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经济学人:发达的国家,不发达的普惠金融

全新的互联网金融模式国际资讯

经济学人:发达的国家,不发达的普惠金融

伦敦东北部的哈克尼区(Hackney)自诩是伦敦辖区内种族最多样的自治市之一。该市只有36%的人口是"白种英国人"。多斯顿交汇站(Dalston Junction)是哈克尼一个比较热门的站点,小小的地方却蕴含着世界大同的意味:有Caribbean bakery(面包店)、Halal Dixy Chicken shop(快餐连锁店)、Afro World wig-and-extensions parlour(假发专营店),也有许多家Lycamobile(利卡移动)实体店以及提供转账业务的公司。

哈克尼区财富阶级跨度也比较大。虽然经常能见到中产阶级在一些时髦咖啡厅或法式煎饼店里出现,但是按贫困人数看,哈克尼却是英国400多个郡市中第11大贫困市。在多斯顿,慈善机构经营的二手商店数量格外的多,而且这里还有起码4家典当行。

发达的国家,不发达的普惠金融

和这些二手店铺、典当行有竞争关系的是一家叫作Oakam的机构。Oakam是2006年成立的一家英国贷款公司,宣传标语是"取代传统小额贷款"。所谓小额贷款的客户指的是无法达到主流银行贷款门槛的人。Oakam起初的目标客户是移民群体,如今已拓展到其他"难以获得基础金融服务"的人群。在英国,这类人群据估有1200万。2017年3月,上议院的一个委员会发布报告称,据估计,170万成年英国居民没有开立银行账户,有40%的适工年龄人口存款少于100英镑(约为140美元),且31%的人口面临财务困境。

英国并非唯一一个大量人口无法获得传统金融系统服务的发达国家。Elevate总部位于美国德克萨斯州,是一家面向次级市场(信用程度较差群体)的在线借贷平台。该平台专家部门Centre for the New Middle Class预估,美国有1.09亿人信用程度较低,还有5300万人无信用记录,也就意味着无法对他们进行资信评级。去年,美联储的一项调查表明,44%的美国人如果不卖掉一些资产或向其他人借款,就难以支付400美元的意外支出。

银行的盈利主要来自信用评分较好的客户的短期借款:信用卡的使用或银行经常往来账户透支。这也是银行不向信用较差的人提供借款的原因之一。另一个原因是,次贷危机引发了金融危机,从那之后银行一直急于提高信贷资产质量。

难以获得传统金融服务的人仍然有机会接受相关服务,但是服务费用很高,按年利率收费的服务尤其如此。

在英国,提供这类服务的借款平台有典当行(抵押贷款年利率25%到101%)、小额贷款公司(13周的贷款年利率为1,558%,如规模最大的Provident)、发薪日贷款商(与1-35天后还贷的贷款利率类似,如Wonga)以及"先租后买"平台(为分期付款的顾客提供资金,如BrightHouse)。

在美国,这类平台还有"支票兑换所"(对在银行需花几天时间兑换的支票,按一定的贴现率支付现金进行兑换)和"所有权抵押贷款"(以贷款人的车辆所有权做抵押)。在英美两国,想要避免社会因非法高利贷而变得混乱可怖,这类合法的金融服务就是最后的防线。

亟待监管的替代金融市场

不过,英美两国的信贷市场发展也引起了社会对金融监管的担忧。有些借款服务完全是在压榨消费者。美国消费者金融保护局是金融危机发生后建立的一个具有争议性的监管部门。该局表示,在2016年,以汽车做抵押贷款的人里有超过五分之四都续借了贷款,且很大一部分人都失去了抵押物的所有权。一些发薪日贷款项目似乎也不是为了让借款人还款,而是为了让他们违约,使其陷入长期负债困境。2015年,英国金融行为监管局对发薪日贷款商规定了利率封顶,而在此之前,这些贷款商的收费年利率有的已经超过了5,000%。

不过,美国学者Lisa Servon在其著作《The Unbanking of America》中写道,这类借款平台并非是对不富裕人群的全然剥削,也并非所有消费者都对其既怕又恨。相反,对消费者而言,它们满足了消费者无法为银行和福利系统所满足的需求。但是,由于服务费用高昂,借贷平台的发展容易受市场新进者的影响。技术的迅速发展、理想主义以及利润的三重动力推动着这些企业去争夺非传统金融服务的市场。

在发展中国家,技术主要用于三个方面:身份核查、成本减少以及新的信用评估手段。德国在线信贷平台Auxmoney允许远程提交贷款申请,核查身份,并以视频方式签名,全程数字化。这类平台通过将流程自动化,在线处理客户的相关事项,成功缩减了职工数量,并节约了成本。Oakam负责人Frederic Nze表示,该公司的成本收入比是50%,且逐渐在向40%逼近,而传统小额贷款平台的同一比值却高达57%。

