Ant Group to share consumer credit data with China's central bank as regulatory overhaul continues

GUANGZHOU, China — Ant Group will share credit data from its consumer lending business with China's central bank as part of an overhaul of the fintech giant.

Huabei is a consumer loan product under Ant Group. Data from that lending product will be fed into the financial credit information database held by the People's Bank of China (PBOC), Ant said in a statement Wednesday.

Information including date of account set up, amount in the credit line and status of repayment will be provided to the central bank. Users will need to authorize this. Specific information such as details about time of purchases or goods being bought will not be handed over to the PBOC.

Ant Group, which is controlled by billionaire Alibaba founder Jack Ma, had its blockbuster initial public offering suspended in November over regulatory concerns.

Ant's lending business worked on a model in which it matched up borrowers to lenders, such as banks, but the company did not underwrite those loans. Instead, banks bore most of the risk.

This worried regulators who believed companies like Ant were acting like financial institutions but not being regulated like them.

Chinese regulators ordered a restructuring of Ant Group. In June, the company was given the green light to operate a consumer finance business with outside shareholders. This business houses its Huabei and Jiebei loan products and is called Chongqing Ant Consumer Finance Co. Ant will have to partly underwrite more of these loans.

Ant Group is currently in the process of becoming a financial holding company which will be overseen by the PBOC and other regulators.

A logo of Ant Group is pictured at the headquarters of the company, an affiliate of Alibaba, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China October 29, 2020.Aly Song | Reuters

The data-sharing requirements with the PBOC brings Ant Group in line with other financial institutions in the lending space which are required to do the same thing.

Ant Group said some users can already look up the Huabei-related records in their credit reports with the central bank.

The company looks to assuage fears that the sharing of users' credit data from Huabei could affect their future ability to get loans.

“A comprehensive and proper set of credit records will enable financial institutions to better understand users' creditworthiness and to better serve them,” Ant Group said in a statement.

In my view, this means the intent is to allow Ant to continue its business but under regulatory purview and rules.
Kevin Kwek

“Therefore, under general circumstances and with the normal usage of Huabei and timely repayments, the use of other financial services such as loan applications will not be impacted.”

Kevin Kwek, managing director and senior analyst at Bernstein, said the credit data-sharing agreement with the central bank clears “significant” regulatory uncertainty around Ant Group.

“Sharing of data of course erodes Ant's edge, but doing so allows them to obtain regulatory blessings, such as getting the consumer finance license,” Kwek told CNBC.

“In my view, this means the intent is to allow Ant to continue its business but under regulatory purview and rules, and if it helps the broader consumer credit bureau agenda. It is important to note that Ant will continue to be dominant as a very large distributor given its user base, even if it now has to share some data.”

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