18 January 2017
Tycoon fires salvo at China peer-to-peer ‘scam’

Guo Guangchang, China’s self-styled “Warren Buffett”, yesterday called the country’s Rmb440bn ($65.9bn) peer-to-peer lending market “basically a scam”, becoming the latest figure to attack an industry that has been plagued by scandal.

The comment from Mr Guo, chairman of Fosun Group, China’s biggest privately owned conglomerate, has added to the fierce debate over China’s P2P lending market and comes days after the government imposed new rules on the size of such operations.

The industry, which has grown rapidly over the past four years, is based on a business model in which individual lenders are matched with borrowers via online platforms. The loans often pay out high yields.

The sector has been lauded for providing an alternative to low-interest deposits, but has more recently gained a reputation for hosting some of the biggest scams involving retail investor cash in China, incurring the wrath of some of the country’s top businesspeople as well as the regulators.

Mr Guo made the remarks at a press conference in Hong Kong following the release of the company’s interim results. Another Fosun executive emphasised that the company, known for using insurance premiums to make investments abroad, had never dabbled in the P2P business.

Earlier this month, the president of Ping An Insurance, China’s second-largest insurer, told the Financial Times that most P2P lenders were “fakes” and that the vast majority of China’s P2P lenders would not be able to continue their business in the future.

The president of Ant Financial Services, a subsidiary of Alibaba that houses the group’s payments and credit scoring platforms, has also tried to distance the company from China’s broader P2P lending market.

That large financial companies would attack P2P lending comes as no surprise. Within the past year, ordinary Chinese people have fallen victim to scandals in which online financial platforms have disappeared with billions of dollars, provoking angry protests on the streets.

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