented producers, Caiwei Chen and Kaiser Kuo, in addition to to Jason MacRonald at SupChina.

Transcript

[00:00]Hey guys, so we had been struggling a bit this week to seek out one thing fascinating to speak about in China tech, as a result of really, nothing momentous occurred. Positive, you have got some rumored delays on the Ant IPO, and your typical scuffles between the massive web firms, like Meituan no longer accepting Alipay, Douyin banning third-party e-commerce links, and many others. However that’s simply life as typical in China web.

However then the Lufax IPO submitting hit, and it hit us that oh hey, we’d all the time been which means to inform the story about the entire peer-to-peer AKA P2P lending business in China, and this is perhaps a good time to take action, earlier than the entire thing fades completely from view. As a result of it was legitimately a very large deal in China, and the best way it blew up was simply so tremendous quick and dramatic. So, this appears vital to grasp.

[01:00]So thanks Lufax, Chinese language identify 陆金所 Lujinsuo for giving us the chance to speak a bit about P2P like we’ve all the time wished. It sort of continues our exploration of fintech in China generally, by the best way, since our subsequent episode goes to be on the digital forex proposed by the Chinese language authorities. Talking of which, now that we’ve began to have a number of episodes on the identical business, like this should be our fourth or fifth on fintech, we’re going to start out placing them collectively into YouTube playlists for these of you new to the present, and even current listeners who simply need a refresher like I do know I do generally, so that there’s a technique to get shortly on top of things on a sector.

Rapidly on top of things on what we know, anyhow, as a result of we’re studying as we go alongside too. However sure, positively verify our revamped YouTube channel and subscribe! We’re simply beginning to get all our episodes uploaded, and are engaged on some video-first content material too. Subscribe so that you could be the primary to know!

[02:24]Hello everybody! We’re TechBuzz China by Pandaily, powered by the Sinica Podcast Community by SupChina! We’re a biweekly podcast centered on providing you with a peek into what’s buzzing throughout the tech group in China. We uncover and contextualize distinctive insights, views and takeaways on headline tech information that don’t all the time make it into English language protection. So that you could be smarter in regards to the world of China tech.

Tech Buzz China is part of crackcons.com, an English language web site that tells you “everything about China’s innovation.” I’m one in every of your two co-hosts, Ying Lu.

And I’m your different co-host, Rui Ma. We’re part of the Sinica Podcast Community, created by SupChina! Along with Tech Buzz, you can too discover Sinica which covers present affairs. And we’re additionally proud to be partnered with Monetary Occasions’ Tech Scroll Asia, a publication on Asia tech information from among the best publications within the enterprise. Enroll at this time!

And as all the time, we’re nonetheless on the lookout for extra opinions on Apple Podcasts! Ship both of us a screenshot of your assessment, and we are going to present you a free three month subscription to our Further Buzz publication. You possibly can ship me an e-mail at ying@techbuzzchina.com. A number of of you have got already claimed this, and we find it irresistible whenever you do. Thanks a lot!

[03:49]So this episode is admittedly two totally different tales, sort of like again when Tech Buzz first began, and the way we’d attempt to cowl two totally different headlines in the identical present. Nonetheless, in contrast to in these first episodes the place the tales had no relationship to 1 one other, these two do. Peer-to-peer or P2P lending is definitely an enormous a part of Lufax’s early historical past and is the principle story we need to inform at this time. So it solely is smart to start there.

Proper. So let’s discuss P2P lending, or let’s simply check with it as P2P, since that’s how everybody talks about it. Within the US, we will most likely use the founding of Prosper in 2005 or LendingClub in 2006 because the sector’s birthdate. As for China? Not far behind. Most individuals would level to the founding of PPDai or 拍拍贷, because it’s identified in Chinese language, in 2007 as when P2P was launched to the nation.

For the primary 5 years or so, it grows fairly shortly, however as a result of it’s rising from such a small base — solely about $30mm in 2009 — it solely will get to about $940mm by the end of 2012. A mere drop within the bucket in terms of the full demand for loans, after all, however really already exceeding the US market on the time, which was about 8% smaller.

[05:16]However then 2012 and onwards, although, the business in China actually begins to blow up. A variety of this is because of hovering smartphone penetration after all, and customers’ rising familiarity with web finance. In 2013, excellent mortgage quantity went as much as $4.3Bn, which is nothing to sneeze at, however simply two years later, that quantity had gone up to $71Bn. Now we’re speaking actual cash and China can also be leaving the US within the mud, although nobody is making a severe dent within the multi-trillion greenback shopper credit score enterprise in both nation.

