SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20549
REGISTRATION STATEMENT PURSUANT TO SECTION 12(b) OR 12(g) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES
TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES
SHELL COMPANY REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
Date of event requiring this shell company report . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
For the transition period from to
Commission file number:
(Exact Name of Registrant as Specified in Its Charter)
(Translation of Registrant’s Name Into English)
(Jurisdiction of Incorporation or Organization)
People’s Republic of
(Address of Principal Executive Offices)
People’s Republic of
(Name, Telephone, Email and/or Facsimile number and Address of Company Contact Person)
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Title of each class
Trading Symbol (s)
Name of each exchange on which registered
The Nasdaq Global Market*
*Not for trading, but only in connection with the listing on the Nasdaq Global Market of American depositary shares.
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act:
(Title of Class)
Securities for which there is a reporting obligation pursuant to Section 15(d) of the Act:
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Indicate the number of outstanding shares of each of the issuer’s classes of capital or common stock as of the close of the period covered by the annual report:
As of December 31, 2019, there were
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.
◻ Yes ⌧
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◻ Yes ⌧
Note — Checking the box above will not relieve any registrant required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 from their obligations under those Sections.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant: (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.
Emerging growth company
If an emerging growth company that prepares its financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards† provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act. ☐
† The term “new or revised financial accounting standard” refers to any update issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board to its Accounting Standards Codification after April 5, 2012.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed a report on and attestation to its management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C. 7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report.
⌧ Yes ◻ No
Indicate by check mark which basis of accounting the registrant has used to prepare the financial statements included in this filing:
International Financial Reporting Standards as issued
If “Other” has been checked in response to the previous question, indicate by check mark which financial statement item the registrant has elected to follow.
◻ Item 17 ◻ Item 18
If this is an annual report, indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act).
(APPLICABLE ONLY TO ISSUERS INVOLVED IN BANKRUPTCY PROCEEDINGS DURING THE PAST FIVE YEARS)
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed all documents and reports required to be filed by Sections 12, 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 subsequent to the distribution of securities under a plan confirmed by a court.
◻ Yes ◻ No
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Unless otherwise indicated and except where the context otherwise requires, references in this annual report to:
|●||“360 Finance,” “we,” “us,” “our company” and “our” are to 360 Finance, Inc. and its consolidated subsidiaries and affiliated entities;|
|●||“ADSs” are to our American depositary shares, each of which represents two class A ordinary shares;|
|●||“Beijing Qibutianxia” are to Beijing Qibutianxia Technology Co., Ltd.;|
|●||“China” or the “PRC” are to the People’s Republic of China, excluding, for the purposes of this annual report only, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan;|
|●||“class A ordinary shares” are to our class A ordinary shares, par value US$0.00001 per share;|
|●||“class B ordinary shares” are to our class B ordinary shares, par value US$0.00001 per share;|
|●||“inception” are to the date of our inception, July 25, 2016;|
|●||“Fuzhou Financing Guarantee” are to Fuzhou 360 Financing Guarantee Co., Ltd.;|
|●||“Fuzhou Microcredit” are to Fuzhou 360 Online Microcredit Co., Ltd.;|
|●||“ordinary shares” or “Ordinary Shares” are to our class A ordinary shares and class B ordinary shares, par value US$0.00001 per share;|
|●||“our VIEs” are to Shanghai Qiyu, Fuzhou Microcredit, Fuzhou Financing Guarantee and Shanghai Financing Guarantee;|
|●||“our WFOE” are to Shanghai Qiyue Information Technology Co., Ltd.;|
|●||“360 Group” are to 360 Security Technology Inc. and its controlled affiliates;|
|●||“RMB” and “Renminbi” are to the legal currency of China;|
|●||“Shanghai Financing Guarantee” are to Shanghai 360 Financing Guarantee Co., Ltd.;|
|●||“Shanghai Qiyu” are to Shanghai Qiyu Information Technology Co., Ltd.; and|
|●||“US$,” “U.S. dollars,” “$” and “dollars” are to the legal currency of the United States.|
In addition, unless the context indicates otherwise, for the discussion of our business references in this annual report to:
|●||“delinquency rate by vintage” are to (i) the total amount of principal for all loans in a vintage that become delinquent, less (ii) the total amount of recovered past due principal for all loans in the same vintage, and divided by (iii) the total initial principal amount of loans in such vintage;|
|●||"capital-light loans" are to loans originated under our capital-light loan facilitation model, for which we take no or limited credit risk;|
|●||"capital-heavy loans" are to loans originated under credit driven services, including off-balance-sheet capital heavy loans and on-balance-sheet loans, for which we take substantially all credit risk;|
