China’s Digital Revolution in Bank Lending
China has long recognized the importance of increasing small and medium-size enterprises' access to finance; now, online banks have found the solution the country needs. This could be a boon not only for growth and innovation, but also for broader financial inclusion – in China and beyond.
BEIJING – China’s economy is growing at is lowest rate in over 30 years, but if the country’s nearly 40 million small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) could overcome a lack of access to funding, they could become a powerful engine of economic dynamism. Can digital innovators close the SME financing gap?
China’s government has certainly tried. Since 2005, policymakers have been working to expand access to financial services for SMEs, as well as for low-income households. Measures have included the establishment of more than 8,000 micro-credit companies, higher annual SME loan requirements for banks, and a mandatory reduction in the average interest rate on loans to SMEs, by one percentage point per year in 2018 and 2019.
Yet, despite these efforts, only 20% of Chinese SMEs ever borrow from banks.One reason for this is that SMEs, while plentiful, are not always easy to find, given their small size and geographical diffusion. A more important reason is that many banks are unable to employ market-based risk pricing effectively for SMEs.