Oakam的收费年利率很高(3月为1421%),按照法规本应在其官网重点公布。但这对Oakam多斯顿分公司的贷款人而言似乎并无影响。他们关心的似乎就是自己是否得到好的服务。一个已戒毒的单身母亲因另一借款平台的经历而感到气愤,结果又在Oakam借款100美元去买毒品。另一个人说,她18岁那年巨额透支信用卡,因此没有银行愿意再为她提供服务。归根到底,每个人都希望获得信贷服务。

信贷数据来源日渐丰富

Oakam和其他次贷公司,以及不发达国家的人都愿意将目光放在信用机构资信评分之外的东西上。信用评分是一种退步,既无视了不涉及信用的记录,如水电费的日常支付,也无视了借款记录很少的那些人。这种做法常常会将有价值的潜在客户排除在外,如急于在新家建立好声誉的移民群体、有进修计划的学生以及需要现金渡过难关的可靠小公司。借钱给这些人应该不难。Elevate负责人Ken Rees表示,他一直在接触那些宣传自己数据处理能力的金融科技公司,经检验,他们大多只是扩大了传统金融数据的范围,粗看过去并没有什么意外之喜。

不过,借款平台如今也拥有其他数据来源。比如,有270家实体店的美国公司Oportun聚焦于拉丁美洲移民群体,为客户提供分期付款,利率一般是32%左右。3月的一个上午,加利佛尼亚红木城的三个职员率先联系了Oportun,经过努力有了一个客户。三个人都是本地人,母语是西班牙语,自己或者家人在Oportun贷过款。他们将客户的缴费账单和银行存款证明等文件扫描并发送至总部。几分钟内,电子贷款同意书就会发回来。Oportun将借款报告提交给信用机构,帮助客户建立资信报告。总裁Raul Vazquez表示,协助客户进入正规金融系统就是一种成功。这种商业模式消除了自己的最佳客户群,这听起来似乎很任性。

在英美等发达国家,大部分人都有活期账户,他们的银行账单为借款平台提供了大量算法所需的数据。这一能力银行和其他对手都更强劲,有很强的竞争优势。不过,数字技术的发展让用户下载的手机软件也能传递数据。借款平台表示,他们对消费者使用手机软件的方式以及频率做过大量研究。比如,Oakam开发过一款程序内游戏,消费者可以通过攀爬客户类别的"天梯"获得更高的级别和折扣。对于那些在信用较低的人而言,这就是个巧妙的暗喻。

HACKNEY IN NORTH-EAST London prides itself on being one of the capital’s most ethnically diverse boroughs. The council identifies only 36% of the population as “white British”. Dalston Junction, a now-trendy part of the borough, buzzes with a down-at-heel sort of cosmopolitanism: a Caribbean bakery; the Halal Dixy Chicken shop; the Afro World wig-and-extensions parlour; dozens of outlets for Lycamobile (“call the world for less”) and for money-transfer firms.

It is also diverse in wealth. Nearby gentrification is sprouting in a few trendy coffee bars and a sleek creperie. But Hackney is also, on a measure of “multiple deprivation”, the 11th most deprived of more than 400 local-authority areas in Britain. Dalston has more than the usual number of charity-run second-hand shops and at least four pawnbrokers.

Competing with this last group is a branch of Oakam, a British lender set up in 2006. It advertises itself as an “alternative to doorstep lenders”, the traditional financiers for those beneath the bar set by mainstream banks. Originally aimed at recent immigrants, it extended its reach to the rest of those “lacking access to basic financial services”—a group it puts at 12m across Britain. A report published in March 2017 by a House of Lords committee estimated that 1.7m adult British residents have no bank account; 40% of the working-age population have less than £100 ($140) in cash savings; and 31% show signs of financial distress.

Britain is not the only rich country where big chunks of the population live largely outside the mainstream financial system. In America the Centre for the New Middle Class, the think-tank arm of Elevate, a Texas-based online lender specialising in the “nonprime” market (not immediately creditworthy), estimates that 109m Americans are nonprime and a further 53m are “credit invisibles”, without enough of a financial history to be assigned a credit score. A survey by the Federal Reserve last year found that 44% of Americans would struggle to meet an unexpected expense of $400 without selling something or borrowing.

Banks make good money out of the way many people with bank accounts and a decent credit standing raise funds at short notice: using a credit card or dipping into the red on a current (checking) account with a bank. That is one reason why they do not bother much with lending to those without good credit scores. Another is that, since the financial crisis—the origins of which, after all, lay in the subprime market—banks have been anxious to clean up the quality of their loan assets.