|●||"delinquent loan collection rate" are to a percentage, which is equal to the difference obtained by using one minus a fraction, the numerator of which is the ending balance of M2 loans of the given month and the denominator of which is the beginning balance of M1 loans of such month. M0, M1 and M2 loans here are defined as loans that are not delinquent, delinquent for one month and delinquent for two months, respectively.|
|●||“M3+ delinquency rate” are to the rate of loans delinquent for more than 90 days, excluding loans delinquent for more than 180 days unless the content specifically provides otherwise;|
|●||“M6+ delinquency rate” are to the rate of loans delinquent for more than 180 days;|
|●||“loan origination volume” are to the total principal amount of loans originated through our platform during the given period;|
|●||“outstanding loan balance” are to the total amount of principal outstanding for loans originated through our platform at the end of each period, excluding loans delinquent for more than 180 days unless the content specifically provides otherwise;|
|●||“repeat borrower contribution” or “loan origination contributed by repeat borrowers” for a given period are to (i) the principal amount of loans borrowed during that period by borrowers who had historically made at least one successful drawdown, divided by (ii) the total loan origination volume through our platform during that period; and|
|●||“users with approved credit lines” are to the total number of users who had submitted their credit applications and were approved with a credit line by us at the end of each period.|
This annual report contains forward-looking statements that relate to our current expectations and views of future events. These statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors that may cause our actual results, performance or achievements to be materially different from those expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements. These statements are made under the “safe harbor” provisions of the U.S. Private Securities Litigations Reform Act of 1995.
You can identify some of these forward-looking statements by words or phrases such as “may,” “will,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “aim,” “estimate,” “intend,” “plan,” “believe,” “is/are likely to,” “potential,” “continue” or other similar expressions. We have based these forward-looking statements largely on our current expectations and projections about future events that we believe may affect our financial condition, results of operations, business strategy and financial needs. These forward-looking statements include statements relating to:
|●||our goals and strategies;|
|●||our future business development, financial conditions and results of operations;|
|●||the expected growth of the online consumer finance industry in China;|
|●||our expectations regarding demand for and market acceptance of our online consumer finance products;|
|●||our expectations regarding keeping and strengthening our relationships with borrowers, funding partners, data partners and other parties we collaborate with;|
|●||competition in our industry; and|
|●||relevant government policies and regulations relating to our industry.|
You should read this annual report and the documents that we refer to in this annual report and have filed as exhibits to this annual report completely and with the understanding that our actual future results may be materially different from what we expect. Other sections of this annual report discuss factors which could adversely impact our business and financial performance. Moreover, we operate in an evolving environment. New risk factors emerge from time to time and it is not possible for our management to predict all risk factors, nor can we assess the impact of all factors on our business or the extent to which any factor, or combination of factors, may cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in any forward-looking statements. We qualify all of our forward-looking statements by these cautionary statements.
You should not rely upon forward-looking statements as predictions of future events. The forward-looking statements made in this annual report relate only to events or information as of the date on which the statements are made in this annual report. Except as required by law, we undertake no obligation to update or revise publicly any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, after the date on which the statements are made or to reflect the occurrence of unanticipated events.
ITEM 1. IDENTITY OF DIRECTORS, SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND ADVISERS
ITEM 2. OFFER STATISTICS AND EXPECTED TIMETABLE
ITEM 3. KEY INFORMATION
A. Selected Financial Data
Our Selected Combined and Consolidated Financial Data
The following selected combined and consolidated statements of operations data for the years ended December 31, 2017, 2018 and 2019, selected consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2018 and 2019 and selected combined and consolidated cash flow data for the years ended December 31, 2017, 2018 and 2019 have been derived from our audited combined and consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this annual report. Our selected combined and consolidated balance sheets data as of December 31, 2016 and 2017 and the selected combined and consolidated statements of operations data and cash flow for the period from the inception date to December 31, 2016 have been derived from our audited combined and consolidated financial statements not included in this annual report. Our combined and consolidated financial statements are prepared and presented in accordance with U.S. GAAP.
