Business / Companies

Tencent-backed private lender ready for debut

By MENG JING (China Daily) Updated: 2014-12-17 09:19

A bank partly backed by Tencent Holdings Ltd has won approval to start operations, making the Shenzhen Qianhai Weizhong Bank the first of five new private lenders to start operations.

The institution, also known as Webank, is expected to open within a month, the Economic Information Daily reported on Tuesday.

Tencent, which is the largest shareholder with a 30 percent stake, confirmed that it had received the green light from banking authorities in the southern city of Shenzhen, but the company did not give an exact date for starting business.

The bank has registered capital of 3 billion yuan ($484 million). It will focus on personal banking and lending to small and medium-sized enterprises, said Tencent.

The company, which owns China's largest online social networking systems (QQ and WeChat), said it will offer innovative products and services.

The other banks will be in the cities of Tianjin and Shanghai, as well as Zhejiang province. They mark a gradual opening of China's State-dominated banking sector.

Wu Qing, a financial researcher at the Development Research Center of the State Council, said he has great expectations for the role of private banks.

Wu said that compared with the huge market shares held by traditional banks, the private banks will not be big enough to reshape the industry.

"But innovation and the Internet 'gene' in some of these private banks can bring huge changes to the system in terms of pushing the traditional banks to stay ahead of the competition," he said.

He cited online wealth management service Yu'ebao, of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, as an example. The popularity of Yu'ebao and the threat it poses to traditional banks have pushed brick-and-mortar banks to launch more online services.

"With the competition from Internet finance, banks are all aware that they need to respond and act as fast as they can to stay ahead, which was never the case before," he said.

Small as they are, private banks such as Webank still have some advantages when it comes to consumer data, which they can use to challenge the giants.

The first customers of the private banks are likely to come from companies associated with their investors, said Ma Tao, an Internet finance analyst at consultancy Analysys International.

Ma said that just as Alibaba has lots of transaction data on its online shoppers and merchants, Tencent has amassed a wealth of data from its social networking systems that it can use when offering financial services.

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