Baidu-CITIC direct bank likely to target money management

2015-11-19 09:10Global Times Editor: Li Yan

Move part of 'new wave' in financial services industry: analyst

Beijing-based domestic Internet giant Baidu Inc and China CITIC Bank Corp jointly launched a direct bank Wednesday, competing with two other Internet giants in the country to offer financial services to consumers.

A direct bank is an online bank without any branch network that offers its services via online platforms.

The new online bank, which will operate under the name of Baixin Bank, has 2 billion yuan ($313.19 million) in registered capital, according to a filing by CITIC Bank posted on the website of the Shanghai Stock Exchange Wednesday.

CITIC's share price soared almost 10 percent on Wednesday, closing at 8.13 yuan.

Baidu's arch rivals Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings have already dipped a toe in the online bank sector.

E-commerce giant Alibaba launched its online bank, MYBank, in June. The bank aims to provide financial solutions to rural consumers and small businesses, according to the company's website.

And Tencent, which runs the country's most popular social networking mobile app WeChat, established a privately owned commercial bank called WeBank in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, according to Tencent's annual report in March. Tencent and its partners invested 900 million yuan in WeBank, in which Tencent owns a 30 percent stake.

Compared to WeBank and Baixin Bank, Alibaba has edges in data processing with respect to Internet financing services, Li Chao, an analyst at Beijing-based research firm iResearch, told the Global Times Wednesday.

He noted that Alibaba's ability to process big data has already been highlighted by its financial products, such as Yu'ebao.

However, it's not too late for Baidu to enter the online financial services sector, which has yet to be predominantly controlled by Alibaba and Tencent, Li said.

More details such as the Baixin Bank's corporate structure and operating strategies have not yet been disclosed because the deal has not been approved by the related authorities yet, according to the CITIC filing.

"Baidu's scope extends from 'connecting people with information' to 'connecting people with services'," said Baidu CEO Robin Li Yanhong during the ceremony.

He also noted that the venture with CITIC Bank is considered to be the first substantial cooperation between an Internet company and a traditional bank.

Subject to the China Banking Regulatory Commission's approval, Baixin Bank hopes to offer money management products to individuals as well as lend to consumers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), Hu Qichi, Baidu's PR representative, told the Global Times Wednesday.

She noted that the company has long served as a gateway for people to find financial services.

Baidu records more than 640 million users searching on its platform every month, according to an announcement sent by the company to the Global Times Wednesday.

"The company currently has 800,000 SME customers in search, and about 700,000 local merchants in its local e-commerce platform known as Nuomi. They are all potential targets for Baixin Bank's services," Hu noted.

Li said the company's online payment platform, Baidu Wallet, had launched a cash-back program with a maximum rebate of 20 percent that aims to support the new bank.

Baidu generated 18.4 billion yuan in total revenues in the third quarter of 2015, up about 36 percent year-on-year, according to its financial report released on October 29. Growth in mobile users contributed to the increase.

However, net income fell 26.7 percent to 2.8 billion yuan.

Li, the analyst, said that the deal is more likely to be a CITIC Bank-led investment.

"With Internet financing platforms booming in the country, many banks, for example China Minsheng Bank, have set up direct banks to lower their costs, instead of operating brick-and-mortar outlets," Li said.

CITIC Bank has already taken into account the direct banking trend, which is likely to scale up in the near future, Li said.

The number of accounts with direct banks is likely to reach 5 million this year, up from 3 million in 2014, with total assets of $7.1 billion, according to a report published by US-based financial services researcher Celent in January. There will be about 10 million direct bank accounts by 2017, the report noted.


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