You should read the summary combined and consolidated financial information in conjunction with our combined and consolidated financial statements and related notes and “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects” included elsewhere in this annual report. Our historical results are not necessarily indicative of our results expected for future periods.
Years Ended December 31,
(in thousands, except for per share data)
Selected Combined and Consolidated Statements of Operations Data:
Credit driven services(1)
Loan facilitation and servicing fees-capital heavy
Revenue from releasing of guarantee liabilities
Other services fees
Loan facilitation and servicing fees-capital light
Referral services fees
Other services fees
Total net revenue
Operating costs and expenses:(2)
Origination and servicing
Sales and marketing
General and administrative
Provision for loans receivable
Provision for financial assets receivable
Provision for accounts receivable and contract assets
Expense on guarantee liabilities
Total operating costs and expenses
(Loss) income from operations
Interest income (expense), net
Foreign exchange losses
Other income, net
(Loss) Income before income tax benefit (expense)
Income tax benefit (expense)
Net (loss) income
Net loss attributable to non-controlling interests
Net (loss) income attributable to ordinary shareholders of the Company
Net (loss) income per ordinary share attributable to ordinary shareholders of 360 Finance, Inc.
Net (loss) income per ADSs attributable to ordinary shareholders of 360 Finance, Inc.
Weighted average shares used in calculating net (loss) income per ordinary share
|(1)||Starting from 2019, we report revenue streams in two categories—credit driven services and platform services, to provide more relevant information. We also revised the comparative period presentation to conform to current period classification.|
|(2)||Share-based compensation expenses were allocated as follows:|
Period from the
inception date to
Years Ended December 31,
(in thousands, except for per share data)
Origination and servicing
Sales and marketing
General and administrative
The following table presents our selected combined and consolidated balance sheet data as of the dates indicated.
As of December 31,
Selected Combined and Consolidated Balance Sheets Data:
Cash and cash equivalents
Security deposit prepaid to third-party guarantee companies
Accounts receivable and contract assets, net (net of allowance of RMB108, RMB21,270, RMB82,515 and RMB189,829 as of December 31, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively)
Financial assets receivable, net (net of allowance of nil, RMB16,258, RMB56,656 and RMB164,563 as of December 31, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively)
Loans receivable, net
Total current assets
Total non-current assets
Payable to investors of the consolidated trusts-current
Income tax payable
Total current liabilities
Payable to investors of the consolidated trusts-noncurrent
Total non-current liabilities:
Total shareholder’s (deficit) equity
Total liabilities and equity
|(1)||We adopted ASU 2014-09, Revenue from Contracts with Customers (Topic 606) and all subsequent ASUs that modified ASC 606 on a full retrospectively basis in 2018, and the related balances as of December 31, 2016 and 2017 have been restated accordingly.|
The following table presents our selected combined and consolidated cash flow data for the period from the inception date to December 31, 2016 and the years ended December 31, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Period from the
inception date to
Years Ended December 31,
Summary Combined and Consolidated Cash Flow Data:
Net cash (used in)/provided by operating activities
Net cash (used in)/provided by investing activities
Net cash provided by financing activities
Net increase in cash and cash equivalents
Cash, cash equivalents, and restricted cash at the beginning of year/period
Cash, cash equivalents, and restricted cash at the end of year/period
We present our financial results in RMB. We make no representation that any RMB or U.S. dollar amounts could have been, or could be, converted into U.S. dollars or RMB, as the case may be, at any particular rate, or at all. The RPC government imposes control over its foreign currency reserves in part through direct regulation of the conversion of RMB into foreign exchange and through restrictions on foreign trade. Unless otherwise noted, all translations from Renminbi to U.S. dollars and from U.S. dollars to Renminbi in this annual report were made at a rate of RMB6.9618 to US$1.00, the noon buying rate as of December 31, 2019.
B. Capitalization and Indebtedness
C. Reasons for the Offer and Use of Proceeds
D. Risk Factors
Risks Related to Our Business and Industry
We have a limited operating history, which makes it difficult to evaluate our future prospects.
