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SMBC lender to up China branches

by Takako Taniguchi

Bloomberg

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 open 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.

Kubo said in Tokyo that he envisions expanding business throughout the nation as early as possible. 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 as of Dec. 31, about 3 percent of SMBC Consumer Finance’s ¥744 billion in loans.

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.

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