Alibaba, lenders team up for SME financing

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd teamed up with seven banks on Tuesday, jointly offering loans of up to 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) to China’s small and medium-sized enterprises as the e-commerce conglomerate looks to further build a credit rating system based on online transaction histories.

The cooperation involves Bank of China Ltd, China Construction Bank Corp, Ping An Bank Co Ltd, China Merchants Bank Co Ltd, Bank of Shanghai Co Ltd, Postal Savings Bank of China Co Ltd and Industrial Bank Co Ltd.

According to the Hangzhou-based e-commerce giant, companies that had export transactions of more than $100,000 through Alibaba’s online platforms over the past six months can apply for such loans. They can get 1 yuan worth of bank credit for every $1 in exports.

The online transaction record is the only thing required for the loan.

Wu Minzhi, vice-president of Alibaba Group, said that about 89 percent of SMEs in China find it difficult to get loans because they can not satisfy banks’ requirements.

“As an e-commerce company with lots of transaction data on our platforms, we want to make it easy for all of the export-focused companies to do business,” Wu said.

By narrowing the credit gap between SMEs and banks, Alibaba is looking at the bigger picture of building an environment based on big data that can facilitate every aspect of trade, from information to data and logistics, he said.

Wei Qiang, general manager of Shenzhen One Touch Business Services Co Ltd, Alibaba’s export service subsidiary, said that more than half of the export-focused companies are expected to move their brick-and-mortar trade business to online platforms in the next 10 years.

“That will create a trade service market that is estimated to be as big as 10 trillion yuan,” he said.

As they cope with rising production costs in China, many Chinese exporters are keen to get financing services. He Guodong, manager of Shenzhen Xingjisheng Electronics Co Ltd, said he secured a loan of 5 million yuan from China Construction Bank through the financing service offered by Alibaba.

“My company had an export volume of 260 million yuan in 2013. In the past, banks rarely lent to us, because they didn’t trust the financial data we offered,” he said. He said transaction records provided by Alibaba are very convincing, as it acts as the third party for such transactions.

Li Ye, an analyst at the Internet consultancy Analysys International, said traditional banks can actually benefit from the financing service provided by Alibaba.

“The costs for banks to do due diligence in order to grant loans to SMEs are very high. There are so many SMEs and the amounts they want to borrow aren’t much compared with big enterprises. So big data can be used as an important way for banks to control credit risks without making heavy investments,” she said.

Tmall.com, the business-to-consumer platform owned by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, rolled out a financing service on Wednesday to help car purchasers in China get unsecured loans of up to 60,000 yuan ($9,606).

The new service underscored the Hangzhou-based e-commerce conglomerate’s strong ambition to conquer a new sector – the online car market.

Tmall has gained fame mainly through the sales of clothes and shoes online.

“China is the world’s largest car market with a total sales of more than 20 million units last year. The number of cars sold through online platforms is quite small compared with the giant size of the market,” said Wang Licheng, a senior executive of Tmall, which allows brands to sell directly to customers.

Vehicle shoppers can apply for interest-free loans that allow them to pay off their balances over as long as 18 months, depending on their shopping records and creditworthiness on Tmall and Taobao, Alibaba’s online marketplace.

Participating automakers include Shanghai General Motors, which operates Tmall.com flagship stores for the Chevrolet and Buickbrands,andSAICMotorCorpLtd,formerlyShanghaiAutomotiveIndustryCorp.

The program is the latest move by Alibaba to leverage its strengths in data and finance to tap into new markets. On Tuesday, Alibaba introduced a program that provides loans to small and medium-sized enterprises in China.

The car loan program is run by the Small and Micro Financial Services Group, a company spun out of Alibaba Group that includes Alipay. It operates the popular Yu’ebao money market fund. Rather than funding the loans itself, Small and Micro Financial Services acts as an intermediary to verify the creditworthiness of loan applicants.

During a promotion from July 25 to Aug 11 last year, 17 vehicle brands with Tmall.com storefronts sold 3,400 cars valued at 80 million yuan through the website.

However, most of the online vehicle transactions do not really qualify as pure e-commerce, because the buyers generally make down payments online, then go to physical locations to make the remaining payments, said Pan Wei, analyst with the Beijing-based Internet consultancy Analysys International.

There are many online platforms that aim to build automobile e-commerce “empires”, but most merely serve as online media outlets that feed vehicle-related information to potential buyers, said Pan.

Autohome Inc, a leading online portal for vehicle information, formed a strategic partnership with JD.com, Alibaba’s largest competitor in China, in June to develop automobile e-commerce and to facilitate real transactions online.

Pan said that Alibaba enjoys a strong advantage in automobile e-commerce as it has integrated financing service on its online platform.

“But the move doesn’t guarantee a promising future as most people still aren’t used to buying high-priced items such as cars online,” he said, adding that it will take a lot of time for consumers to form this habit and for online retailers to create new methods to increase user loyalty.