We launched our online consumer finance business in September 2016 and only have a limited operating history. Members of our management team have been working together only for a short period of time and are still in the running-in period. They may still be in the process of exploring approaches to running our company and reaching consensus among themselves, which may affect the efficiency and results of our operation.
We have limited experience in most aspects of our business operation, such as credit product offerings, credit assessment and the development of long-term relationships with borrowers, institutional funding partners, and other business partners. In addition, we have limited experience in serving our current target borrower base. As our business develops or in response to competition, we may continue to introduce new products, make adjustments to our existing products, or make adjustments to our business operation in general. We will also seek to expand the base of prospective borrowers on our platform, which may result in higher delinquency rate of transactions originated by us.
Furthermore, in addition to our established loan facilitation business, we may also from time to time explore other growth opportunities, including extending our user base to different risk profile borrowers or entering into new markets such as providing technology services to financial institution customers and e-commerce. We are also in the early stage to expand our operation internationally, where we are less familiar with the local culture and practice as well as the regulation regime. These initiatives may have different impacts on our performance, including deterioration of loan performance and cannibalization of existing services. Failure to manage the expansion may have unexpected material effect on our results of operation.
The online consumer finance industry is new and rapidly evolving, which makes it difficult to effectively assess our future prospects.
The online consumer finance industry in the PRC is new and in a developing stage. The regulatory framework for this market is also evolving and may remain uncertain for the foreseeable future. See “—The laws and regulations governing the online consumer finance industry and online microcredit companies in China are developing and evolving rapidly. If any of our business practices are deemed to violate any PRC laws or regulations, our business, financial condition and results of operations would be materially and adversely affected.”
Furthermore, the online consumer finance industry in China has not witnessed a full credit cycle. The market players in the industry, including us, are inexperienced in responding to the change of market situations effectively and keep the growth of business steadily when the industry enters a different stage. We may not be able to sustain our historical growth rate in the future.
You should consider our business and prospects in light of the risks and challenges we encounter or may encounter given the rapidly evolving market in which we operate and our limited operating history. These risks and challenges include our ability to, among other things:
|●||offer competitive products;|
|●||broaden our prospective borrower base;|
|●||increase the utilization of our products by existing borrowers as well as new borrowers;|
|●||maintain and enhance our relationship and business collaboration with our partners;|
|●||maintain low delinquency rates of loans originated by us;|
|●||develop cooperative relationships with funding partners to secure sufficient, diversified, cost-efficient funding to the drawdown requests;|
|●||navigate a complex and evolving regulatory environment;|
|●||improve our operational efficiency;|
|●||attract, retain and motivate talented employees to support our business growth;|
|●||enhance our technology infrastructure to support the growth of our business and maintain the security of our system and the confidentiality of the information provided and utilized across our system;|
|●||navigate economic conditions and fluctuation; and|
|●||defend ourselves against legal and regulatory actions, such as actions involving intellectual property or privacy claims.|
We rely on 360 Group as an essential source of user traffic and technology support. If the user traffic or other services provided by 360 Group become limited, restricted, curtailed, less effective or more expensive in any way, or become unavailable to us for any reason, or we cannot benefit from the brand recognition of 360 Group as we do, our business may be materially and adversely affected.
We have established a strategic partnership with 360 Group, one of our affiliates, and we collaborate across multiple areas of our business. This strategic partnership has contributed to the significant growth of our revenue, particularly in early stage of our business, and we believe that it will continue to contribute to the growth of our revenue. We have entered into a framework collaboration agreement with 360 Group, setting out the terms of collaboration, especially as if relates to research and development, user traffic support, and trademark licensing. See “Item 7. Major Shareholders and Related Party Transactions—Related Party Transactions—Transactions with 360 Group.” However, we cannot assure you that we will continue to receive the same level of support from 360 Group on the same or more favorable terms and conditions, or renew our collaboration agreements at all, upon expiration of the agreement terms. As 360 Group is a public company listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange of China, it is subject to relevant PRC regulations and exchange rules, which may impact its ability to collaborate with us pursuant to the terms we desire.
