Chinese officials have told 13 of the country’s biggest tech companies to “rectify prominent problems” on their platforms, a sign that the regulatory pressure on the fintech sector is spreading beyond Jack Ma’s Ant Group.
Tencent, ByteDance and the fintech affiliates of Baidu, JD.com, Meituan and Didi were among the group summoned to a meeting with officials from the People’s Bank of China and other banking, securities and foreign exchange regulators, according to state news agency Xinhua.
Ant Group, which was ordered to restructure this month, was not called in again.
While praising the “overall positive” development of the fintech sector in recent years, regulators complained of anti-competitive practices and harm to consumers.
Officials demanded that the platforms increase their capital to cover 30 per cent of the loans they offer jointly with banks, after imposing similar changes on Ant. The measures were in line with the recent guidelines issued to the broader fintech sector.
Analysts have warned that the rules would raise financing costs for larger fintech companies and cause the sector to shrink significantly. But they added that some smaller players could enjoy more opportunity to expand.
The “improper links” between payment services and other financial services must be broken, the regulators said. This included not allowing payment platforms to promote loans too aggressively, cutting off an important advertising channel for the companies.
Officials also called for transparency over transactions to be increased. In contrast to the traditional state-owned banking sector, mobile payment platforms such as Tencent’s WeChat Pay, Ant’s biggest competitor, share much less transaction data with the government.
Companies must also apply for personal credit reporting licences to “break data monopolies”. Only two government-led agencies hold such licences, and it was unclear what the government’s requirements would be from private companies in order to issue licences.
The regulators also demanded that the platforms improve financial risk management when making loans and investments.
Shares in Chinese tech groups that trade in Hong Kong fell on Friday morning. Meituan dropped 3.1 per cent, Tencent 1.4 per cent and JD.com 2.8 per cent.
Regulators halted Ant Group’s planned $37bn initial public offering last year, which would have been the world’s largest-ever public listing. Jack Ma, Ant’s founder and one of China’s best-known entrepreneurs, has largely disappeared from view since the listing was scuppered.
Beijing now appears to be extending its scrutiny to other Chinese tech companies, which have increasingly ventured into financial products.
WeChat Pay and Alipay, Ant’s payments app, were launched as a way for users to buy goods and services, but have evolved into platforms offering loans, investments and insurance.
JD.com, the online retailer, also has a consumer credit arm, while ride-hailing company Didi launched crowdfunding and lending products in 2019.