【英语财经】互联网金融推动中国银行业改革 Guest post: internet finance drives China banking reform

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2014-7-2 07:13

小艾摘要: There has been a significant amount of buzz regarding the rapid growth of internet finance in China. The scope of internet financial products includes money market funds, insurance products, third-par ...
Guest post: internet finance drives China banking reform
There has been a significant amount of buzz regarding the rapid growth of internet finance in China. The scope of internet financial products includes money market funds, insurance products, third-party payment platforms, peer-to-peer (P2P) lending, and other more exotic investment products. In other words, internet finance is springing up largely beyond the remit of the traditional banks.

The pace of growth has been rapid enough to inspire fear and resentment on the part of the banks even though the total amount of money invested in internet financial products is still small relative to the enormous size of the traditional financial sector. The emergence of internet finance in China raises several key questions: What is behind the growth of internet finance? What are the risks and benefits from investing in these products? And what will the impact be on the rest of the financial system?

The growth of internet finance in China is being driven by a mixture of innovation and regulatory arbitrage. Internet finance companies are offering mobile and web-based ways to pay, save and invest that are radically more convenient than what was available previously. This represents an improvement over the service provided by China’s large state-owned banks.

However, better customer service alone cannot explain the rapid growth of internet finance . Regulatory arbitrage also plays its part: China’s financial system is still subject to significant price distortions due to government interference. The central bank maintains a ceiling on deposit rates that is frequently set at or below zero when measured in real terms.

This represents a miserable return when the economy is growing in excess of 7 per cent. Internet finance companies have found a way to correct this problem, pooling customer funds in a money market fund and then purchasing interbank deposits at a much higher negotiated rate. The higher rates are passed along to the customers, which is why savers have been flocking to internet funds.

The risks and benefits of internet finance vary by type of product being offered. Well-known third-party payment platforms, such as Alipay, present little risk to customers and are a convenient way to make purchases online. Internet-based money market funds are slightly more risky, but generally safe as most of the assets are invested in interbank deposits.

As long as these deposits are being invested with large and well-capitalized banks, there is little chance that they will default. P2P lending by contrast is much riskier and has already resulted in defaults and site closures. Other more exotic investment products offered by internet finance companies are equally risky.

The entire internet finance industry is overshadowed by continuing regulatory risk. China’s regulators are divided on how to respond to the internet banking phenomenon. The securities regulator is generally supportive, the banking regulator is generally opposed, and the central bank walks a fine line between the two. Savers heavily invested in internet financial products face the risk of an abrupt change in regulatory stance that would dramatically curtail the availability and liquidity of internet financial products.

The impact on the financial system as a result of the growth of internet finance is potentially significant. In money terms, the amount invested in internet financial products is still small relative to the enormous size of China’s traditional financial system. Yet if only size were important, there would be no explanation for the large backlash on the part of the banks towards internet lenders.

As last June’s credit crunch showed, China’s banks are deposit rich but liquidity poor. Competition for deposits at the margin is fierce, demonstrated by the issuance of wealth management products and high bids for auctioned fiscal deposits. Internet funds represent a new competitor for end of quarter deposits that help banks meet their loan to deposit ratio requirement. The growth of third-party payment platforms also represents a direct threat to union-pay, China’s quasi-monopoly bankcard organization that is owned by a consortium of banks.

Competitive pressure on banks from internet finance companies has the potential to foster both healthy and unhealthy competition. Healthy competition will take the form of banks competing by offering better customer service, increased web and mobile functionality and more consumer-oriented financial products. Signs of this are already emerging as banks begin to offer their own internet-based products.

Fostering this type of competition will require more institutional change on the part of the banks as well as flexibility on the part of financial regulators. Unhealthy competition will take the form of chasing funds by offering unsustainable rates of return on wealth management products, worsening moral hazard by increasing the number of implicit guarantees and seeking to block financial innovation through regulatory lobbying.

Internet finance has the potential to be a large catalyst for reform and efficiency gains in China’s state-dominated financial system. Most internet financial products are relatively transparent and offer greater opportunities for participation by normal investors compared to other parts of the shadow banking system, such as trust investments. The ultimate outcome of China’s internet finance experiment will depend on the degree of regulatory acceptance as well as whether policies are put in place to guide competition between banks and internet lenders in a healthy direction.