No, however pleasure was at an all time excessive. I don’t know in case you guys keep in mind this, however LendingClub was the most important tech IPO of 2014. The following 12 months, it soared to a $15Bn market cap, and it was originating like $8Bn in loans. And principally a ton of P2P lending firms received funded, turned unicorns, had record-breaking quarters. And that was simply within the US. It was crazier in China. I used to be doing early stage investments then and I used to be getting pitched P2P platforms left and proper. Fortunately, for me, it appears to be like like most of them failed.

Yup, they did. 2015 might need been the peak of the craze as a result of there have been over 3,500 P2P lending platforms in China at the moment. Different estimates put the quantity even increased at nearer to 6,00Zero. Anway, by the next 12 months, a few third would fail and by 2018, solely slightly over 500 firms would nonetheless exist. As of at this time, it’s mentioned that lower than three dozen are nonetheless round. Virtually the entire giant gamers have exited the P2P enterprise, together with PPDai, the thirteen-year-old firm that we mentioned began all of it, and in addition Lufax, the corporate that simply filed for IPO.

[07:17]Yeah, so far as China goes, P2P is useless. And anyhow, nobody trusts P2P anymore in China, as a result of it misplaced folks so a lot cash, together with a lot of my mates. However what occurred precisely? Why had been there so many implosions? Have been all of them scams? Or simply poorly run?

The reply, because it typically is, is the entire above. However let’s speak in regards to the scams first. First, the biggest P2P platform in China, Ezubao e租宝, turned out to be a Ponzi scheme. The administration fabricated initiatives, requested the secretaries to decorate solely in luxurious manufacturers like Hermes and Chanel to seem profitable, and siphoned $9Bn from unwitting victims. They’re all in jail now, however the poor buyers solely received 35% of their money again.

And so they aren’t the one one, simply the most important and one of many first to fail. You see, Ezubao failed in 2016, which was proper after that peak that we talked about earlier. However increasingly more continued to fail, and one report asserts that up to 40% of China’s P2P lenders had been Ponzi schemes. I couldn’t entry the underlying authorities doc that supposedly made this estimate, so I’m unsure what to imagine, however it’s positively greater than a handful ofplatforms. In reality, in case you Google P2P and Ponzi scheme collectively, you’ll get plenty of outcomes asking “are P2P platforms Ponzi schemes?”

[08:54]Fast apart right here, plenty of folks misplaced plenty of cash on these platforms — generally most or all of their life financial savings! — and there are numerous tales of atypical residents committing suicide after they found their investments simply went poof. Tremendous unhappy. Others, together with some folks I do know, organized protests, sought out legal professionals, and demanded their a reimbursement. However most of them most likely gained’t ever see their principal returned, particularly in the event that they had been out there early, as a result of for a very long time, P2P was fully unregulated in China.

Proper. It wasn’t till mid-2015 that the primary guidelines for regulating P2P happened. Mid-2016 was when precise measures got here into impact, with extra guidelines coming within the 12 months after that. Earlier than 2016, P2P existed on this type of no man’s land, free from any oversight. This was fully totally different from the US, which has a way more sturdy shopper credit score system than China to start with. Right here within the US, we additionally benefited from the early motion of the SEC, which started requiring registration of the P2P loans with the company as a be aware. Whereas this elevated working prices and so meant fewer P2P platforms can be created, it did defend customers, and I feel in case you ask all of the Chinese language individuals who misplaced their cash to unhealthy actors which state of affairs they’d reasonably have, I’m fairly positive they’d go for the system with extra oversight.

That regulatory vacuum was fairly deadly, however even after authorities stepped in, there continued to be a ton of issues. To begin with, plenty of them simply weren’t good companies. They didn’t actually perceive the way to consider credit score danger. They had been like good salespeople who had been actually good at fundraising. The businesses had been barely fintech companies. In reality plenty of them had a big offline presence for buyer acquisition.

[10:55]A variety of them barely diligenced their buyers or their debtors. Really, the ignorance goes even deeper than that. As some analysts have identified, plenty of China’s so-called P2P platforms weren’t really within the P2P enterprise in any respect, however had been really simply working sort of like underground banks. That’s, they had been purported to match lenders with debtors, however as an alternative, they had been pooling cash from lenders, individually lending them out to debtors, after which guaranteeing the payback to lenders, principally very similar to a financial institution would, besides with none of the compliance, controls, and danger administration financial institution would have.

I do know, it sounds fully nuts, however that’s simply what occurred. Individuals had been taking part in with fireplace and received burned. How may everybody concerned be this silly although, you ask? Nicely, it clearly labored among the time. However in case you listened to any of our fintech episodes on Tech Buzz up to now, you’ll know that non-bank financing is only a comparatively new factor in China; it’s a rustic the place conventional banks have a higher share of the credit score system than elsewhere.