The underbanked do not lack financial options, but are generally charged exorbitant prices for them, especially when measured by the annualised percentage interest rate (APR). In Britain such lenders include pawnbrokers, offering an APR of between 25% and 101% for a secured loan; doorstep lenders such as Provident, the biggest, which will charge an APR of 1,558% for a 13-week loan; “payday lenders” such as Wonga, which offer similar rates for a loan to be repaid after 1-35 days in one lump sum; and “rent-to-own” lenders, such as BrightHouse, which offer finance for purchases to be repaid in instalments. In America the industry also includes “check-cashers” that pay immediate cash (at a discount) for cheques that would take days to clear in a bank, and “title-lenders” that lend against the borrower’s car. In both countries these fringes of legal finance are the last defences against a scary, unregulated world of illegal loan-sharking.

Prey for them

In both countries, too, this end of the credit market has caused regulatory concern. Some of the lending is clearly predatory. According to America’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a controversial watchdog set up after the financial crisis, in 2016 more than four-fifths of those who borrowed against their cars had to renew their loans; a large proportion of these end up losing their vehicles. And some payday loans seem designed not to be repaid but to go into default, laying the foundations of a long-term debt relationship. In Britain the regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, in 2015 imposed interest caps on payday lenders, some of which were charging APRs in excess of 5,000%.

But as Lisa Servon, an American academic, finds in her book “The Unbanking of America”, lenders to the less well-off are not all purely exploitative, nor are they feared and resented by all their users. Rather, they are meeting a need unfulfilled by banks and welfare systems. However, the high cost of their products makes them vulnerable to new entrants to the market. Fired by a mixture of technological zeal, idealism and the profit motive, such firms are competing for the unbanked dollar.

As in the developing world, technology can help in three main ways: by making identity checks easier; by lowering costs; and by enabling new forms of credit assessment. Auxmoney, a German online-credit marketplace, allows loan applications to be submitted entirely digitally and remotely, including an identity check and digital signature by video link. By automating processes and dealing with customers mainly online (usually via a mobile phone), such operators keep down staff numbers and costs. Oakam’s boss, Frederic Nze, says that its cost-income ratio is 50%, and trending downwards to below 40%, compared with 57% for a typical doorstep lender.

Oakam’s rates, which by statute have to be prominently displayed on its website, are high (“1,421% APR representative” in March). But a group of borrowers at their Dalston branch seem unbothered by this. What seems to matter to them is that they are treated decently. One, a rehabilitated drug user and single mother, was so angered by her experience at another lender that she went out and spent her £100 loan on crack. Another says that no bank will touch her because she once splurged on her credit card when she was 18. All are glad to have access to credit at all.

What Oakam shares with other nonprime lenders, and those in poor countries, is a willingness to look beyond the scores handed out by credit bureaus. Those data are backward-looking, ignore much non-credit history, such as regular payments to utilities, and have nothing to say about those with little or no borrowing history (“a thin file”). This often excludes potentially valuable clients: immigrants anxious to build a good reputation in their new homeland; students with bright career prospects; hardworking, trustworthy individuals needing cash to tide them over a difficult patch. These should not be hard to lend to. Ken Rees, the boss of Elevate, says he is constantly meeting people from fintechs advertising their data-processing prowess, yet on examination they mostly just extend the realms of the banked to bring in those who, even on a cursory check, would have been included anyway.

But lenders now have wads of other data, too. Oportun, for example, is an American firm with 270 physical outlets, with its roots in the Latino immigrant community. It offers instalment loans at a typical interest rate of around 32%. One morning in March at its branch in Redwood City, California, three tellers—all Spanish-speaking locals who had first come into contact with Oportun because they or their families had been borrowers—have just one client between them. His documents—some utility bills and a bank statement—are scanned and transmitted to head office. Within minutes, the automated loan approval comes through. Oportun reports its lending to credit bureaus, helping its clients build up their histories. Success, says Raul Vazquez, the chief executive, can be seen as getting them into the formal system. So the business model is to get rid of the best customers, which seems almost perverse.

In rich countries such as Britain and America, where most people have current accounts, their bank statements offer lenders plenty of data that algorithms can feast on. The ability to analyse them better than banks and other rivals may provide a competitive edge. But digital technology also provides data through the apps that users download on their phones. Lenders say they can learn a lot from how, and how often, their customers use their app. Oakam, for example, offers an in-app game in which customers climb a “ladder” of client categories to earn a higher status and discounts. For people at the bottom of the credit pile, it is an apt metaphor.


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