Nicholas Borst is research associate and China program manager at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

中国互联网金融快速发展引发大量热议。互联网金融产品包括货币市场基金、保险产品、第三方支付平台、个人对个人贷款(peer-to-peer lending,简称P2P贷款),以及其他更为奇异的投资产品。换言之,互联网金融正迅速崛起,在很大程度上已经超出了传统银行的范畴。

互联网金融增长过于迅速,引发了银行的担心和不满,虽然与传统金融部门庞大的资金规模相比,投资于互联网金融产品的资金总体金额仍非常小。中国互联网金融兴起催生了数个关键问题:互联网金融增长的背后是什么?投资这些产品的风险和益处是什么?它将对金融体系的其他领域有什么影响?

中国互联网金融发展同时受到创新和监管套利的推动。互联网金融公司正在提供移动和基于互联网的支付、储蓄和投资方式,这与以前相比要便利得多。相对于中国大型国有银行的服务,这是一大改进。

然而,单单是客户服务的改善并不能解释互联网金融的快速增长。监管套利也起到了一定作用:由于政府干预,中国金融体系仍存在极大的价格扭曲。中国央行设定了存款利率上限——实际存款利率经常为零甚至为负。

这意味着,在中国经济以超过7%的速度增长之际,存款回报率低得可怜。互联网金融公司找到了纠正这一问题的方法,即用一只货币市场基金把客户资金集中起来,然后投资于银行协议存款,以获得高得多的协商利率。较高的利率水平传导至客户,这就是储户踊跃购买互联网基金的原因。

互联网金融的风险和益处因产品类型不同而有所差别。支付宝(Alipay)等知名的第三方支付平台几乎对客户没有什么风险,而且也提供了在线购物的便利途径。互联网货币市场基金的风险稍大一些,但通常也是安全的,因为大多数资产投资于银行协议存款。

只要是投资于资金雄厚的大银行的协议存款,违约的可能性就微乎其微。相比之下,P2P贷款的风险要高得多,而且已经出现了违约和网站关闭的结果。互联网金融公司提供的其他更为奇异的投资产品同样风险很大。

持续的监管风险为整个互联网金融行业蒙上一层阴影。中国监管机构对如何应对互联网银行业现象意见不一。证券监管机构通常持支持立场,银行业监管机构通常表示反对,而中国央行则在两者之间走钢丝。大举投资于互联网金融产品的储户面临监管立场突然改变的风险——那将大幅削减互联网金融产品的供应和流动性。

互联网金融发展对金融体系具有潜在的巨大影响。就资金规模而言,投资于互联网金融产品上的资金与中国传统金融体系的庞大规模相比仍然微不足道。然而,如果重要的只是规模,就无法解释银行为何会对互联网贷款机构产生剧烈反弹。

正如去年6月“钱荒”表明的那样,中国各银行拥有大量储蓄资金,但流动性紧张。从银行发行理财产品和高价竞标财政存款可以看出,对存款的竞争非常激烈。互联网基金成了争夺季度末存款的新竞争者——银行往往利用季度末存款来满足存贷比要求。第三方支付平台的发展也代表着对中国银联(UnionPay)的直接威胁。中国银联是在中国几乎占垄断地位的银行卡联合组织,股东为众多银行。

互联网金融公司给银行的竞争压力可能同时催生良性竞争和恶性竞争。良性竞争的表现形式将是银行改善客户服务、增加网络和移动功能,以及推出更多以客户为导向的金融产品。良性竞争的迹象已经出现,银行已开始推出自己的互联网金融产品。

促进这种类型的竞争将需要银行作出更多机制上的改变,而且还要金融监管机构变得更加灵活。恶性竞争的形式将是,银行通过推出回报率难以为继的理财产品来拼抢资金,通过增加隐性担保数量来加剧道德风险,以及通过游说监管机构来寻求阻碍金融创新。

在国有银行占据主导地位的中国金融体系中,互联网金融有可能成为改革和效率提升的主要催化剂。大多数互联网金融产品相对透明,而且与信托投资等影子银行业体系的其他领域相比,普通投资者的参与机会更高。中国互联网金融试验的最终结果将取决于监管接受度,以及是否出台政策引导银行和互联网贷款机构朝着健康的方向展开竞争。

注:本文作者是彼得森国际经济研究所(PIIE)的助理研究员兼中国项目经理。

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