We are the finance partner of 360 Group and we benefit from authorization by 360 Group to use its brand. We believe 360 Group’s strong brand recognition and wide adoption in China assist certain of our core capabilities, such as borrower acquisition and cooperative relationship with our funding partners. However, we cannot assure you that 360 Group will continue to authorize us to use its brand. If we are not allowed to use 360 Group’s brand or 360 Group’s brand recognition deteriorates, the results of our business operation and financial condition may be materially and adversely impacted. Furthermore, as we are the finance partner of 360 Group, any malicious or negative allegations about 360 Group may adversely impact our business.
Our research and development also benefit from the collaboration with 360 Group in developing our proprietary technologies. We cannot assure you that 360 Group will continue to work with us to develop our technologies. If 360 Group ceases to collaborate with us or if such collaboration becomes less effective, our competition edge on the technology may be materially and adversely impacted.
Our collaboration with 360 Group also extends to brand building and marketing. We collaborate with 360 Group to conduct targeted marketing through various other marketing channels, such as app stores and search engines. 360 Group’s brand recognition helps us maintain a cooperative relationship with our marketing channel partners, and any deterioration to 360 Group’s brand may adversely impact our marketing efforts. In addition, some of trademarks we use such as “360 Jietiao” are owned by 360 Group. The framework collaboration agreement entered by and between us and 360 Group contains a licensing clause which enables us to use the trademarks we need within the term of the framework collaboration agreement. However, we cannot assure you that 360 Group will continue to authorize us to use the trademarks, and if they do not, our business may be materially and adversely impacted.
The laws and regulations governing the online consumer finance industry and online microcredit companies in China are developing and evolving rapidly. If any of our business practices are deemed to violate any PRC laws or regulations, our business, financial condition and results of operations would be materially and adversely affected.
Due to the relatively short history of the online consumer finance industry in China, the PRC government has yet to establish a comprehensive regulatory framework governing our industry. Recent legislations that have significant impact on the industry include: the Guidelines on Promoting the Healthy Development of Internet Finance Industry, or the Fintech Guidelines, the Implementation Plan for the Special Rectification of Internet Financial Risk, the Notice on the Implementation of Check and Rectification of Cash Loan Business and a supplementary notice, or the Notices on Cash Loans, and the Notice on Regulating and Rectifying “Cash Loan” Business, or Circular 141, and the Online Lending Rectification Office issued the Implementation Plan of Specific Rectification for Risks in Microcredit Companies conducting Online Microcredit Business, or Circular 56, which further details the requirements on online microcredit companies.
We focus on complying with relevant laws, regulations and government policies applicable to our business practice in the PRC. However, we are still subject to noncompliance risk since the rules and regulations are general in nature and yet to be further interpreted or supplemented.
Circular 141 specifies that the business of “cash loan” which is characterized by the lack of specific consumption scenarios, designated purposes, targeted users and collateral may be subject to inspection and rectification. We do not believe any of the loans originated through our platform are prohibited under Circular 141, as they do not have all of the four characteristics of cash loans or engage in facilitating of excessive borrowing, granting credits repeatedly to individual borrowers, collecting abnormally high interest rates and violating privacy as defined under Circular 141. However, in the absence of an authoritative interpretation of the key requirements or characteristics of cash loan, especially whether the definition of cash loan requires all the four characteristics or just any of the four characteristics, we cannot assure you that our existing practices would not be deemed to violate any relevant laws, rules and regulations that are applicable to our business practices. We may be required to cease or modify any such “cash loans” to comply with Circular 141 and any other future laws and regulations, which may materially and adversely affect our business and prospects.
In addition, Circular 141 further stipulates that a banking financial institution that offers cash loans through loan facilitation is prohibited from (i) accepting credit enhancement or other similar services from third parties that lack requisite licenses to provide guarantees; (ii) outsourcing credit assessment, risk control and other key functions to a loan facilitation operator; and (iii) allowing the loan facilitation operator to charge any interest or fees from the borrower. If a financial institution violates the aforementioned rules and provisions, the regulatory authorities may enforce business suspensions, compulsory enforcements, cancellation of qualifications or supervise the rectifications. If the circumstances are extremely serious, such financial institution’s business license may be cancelled. For a discussion of Circular 141, please see “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulation on Online Finance Services Industry—Regulations on the business of cash loans.”