I imply, even within the very developed US market there stays a niche, which is why gamers like LendingClub received began within the first r place, however in China that was far more huge. I imply, you most likely keep in mind from our episode 74 on Ant that shopper finance in China is a $1.4Trn market at this time, and small companies have an unmet financing want of $7Trn in China at this time, so there you go, there isn’t a lack of alternative.

[12:38]And in case you had been a lender on the lookout for various investments, you can get more than 8x the rate of interest provided by banks. Common charges provided to you’ll’ve been round 13%. Managed merchandise had been half that. No surprise lots of people received grasping and put in a ton of cash. Particularly since in China there was this idea of 刚性兑现 gangxingduixian, or 刚兑gangdui, that basically simply meant, an implied promise on the a part of the platform to repay the mortgage, it doesn’t matter what, even when the borrower defaults.

Utterly nonsensical, however that’s what it took to get folks to place cash on the platform, and in order that’s what was provided. It additionally led to issues like “runs” on the platform, ie when everybody tried to tug out their cash on the similar time, issues that shouldn’t occur, if solely the platform had been working as a real platform. Sadly, as I hope we’ve hit residence the purpose by now, most weren’t.

So, all of this added collectively? Catastrophe. Finally, although the native governments didn’t need to shut down a few of these platforms, as a result of they had been funding some of the municipal initiatives that banks didn’t need to finance, they needed to. It was simply too uncontrolled. One province after one other started banning P2P platforms. It wasn’t an amazing resolution however having folks’s lives be destroyed? That was inflicting an excessive amount of panic and was too socially destabilizing.

[14:11]At this time, one thing like $115Bn could have been misplaced by buyers. Not a big quantity whenever you examine it to all the lending market, however when you think about that it was all misplaced by common buyers such as you and me, then the tragedy of it turns into fairly clear. Anyway, the Chinese language authorities is fairly fed up with this and late final 12 months, they advised all P2P platforms that they need to grow to be small mortgage suppliers throughout the subsequent two years. Which is the place we will decide up the story with Lufax.

Based in 2011, Lufax is principally a subsidiary of Ping An Group, China’s greatest insurer. It began with P2P lending as the one service, after which Ping An injected some extra belongings into it, and now owns 42% of the corporate. Since founding, Lufax has raised greater than $3bn from all kinds of buyers, plenty of banks and monetary establishments, and it was final valued at $38Bn, though apparently Ping An has been carrying it at a decrease worth on its books, so we’ll see how a lot it goes out at.

Anyway, since we simply spent the final fifteen minutes speaking about how P2P didn’t work out so nicely for China and the way it’s been successfully banned, then you may most likely guess Lufax’s present enterprise mannequin. Sure it nonetheless has some “legacy business” from the previous, however Lufax has been eagerly changing its P2P with different asset administration merchandise, comparable to financial institution merchandise, mutual funds and the like. And it says it’s been profitable changing these current buyers to those new merchandise.

As for the mortgage enterprise, it nonetheless exists. In reality, within the first six months of this 12 months, service charges from facilitating these transactions amounted to $2.9Bn USD, or about… wait, is that this proper? Considerably all of its “technology platform-based income.” Solely about $100mm got here from its wealth administration enterprise. That’s like a ratio of 30 to 1 when it comes to measurement.

[16:18]That’s right. That’s as a result of this enterprise, AKA “retail credit facilitation business,” was acquired by Lufax in 2016, proper when all these P2P firms began failing and new laws got here in. Really, it was not an actual acquisition and extra simply one other Ping An enterprise known as Puhui 普惠 that received merged in. The main points are fairly difficult and uninteresting so we gained’t go over it right here, however as of now, the supply of capital for all these loans are establishments, ie banks and belief plans. And that’s how Lufax is making most of its cash– by facilitating these loans. In reality, that small quantity of wealth administration revenue isn’t whilst a lot as in years previous, which the corporate attributes to the difficult situations this 12 months. Its whole revenues although continues to be barely up from final 12 months.

Yeah, it’s nonetheless actually worthwhile. $1Bn in internet revenue simply within the first half. Virtually 30% margins. Which Lufax explains by insisting that it’s actually totally different from all these fintech firms. You already know, Ant Group, JD Digits, and many others.? These guys have a tech DNA, and are new to finance. Thus they have a tendency to concentrate on customers and use issues like “social behavioral data,” which solely provide the confidence for these smaller sized, shorter-termed loans. Lufax? We will do higher.

We’ve received the finance DNA! We will do these extra superior merchandise. We’ve received years value of fashions, but additionally analytics and AI! Which for some cause, trace trace wink wink, we’re additionally higher at than these tech firms, simply belief us. Okay, I’m poking enjoyable slightly right here, however that basically is what the prospectus says.

