Why should we promote inclusive finance and how to do a good job in inclusive finance?

Inclusive finance, as it literally means, is a financial business that benefits everyone. Finance has its own characteristics in the process of development. For a long time, most people still feel that finance is somewhat high, and not everyone needs or has the opportunity to get financial services. Inclusive finance, on the other hand, is committed to making the slightly cold finance serve more classes and people, especially the general public who need financial support but can’t get financial services at ordinary times.

What is inclusive finance?

Inclusive finance refers to providing financial services with appropriate cost, convenience and effectiveness to all social strata according to the principle of equal opportunity and sustainable business. The concept of inclusive finance is an exotic product, which originated from the advocacy of the United Nations in 2005. The original English text is Financial Inclusion, which literally means "financial inclusion". This direct and blunt translation can explain the original meaning and goal of inclusive finance, that is, to include more groups in the scope of financial services. Of course, the Chinese translation of "inclusive finance" means that finance generally benefits the masses, which also shows the original meaning and is more elegant.

To put it simply, inclusive finance wants financial services to reach everyone who needs them, so that the financial needs of all social strata can be met. If finance is a kind of help, then it is necessary to let this help help more people and help everyone in need.

Why push inclusive finance?

From the perspective of the financial industry itself, the financial industry has its natural preference for the choice of customers. For example, banks prefer to serve big customers and rich customers, even though these customers themselves do not need financial support such as loans. In banking practice, there is not much difference in human resources between making a loan of 100 million yuan and making a loan of 1 million yuan. However, in order to complete the business volume of 100 million yuan, those who do a single 100 million yuan only need to do one stroke, while those who do a single 1 million yuan have to do 100 strokes. The human resource cost and operating cost behind it are very different. Therefore, if only from the perspective of commercial interests, banks are willing to provide more financial services to large and medium-sized customers.

In addition, from the customer’s point of view, the internal management of large and medium-sized customers is more standardized, the statements are more credible, and their credit is generally better. Comparatively speaking, small customers have small scale, irregular internal management, and even no qualified statements can be provided, so the credit risk of small customers and inclusive customers is generally greater. Finally, the loan business is reflected in the non-performing rate index, and the default rate generated by banks as small customers/inclusive customers may be higher, and the higher non-performing rate will bring more losses.

If there are no special regulatory requirements to correct the deviation, most banks will serve large customers more, while small customers and inclusive customers will not get financial support. From the perspective of social benefits, although the large customers are large, after all, the social economy is composed of more small enterprises or micro-enterprises, and the inclusive enterprises attract more employed people and maintain more people’s livelihoods. If small customers/inclusive customers do not get enough financial support, it will not be conducive to the all-round and healthy development of the national economy.

Since the financial industry itself is easy to form the deviation of the above-mentioned service targets, it needs external forces to correct it. This is why the supervision of the United Nations and many countries will give special impetus to inclusive finance.

Where is the difficulty in inclusive finance?

Heard a famous professor describe inclusive finance (SME loan problem), he said: "SME loans, banks do, banks die;" If banks don’t do it, SMEs will die. " Although this description is extreme, it also reflects some actual situations. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are weak in their ability to resist risks due to their small size, large operational uncertainty, and opaque information, and are prone to problems such as dishonesty of business owners. After banks put in loans for SMEs, the probability of bad loans is indeed not small. In reality, many banks’ business practices have repeatedly proved that inclusive finance/SME loans are difficult to do. Bank employees often find that bad loans appear in the loan portfolio one after another shortly after banks increase the investment of small and medium-sized enterprises. Compared with large and medium-sized enterprises, the loan of Pratt & Whitney customers takes a shorter time from delivery to non-performing loans, and the number of non-performing loans appears more. Even some banks are caught in the quagmire of continuously collecting the non-performing loans of Pratt & Whitney/SMEs shortly after the establishment of SMEs or inclusive finance Department.

In fact, no matter how high the non-performing rate of Pratt & Whitney or small and medium-sized customers is, banks can’t do business, as long as the income can cover the risks, that is, related businesses need to raise interest rates to make up for the losses caused by credit risks. However, since inclusive finance is Pratt & Whitney, the characteristics of Pratt & Whitney determine that inclusive finance can’t charge too high interest rates or handling fees. Since the risks and benefits are not equal, it is more likely that the bank will eventually bear the actual losses as a result of inclusive finance business.

Of course, the benefits of inclusive finance should be judged not only by the economic benefits of the business, but also by the overall social benefits. But if a business is risky and easy to cause losses, the difficulty of business development is also obvious.

What should inclusive finance be like?

Although inclusive finance has its development difficulties, the development of inclusive finance still needs to take into account both economic and social benefits. The development of inclusive finance needs to pay attention to "four characteristics", namely, inclusiveness, convenience, availability and commercial sustainability. Only by developing inclusive finance into an inclusive, convenient and sustainable business can inclusive finance benefit more social classes and enable banks as commercial institutions to continuously develop inclusive finance services.

Inclusive finance should expand its service coverage, expand its audience as much as possible, and let all those who want to get financial services have the opportunity to get services. In fact, according to the statistics of the World Bank, by 2017, 31% of adults in the world still don’t even have a bank account, let alone financing services and other more complicated services.

