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SoftBank's Son Eases Lufax Peer Pressure

The Vision Fund's backing should help ease any nerves over China's online lending crackdown.
Photographer: Akio Kon/Bloomberg

Masayoshi Son to the rescue. It helps to have the SoftBank Group Corp. founder on your side when Chinese regulators are raining on your IPO party.

Lufax, the online wealth manager that's among the world's biggest startups, has hired five banks to work on a Hong Kong initial public offering of as much as $5 billion, according to IFR. SoftBank's Vision Fund is in talks to invest in the company, Giles Turner of Bloomberg News reported separately, citing two people with knowledge of the deal.

That's just as well. China's largest online financing company, which is owned by Ping An Insurance (Group) Co., is reviving its IPO plans just as authorities clamp down on its main business of peer-to-peer lending. Luckily, SoftBank's $97 billion technology fund is desperate for investments.

Believe It

Lufax is the world's 10th-largest unicorn, or startup worth at least $1 billion

Source: Crunchbase

Note: As of Sept. 25, 2017.

The presence of the Japanese technology heavyweight as a cornerstone investor should help assuage any nerves over China's evolving regulatory approach to fintech companies.

Set up in 2011, Lufax has had a troubled path to listing, delaying its plans several times in the past couple of years. The company has now hired banks including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and is aiming to sell shares as early as the first half of next year, IFR reported.

It wouldn't be SoftBank's first foray into a Ping An-linked offering. Earlier this year, the Tokyo-based company bought into the IPO of ZhongAn Online P&C Insurance Co., the first major fintech listing in Hong Kong.

Lufax faces a vastly different regulatory landscape than the last time it raised money, in January 2016, when a $1.2 billion funding round that was much higher than planned gave the company a valuation of $18.5 billion.

As China began targeting online-lending fraud and P2P developed a bad name, Lufax changed its business model to offer an array of financial services. Gregory Gibb, the former McKinsey & Co. consultant who runs the Shanghai-based firm, sought to create a discount brokerage model for the country's fast-growing middle class, a Charles Schwab Corp. of China. 

It's succeeded to a large degree: Lufax, which also turned profitable in the first half of the year, now sells more than 4,000 products and has a thriving wealth management business. 

But P2P remains a core operation.

Lufax had a loan balance as of Sept. 28 of more than 158 billion yuan ($24 billion), more than three times the 43 billion yuan held by China's second-biggest P2P lender, New York-listed Yirendai Ltd., according to wdzj.com, a Chinese website that tracks online financiers.

That means that, while its business may be untouched by the current regulatory onslaught against P2P lenders, Lufax could have its work cut out convincing investors it's safe.

Chinese authorities this month banned unlicensed lending and capped borrowing costs in a crackdown on micro-lenders, a booming sector that encompasses P2P lenders and others that offer unsecured loans over the internet, even those with institutional funding.

Many firms, like recently listed P2P lender PPDAI Group Inc. and consumer lender Qudian Inc. have acknowledged exceeding the legal interest-rate cap of 36 percent once fees are included. Qudian shares have plunged by more than half since their New York trading debut in October, even though the firm isn't a P2P lender and has a micro-lending license -- a potentially ominous sign for Lufax.

Lending Club

Shares of Qudian and PPDAI have struggled since listing in New York

Source: Bloomberg

All the more reason to have a $97 billion backer in your corner.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Nisha Gopalan in Hong Kong at ngopalan3@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Matthew Brooker at mbrooker1@bloomberg.net

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