[18:19]Is there an organization that isn’t touting their analytics and AI as of late as a core benefit although? And it’s true Lufax does have two issues which are not tech that they’re sturdy in: their 56,00Zero-person sturdy salesforce and 9,500-strong collections group. That’s proper. They’ve an immense direct salesforce, channel companions, and everybody’s favourite – on-line telemarketing. Really, 4,00Zero folks in telemarketing alone is what the prospectus says.

Whereas, at the least for the collections half, plenty of fintech companies and even banks outsource that stuff, which is unhealthy, in keeping with Lufax, in terms of bigger loans and “challenging points in the credit cycle.” I imply, this all sounds logical, though I’m unsure of the particular affect. However let’s simply take their phrase for it.

I feel the principle takeaway right here is that Lufax simply doesn’t have that a lot tech. It’s probably not doing tremendous progressive fintech within the sense that Ant Group is, for instance. It’s nonetheless very a lot a finance group, which is smart given its dad or mum firm is Ping An.

Proper, and I’m probably not positive there’s an excessive amount of else we will inform you about Lufax, so I feel it’s time to wrap up this episode, which, if I’m being trustworthy, was actually totally on P2P, the extra fascinating topic by far anyway.

[19:54]Sure, peer-to-peer lending, the nontraditional financing that went unregulated in China from 2007 to 2016 and did assist some debtors, sure, as a result of China has trillions of dollars of financing want that isn’t met by banks. However it additionally harm plenty of lenders, who invested cash into platforms that both turned out to be Ponzi schemes, or simply didn’t have the fitting methods in place to make good loans.

The largest downside although, might need been the platforms’ personal fault, by implying a assure that the mortgage will likely be repaid, although frequent sense tells us that after all there’s danger of default. However the mixture of greed and the truth that there aren’t many funding merchandise on the time resulted in a pointy rise of P2P platforms in order that by 2015, China was simply the biggest P2P market on the planet and had 1000’s of P2P firms.

All of the irrational exuberance although was precisely that. Irrational. Platforms failed en masse, and by 2020, we’re only a few dozen platforms left, all of whom are switching to grow to be small mortgage suppliers, by authorities mandate. Of those who have survived, Lufax is without doubt one of the greatest, and started its life as a P2P subsidiary of Ping An, China’s largest insurance coverage group.

[21:16]Based in 2011, it’s really tried to go IPO a number of instances, with the primary spherical of rumors as early as 2015, however continued uncertainty and regulatory upheaval within the sector in addition to a serious reorganization have delayed it to this 12 months. One stunning factor although is that it determined to go IPO on the NYSE as an alternative of the Hong Kong Inventory Trade as has been rumored inyears previous, and as has been more and more fashionable with Chinese language firms this 12 months, because of the geopolitical tensions.

One supply is saying that it is because current buyers embrace various overseas companies who’re extra comfy with New York. That looks as if a weak cause, however who is aware of? The corporate isn’t afraid to be a bit unconventional. For one, it’s one of many few Chinese language firms to have an American chief. Gregory Gibb, the present CEO and Chairman, was at McKinsey for almost 20 years earlier than becoming a member of Lufax.

[22:15]Lufax has largely benefited from its affiliation with Ping An, a trusted firm in China. However it does have its work minimize out for it. As a distributor of wealth administration merchandise, it’s been within the information various instances up to now three years for promoting funds that finally misplaced purchasers cash, and had been principally scams, resulting in bodily protests and plenty of unhealthy press.

Yeah, Chinese language customers are nonetheless not used to dropping their principal, particularly if an organization like Ping An is hooked up to the product, even tremendous not directly. So what do you assume guys? Did you ever put money into P2P? It was simply a kind of issues that had such a fast growth and bust. I imply, one of many firms that began all of it, LendingClub, simply announced that it could cease its peer-to-peer retail options by the tip of this 12 months. It can now grow to be only a financial institution.

The remainder of the US market nonetheless exists although, although it’s not rising very quick. What do you guys assume? Will P2P ever make a return to China? Or is its exit full? And did Lufax make the fitting resolution to listing within the US? Or ought to it have gone to Hong Kong? What are your ideas? Tell us!

[23:37]Thanks for listening and don’t neglect to jot down us that assessment to your free Further Buzz subscription. Have any questions or strategies? E mail us! We actually loved placing this collectively, and we’re all the time open to any feedback or strategies. You could find us on twitter at thepandaily, at techbuzzchina, and my private Twitter account is YINGLU2020.

And my Twitter is spelled RUIMA. Tech Buzz China by Pandaily is powered by the Sinica Podcast Community on SupChina. crackcons.com is an English language web site that tells you “everything about China’s innovation.” Our producers are Caiwei Chen and Kaiser Kuo. Thanks for listening!

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