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PBOC wants to regulate China’s rapidly growing fintech

Updated: Nov 8,2017 9:38 AM

Chinese financial technology — also known as fintech — companies, especially the sizable ones, should fall under the same risk assessment framework as banks, an official from China’s central bank said on Nov 6.

In 2016, Chinese fintech investment had totaled $10.2 billion, exceeding North America’s $9.2 billion. China’s expeditious adoption of fintech is generating profits not only for startups, but also the companies investing in them.

In a report released in August, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said some financial products offered through internet channels by fintech companies are “systemically important” and hence will be included in its macro-prudential assessment or MPA.

Although the report’s aiming to prevent cyclical risks and cross-market risk transmission, the policy’s starting date still remains unknown.

As China’s financial system is dominated by banks, increasing sources of competition can make the entire system more efficient, even though it may brings some uncontrollable risks during the process.

Analysts said this is the first time that the PBOC said it will include fintech businesses in its MPA.

Big players in the third-party payment services market and the peer-to-peer or P2P lending market are likely to be included first, they said.

“Systemically important financial institutions do not necessarily have to be traditional financial institutions,” Sun Guofeng, director of the PBOC’s finance research institute, said during a recent digital finance conference in Beijing.

Considering the definition of “systemically important” services and the market size of all fintech businesses, third-party payment services and P2P lenders are most likely to become the first to be regulated under the MPA framework, side Xue Hongyan, director of the Suning Financial Research Institute, the research arm of one of China’s largest fintech service providers.

Previously, only big financial institutions, such as banks, brokerages and insurers, who play leading roles in their respective sectors, were regarded as “systemically important” and were included in the MPA framework in China.

“The PBOC move … is actually a good sign for the fintech market because regulation indicates recognition of importance, and MPA, a mid-to long-term regulation framework, indicates that short-term risks are well handled,” Xue said.

According to Home of P2P Lending, an online information provider focused on the P2P space, China has more than 2,000 online lending platforms whose combined transaction value exceeds 1 trillion yuan. Monthly inflows are somewhere between 30 billion yuan and 50 billion yuan.

The combined transaction volume in China’s third-party payment market was 35 trillion yuan in 2016, and is expected to more than double by this year-end to surpass 70 trillion yuan, according to Analysys International data.

The PBOC report said currently some providers of online financial services lack “self-regulation”, while some are underqualified and are too weak to manage financial risks.