Home Credit Consumer Finance Company was established in Tianjin under the Pilot Measures for the Administration of Consumer Finance Companies issued by CBRC. It started to operate by the end of 2010, and is the only one that is wholly foreign-invested among the four pilot consumer finance companies.
After CBRC revised the Pilot Measures for the Administration of Consumer Finance Companies in January 2014, Home Credit started to roll out its business under the CFC model across the country. At the same time Home Credit is committed to becoming a responsible consumer finance service provider, promoting financial literacy (i.e. seminar, cartoon) and enhancing public awareness of credit records and responsible lending.
By the end of 2015, Home Credit has its presence in more than 260 cities covering 24 provinces or municipalities directly under the central government, and has created more than 30,000 employment opportunities in China, all of which has contributed to economic growth and job creation in tier 2-3 cities as well as towns. By working closely with national retail chains such as Digitone, it has set up nearly 60,000 POS outlets across the country. After the Wuhan customer service center went into operations, Home Credit launched its largest customer service center in China in Changsha in July 2014. The two centers combined can accommodate over 8,000 professional customer service operators who can handle 750,000 calls a day.
We got the chance to interview the innovation lab leader Jan Popelka and the head of GR department Anastasia Kornilova on the Inaugural China Fintech Conference 2016.
How did you decide to join Home Credit and come to China?
Jan: Before I came to China, I was not an employee of Home Credit. Coming to China helped me to make up my mind to join Home Credit. My family and I both like the adventure and experience of living somewhere else. So coming to China and joining Home Credit, these two things somehow came hand by hand.
What is the biggest challenge here in China both in your personal life and at work? Do you meet any implementation barriers due to the culture difference?
Jan: I will start with the culture barriers. They are really huge. I am and also all the European I am working with are forged from childhood in a way to find out why and how things are working and how to change them and how to challenge the status quo and everything you see around you. Then you come here and things you expect as common are not common here and things you will never expect common are common here.
So it was not really easy for me to somehow find the way to run the innovation with Chinese team and try to provoke innovations. People here have the intendancy to initiate an innovation proposal only after it is well thought and developed. But for me, it really does not matter if mistakes are going to be made before we come up with a solid idea for innovations. I am trying to explain to them that when you are doing innovation business, making mistakes is not bad but actually good. It will give a different angle of seeing things. But convincing people to do the mistakes and to admit they did the mistakes in front of everybody is really challenging. But we are on our way. And actually I am really amazed by the analytical potential of people I have. All their computer techniques are impressive. So on the one side that it is absolutely easy to ask people to do any analytical job and they do it fantastically. On the other hand, it was not easy and I am still struggling a little bit with convincing people that mistakes are part of the trail and we don’t need to wait until an innovation initiative is perfectly developed and well established before we openly talk about it or propose it for discussion
Can you tell me more about the innovation lab? How big is it? What is the composition of the team?
Jan: From the European perspective, we are a quite huge team. We have 3 seniors and 16 juniors. Seniors are from IT, marketing, e-commerce. About the junior, young people have more creative thinking. We are trying to develop the juniors to seniors. Few of the juniors are coming directly from universities. We’ve got mathematician, some studied chemistry, psychology or English. The rest came through some business like e-commerce, banking and also within the Home Credit. Basically we are quite a diversified team. As we are business innovation center, we seek for talents who understand more aspects of business. We are trying to find out new products, new business models and new channels. For such a scope, you definitely need diversified team, you need people who understand those “0” and “1” (IT people), as well as people who know how to do a sales and marketing.
Ana is the GR leader in Beijing, so what kind of things are you discussing with the government?
Ana: Consumer finance concept is relatively new in China – China Banking Regulatory Commission launched the pilot project on CFCs in 2010. Home Credit is the only 100% foreign owned consumer finance company out of 15 officially established consumer finance companies regulated by the CBRC. We often interact with the CBRC and PBOC, as well as with other relevant authorities, for example AIC (Administration for Industry and Commerce). Consumer credit is an important instrument to shift Chinese economy from an export-oriented to domestic consumption driven. During our discussions with the authorities we highlight the role of CFCs in that process.
