Sumitomo Mitsui’s Consumer Loan Unit to Double China Offices

Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc.’s consumer loan unit plans to open as many as four China offices in the next two to three years, more than doubling the number to tap demand in the world’s second-largest economy.

“We want to focus our capital on China, where we already have a presence,” SMBC Consumer Finance Co. President Ken Kubo said in an interview on Feb. 26, without elaborating on the location of the new offices. The company already has units in Shenyang and Shenzhen and is about to start a third in Tianjin.

The consumer lender, created after Sumitomo Mitsui made Promise Co. a wholly owned subsidiary last year, is expanding in faster-growing markets abroad as deflation deters borrowing at home. The company and rivals Acom Co. and Aiful Corp. are emerging from a slump exacerbated by a regulatory crackdown that forced them to cut loan rates and refund overcharged interest.

SMBC Consumer Finance’s subsidiaries in Shenyang and Shenzhen have a combined 13 branches in the cities. Kubo expects the number of Chinese outlets to increase to 70 after he sets up the additional offices.

“I have a picture in my mind that we expand business throughout the nation as early as possible,” Kubo said in Tokyo. The consumer lender, which entered China in 2010, also owns units in Hong Kong and Bangkok, according to its website.

Lending outstanding in China, Hong Kong and Thailand totaled 22 billion yen ($235 million) as of Dec. 31, about 3 percent of SMBC Consumer Finance’s 744 billion yen of loans.

Chinese Consumers

China’s economic expansion and growing income of its 1.3 billion people have stoked consumer spending and increased the popularity of borrowing through specialized lending firms that can offer small loans faster than banks. China has about $6.6 trillion in household savings, more than the combined gross domestic product of Germany and Brazil, and the government has pledged to increase consumption’s contribution to growth.

Sumitomo Mitsui’s Chief Executive Officer Koichi Miyata said in December that consumer finance is one of the strengths of the Tokyo-based bank, Japan’s second largest by market value.

Shares of Sumitomo Mitsui fell 0.5 percent to 3,815 yen today. They have gained 22 percent this year, more than the Nikkei 225 Stock Average’s 12 percent advance.

Net income at SMBC Consumer Finance totaled 49 billion yen in the nine months ended Dec. 31, company figures show. That compares with a net loss of 182.2 billion yen a year earlier when the company still operated as Promise.

Kubo said an increase in wages would be the key to encourage Japanese to borrow and revive the consumer-loan industry at home.

Wages in Japan rose 0.7 percent in January from a year earlier, the first increase in nine months, Labour Ministry data showed today. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in December pledging to kick-start the economy and price increases with monetary and fiscal stimulus.

“Abe’s policies have yet to have a positive impact on the non-banking industry,” said Kubo. “Retail businesses like us would be the last to benefit from Abenomics.”