Countries around the world have actually done a lot to expand the inclusiveness of inclusive finance. For example, in June 2016, Mexico launched the National inclusive finance Strategy to accelerate the promotion of more than half of the population excluded from the formal and regulated financial system to obtain financial services; In July 2016, Mozambique launched the new inclusive finance Strategy, which increased the accessibility of financial services from 24% to 60%; Peru launched the National inclusive finance Strategy in 2015, and the government strives to ensure that at least 75% of adults can use trading accounts by 2021.

Inclusive finance also needs to enhance accessibility and business sustainability. In this regard, the Grameen Bank founded by Muhammad Yunus is a famous case. Up to now, the bank has issued $37.58 billion in unsecured loans, and the corresponding number of borrowers is as high as 10.45 million. In other words, the average amount borrowed by each borrower is only $3,600. The bank labels itself as a bank for the poor, and currently operates in 81,678 villages in Bangladesh (accounting for 94% of all its villages). Grameen Bank even provides interest-free loans to beggars to help them build their financial capacity so that they don’t have to beg any more. According to the information disclosed by the bank, 21,383 beggars have given up begging and achieved self-sufficiency. The loan recovery rate of Grameen Bank is as high as 96.71% (as of November 2023), which makes the bank have basic business sustainability. Grameen Bank has also become a model for inclusive finance to learn from, and its founder Professor Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

Although inclusive finance is a manifestation of banks’ social responsibility, sometimes banks can give up some commercial interests in order to fulfill their social responsibility. After all, banks are still commercial organizations, and it is not difficult to bear the loss or loss at one time. However, in the long run, the inclusive finance business itself will not be sustainable. The society needs charity, and the government can also make financial arrangements, but inclusive finance is not charity, it is a part of the business of commercial banks after all, and inclusive finance with sustainable development has vitality.

What are the specific ways to develop inclusive finance?

Many business models have been formed in the practice of inclusive finance, and each model has its advantages and disadvantages. It is hard to say which model can win the world. Various specific models and measures for developing inclusive finance jointly promote the development of inclusive finance.

The most famous model in inclusive finance is the credit factory model, because it was first proposed by Temasek, also known as Temasek model. The credit factory model regards credit as a factory assembly line to produce products, and its characteristics and advantages lie in product standardization, business batch, process intensification and personnel specialization. The core of the credit factory lies in the link design of the process, that is, bank employees can be responsible for several links without mastering the whole process. This factory model can make the processing efficiency of small and medium-sized loans more efficient and the business more standardized. Both China Construction Bank and Bank of China have introduced the credit factory model to develop their own loans for SMEs. Of course, credit factories also have bottlenecks. For example, credit products themselves are not personalized enough, and they can’t cope well with some personalized inclusive finance needs.

Another well-known mode in inclusive finance is IPC mode. IPC is a German company, whose full name is International Project Consulting GmbH, that is, an international project consulting company. It has developed the methodology and operational means of SME credit operation, such as report restoration and precise risk control. For example, cross-checking is one of the core technologies of its loan analysis and evaluation, and the information is verified and judged by means of SME account books, contract information, product receipt and issue documents, water and electricity bills, tax bills, and interviews with parties and third parties, so as to obtain an objective evaluation of the enterprise. Using IPC mode to carry out business does not change the main flow of bank credit, so it is easy to start. IPC is a kind of relational credit with high viscosity, which embodies the characteristics of small and beautiful. However, its operation mode is too nonstandard and difficult to copy, so there is a bottleneck. In addition, the production tools used in the model are also somewhat backward compared with the big data analysis methods that are more widely used at present.

In China, the SME loan model in inclusive finance combines the popularity of digital finance, thus developing other distinctive business models, such as the micro-online business model. The micro-online business model is also the model of digital credit. Its advantages are reflected in the overall subversive innovation and the use of big data for risk control decision-making, which brings fast, convenient and better user experience unique to the mobile Internet era, and brings extremely low operational and decision-making costs to bank operations. However, this model also has its limitations. There is a wall between social data and transaction data, and there are restrictions on the transformation of social scenes into business traffic, and there is a deviation between data and reality.

In addition, in the credit business of inclusive finance and small and medium-sized enterprises, China has also developed the Taizhou model, or the super loan officer model. The representative financial institution of this model is the local small and medium-sized banks in Taizhou. After independent exploration of localization, Taizhou mode adopts local market positioning, combined with meticulous management system and more in-depth credit technology to cultivate a more suitable local credit culture. Its core lies in building a relational credit scene through community marketing, increasing the sources of information acquisition and realizing 360 due diligence. That is to say, through a super loan officer who is familiar with the local situation, as the core person to carry out business, because the business is all local, this loan officer can fully grasp the situation of the clients in inclusive finance, and then decide whether to launch credit. This model is more in line with the local economic characteristics, and its ideas of "time is more important than price" and "repayment willingness is more important than repayment ability" in inclusive finance are refreshing.

For banks, developing inclusive finance’s business is like "eating meat in the cracks of bones". Although it is not so delicious, it can be a sustainable business and can produce greater social benefits. For people who urgently need inclusive finance’s services, inclusive finance needs more than icing on the cake. The development of inclusive finance will be more conducive to the balanced, harmonious and sustainable development of the whole society.

[The author Xue Jian is the president of a bank branch, and an expert in the L/C Group and Forfaiting Group of the Banking Committee of China National Committee of the International Chamber of Commerce]