Jan: What is really important to understand is that there are more than a dozen companies that have the CFC license. But if you look at the market, there are plenty of “consumer finance” companies which are lending money without an official CFC license from the CBRC. The regulatory authorities really have a lot of expectation on those licensed CFCs. I think that as a licensed CFC, Home Credit should work together with industry players to practice our business in strict compliance of finance regulations in China so that the market will develop healthily. This is also what we are doing now in China.
We have looked into your annual rate, and it is usually over 15% annually. Is it a bit too high?
Jan: We have a very big product portfolio. Some of our loan products are even with zero cost to our customers, for instance our “006” loans. So many different products are designed to meet customers’ diversified demands. We know that fairness and honesty is the bedrock of our relationship with each and every client. In our endeavor to make financial services easy, simple and fast for our clients, we know that these words have to guide us in everything we do. Meanwhile, we often work with clients who have little to no credit history, and who are underserved by traditional banks. We enable people to take advantage of all the benefits that financial services can bring them. Our philosophy promotes financial inclusion.
Could you please make some comments on your rivals? Like Jingdong, Suning and Ali, because they have their own ecommerce platform, it is actually more convenient for the customers to ask for a loan when they are shopping online and are about to pay the bill.
Jan: Let me say this- consumer finance industry is very huge and the market demand is also much diversified. We welcome more players to come into this market as this will benefit customers and will eventually promote financial inclusion. Home Credit targets mass consumers who are typically not the focus of mainstream credit providers, yet who represent a significant portion of the population. Our world class underwriting and collections procedures, leading management knowhow, superior IT infrastructure, and very capable workforce will help us lead this market. We are confident in it.
Who are the biggest components of your clients?
Jan: People like factory workers, service providers and so on. For these people we are readable, our services are convenient and fair. We provide our clients with the feeling of security that we are going to deliver a quality service. We want to be fair to the customers.
I saw your app, the application process is super easy and also you announced that your pass rate is very high as well. So how you control your risk? Moreover, according to the adverse selection, people who are willing to pay higher interest are usually those who bear higher risk?
Jan: I guess you came through the cash loan, but this online part is only for 500 yuan, so it is only a small amount you can have. For higher amount, it is not possible to do it purely online, you have to go through both online and offline process. About the risk, we are using all the data we can get. First of all, as we are the financial institution with an official CFC license, we have an access to the official credit registry system; secondly, we are using all the other sources of the big data to assess the risk.
The system of how we gather the data for risk assessment is very difficult to be built. We have a lot of data providers and they send us data through their APIs in nearly real time. Try to imaging, you are asking for the loan and so you give us all necessary permits we need to go through the credit registers. Next step is we ask many systems (our partners) what they know about you. And we get the responses. Then the responses are put into the model based on which your application is approved or rejected. So it is quite a straightforward process to describe but relatively hard to be established and operated. You need a lot of unique knowledge and experience to run it.
In the just passed Davos Forum, your CEO said you won’t only target big cities but also the small ones. I think you have already done it in China’s Tier 2/3 cities. You got 260 cities already. Are you planning to expand to the rural areas?
Jan: I think we have more than that now. About the rural areas, these decisions are on the way and are not done yet.
To sum up, Could you please tell us the core competence of Home Credit?
Jan：In my opinion, one of our strongest advantages is related to the offline loan distribution model. Home Credit’s experience in consumer finance has a long history of over 20 years in 11 different countries. We are either No. 1 or No. 2 in many of these markets. We have world class IT infrastructure, leading management expertise, superior risk control system, and very capable workforce. Our diversified product portfolio can meet customers’ differentiated demands.
Ana: We are really focusing on clients in Home Credit. For example we run programs like financial literacy. It is really client friendly. We have started in the past years and now we have prepared a very solid strategy for the next coming year. We aim on many dimensions. In past years we started to run educational cartons on social media, we made really clear all documents client is receiving including terms and conditions. Especially we are focusing on the first time borrower in a way to make sure that our clients understand what the loan can means to them. We call it Responsible Lender policy, which we follow everywhere we operate.
Which idea impressed you most today?
Jan: I really enjoyed all the P2P topics that were discussed on the forum. I had the “WOW” effect when I heard some of the insights – mainly from professor Liao. I was really surprised how different the P2P in China compared to Europe and US. It is really a different business. Everything you look at is different. For example, here the P2Ps are focusing mainly on investors not on borrowers as I’m used to from Europe.
Ana: It was a great learning experience. I saw a lot of new things and learned about different business models and new business approaches.