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Tencent Tests Out Student-Loan Startup

By noreply@blogger.com (InfoseekChina)

(WSJ) Tencent Holdings Ltd. is in talks to invest in a Chinese startup that lends money to students, as the Internet giant broadens its reach into financial services, according to people familiar with the matter.

The startup, called Fenqile, which means “happy installments” in Chinese, runs a shopping site where college students borrow money to buy goods and pay back the loans in monthly installments.

Shenzhen-based Tencent, a social-networks and online-games company, is considering taking part in Fenqile’s investment round, which could value the two-year-old venture at around $1 billion, the people said. It is still unclear how much money will be raised or how big Tencent’s investment might be, they said.

In China, Internet finance is quickly becoming a major battleground for technology firms such as Tencent and online-shopping company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Tencent and Alibaba’s financial affiliate, Ant Financial Services Group, separately launched Internet banks earlier this year with their partners. In August, Ant Financial led a $200 million investment round for Fenqile’s competitor, Qufenqi.

The Internet firms are betting on a fast-growing market. China’s online consumer-finance transactions nearly tripled to 16 billion yuan ($2.5 billion) last year, according to an estimate by research firm iResearch. However, the online segment is tiny compared with China’s overall consumer-credit market, which was estimated at 15.6 trillion yuan last year by iResearch.

Demand is strong for microloans and other services that cater to individuals and small businesses that have been underserved by traditional banks, analysts say. Tencent and Alibaba are well-positioned because their online platforms already attract hundreds of millions of users and collect vast swaths of data, analysts say.

Last month, Tencent’s popular WeChat smartphone messaging application added a new personal-loan service operated by WeBank, the online bank backed by Tencent. And last year, Tencent teamed up with peer-to-peer lender China Rapid Finance to identify creditworthy borrowers with no credit history, using data from Tencent’s payments unit.

Fenqile, based in Shenzhen near Tencent’s headquarters, already has connections to the Internet giant. The startup was founded in 2013 by a former Tencent manager, and its strategic investor is online shopping company JD.com Inc., in which Tencent holds a minority stake. Fenqile buys goods from JD and sells them to students.

Fenqile’s venture-capital investors include DST Global, which led the startup’s $100 million funding round last year, Matrix Partners China, Bertelsmann Asia Investments and China Renaissance K2 Ventures.

Loans for students could be an attractive area for big Internet players because such services encourage young consumers to get into the habit of online borrowing, while the companies collect their credit data, analysts say.

“When those students graduate and get jobs, they will have a lot more buying power,” said iResearch director Will Tao.

A few months ago, Hu Wenjian, a college student and part-time photographer in Shenzhen, got a lens for his professional camera on Fenqile by promising to pay back roughly $60—including interest — every month in a 12-month installment program. “I didn’t want to ask my parents for money,” Mr. Hu said.

Fenqile charges interest of about 10% on its loans. To ensure that students pay the money back, Fenqile requires loan applicants to submit copies of their identification documents as well as phone numbers of classmates and one of their parents. The application takes about 15 minutes, the company says.

Borrowers who miss deadlines will receive messages and calls from Fenqile’s risk-management team. On college campuses across China, Fenqile also employs an army of 20,000 part-time workers—mostly students — who can visit dorms and check on fellow students who haven’t paid back loans.

Other data collected over time, such as which departments of which colleges have the highest or lowest default rate, can also be helpful in minimizing risks, according to the company.

The company says its default rate, so far, is less than 1%.

Fenqile plans to increase its full-time workforce to more than 2,000 by the end of this year from 1,400 now.

“In the future, we want to expand our business beyond college students,” Fenqile founder and Chief Executive Xiao Wenjie said in a recent interview. Possible opportunities include auto and housing loans for consumers who started using Fenqile when they were students, he said.

The company says it aims to generate 10 billion yuan in transactions this year, up sharply from 600 million yuan last year. It declines to say whether the business is profitable.

The outlook for Internet financial services depends in part on Beijing’s policies. The online banks backed by Tencent and Ant Financial have so far only been able to offer limited services because of regulatory hurdles. The government is still building the regulatory framework to catch up with the rapid growth of various forms of Internet finance, analysts say.

Given deepening concerns over an economic slowdown in China, it is unclear how fast students’ appetite for shopping will grow. Fenqile Chief Operating Officer Le Lu Ping said in August that she doesn’t expect China’s recent stock-market turmoil and the overall economic climate to get in the way of the startup’s growth. “We are not worried about that,” she said, adding that the company sees “huge consumption potential” among students.

Source: Wall Street Journal by Juro Osawa

Source:: Tencent Tests Out Student-Loan Startup

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