Furthermore, the Supplementary Provisions on the Supervision and Administration of F'inancing Guarantee Companies, or the Supplementary Financing Guarantee Provisions, requires that institutions providing services as customer recommendation and credit assessment for various lending institutions shall not provide, directly or in a disguised form, financing guarantee services without approval. For the companies without the relevant financing guarantee license but actually engaging in financing guarantee business, the regulatory authorities shall cease such companies’ operation and properly make settlement for existing business contracts. For a discussion of the Supplementary Financing Guarantee Provisions, please see “ Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations on Financing Guarantee.”
Before the promulgation of the Circular 141, we followed the market practice in preparing agreements used in our loan originations. In response to certain requirements under the Circular 141, we have made several adjustments to our collaboration model with certain institutional funding partners. However, we may still be deemed to violate the Circular 141, the Supplementary Financing Guarantee Provisions or other relevant rules in the following aspects of our business:
|●||Guarantee practice. Although our online consumer finance platform neither collects guarantee fees from our institutional funding partners, nor takes providing guarantees as its main operating business, our platform may be deemed to operate a financing guarantee business and violate the Circular 141 and the Supplementary Financing Guarantee Provisions, by the PRC regulatory authorities since certain of our PRC subsidiaries without the relevant financing guarantee license provide guarantees or other credit enhancement services to certain of our institutional funding partners. We provided guarantees or other credit enhancements services to, our institutional funding partners without the relevant guarantee license for 14.9% of all loans originated through our platform in the fourth quarter of 2019. We have been switching to a new model under which third-party guarantee companies or our own licensed guarantee company provide guarantee service to our funding partners, and we at the same time, provide back-to-back guarantees for external guarantee companies. As advised by our PRC legal counsel, the third-party guarantee model is not prohibited by Circular 141, because we are not providing guarantee to banking financial institutions. We also consulted with local authorities which have expressed the same opinion. However, in the absence of authoritative interpretation of Circular 141, we cannot assure you that all the PRC regulatory authorities will have the same view as our PRC legal counsel on this issue. Moreover, given the lack of further interpretations, the exact definition and scope of “providing financing guarantee business in a disguised form” under the Supplementary Financing Guarantee Provisions is unclear. Therefore, we cannot be certain that our new model will not be determined as in violation of the Supplementary Financing Guarantee Provisions.|
|●||Payment. We have adopted a new payment flow model and applied it to our cooperation with all funding partners. Under the new payment flow model, borrowers directly pay to our funding partners, who will then pay us our service fee. In certain cases, some funding partners further engage us and a third-party payment system service provider to together arrange payment clearance, pursuant to which borrowers first repay to a third-party payment system and we work together with the payment system service provider to split the total repayment amount to the portions that funding partners and we are each entitled to. We do not charge any fees from borrowers under the new payment flow model. As advised by our PRC counsel, such new payment model does not violate Circular 141. However, in the absence of authoritative interpretation of Circular 141 and given substantial uncertainties regarding the interpretation and application of current or future PRC laws and regulations , we cannot assure you that PRC regulatory authorities will ultimately take a view that is consistent with our PRC legal counsel.|
|●||Product pricing. Currently, the annual percentage rates of borrowing cost for taking out a loan on our platform, as a percentage of loan principal, or APRs, for all of our loans are under 36% as calculated by the internal rate of return methodology, and we adhere to the pricing policy that no loan should have an APR exceeding 36%. However, we may still need to adjust our loan pricing if requested by relevant governmental authorities. The relevant government authorities may challenge our calculation method and adopt a method different from ours that would lead to our APR being above 36%. In that event, we would be required to lower the APR of our loans, as agreements on the portion of interest in excess of 36% are void and the court will uphold the borrower's claim for the return of the excess portion to the borrower. In addition, contracted payments of the portion of interest in excess of 24% are not enforceable, and it is unlikely that PRC courts will uphold any requests to demand payments of the excess part. As of December 31, 2019, the outstanding balance of the loans with an APR exceeding 24% amounted RMB54.1 billion (US$7.8 billion), representing 72.3% of all the outstanding balance of our loans, comparing to RMB30.6 billion and 71.0%, respectively, as of December 31, 2018. If our borrowers elect not to repay the portion of interest in excess of 24%, our business, financial condition and results of operations will be materially and adversely affected.|
With respect to our practices described above, since Circular 141 has no retrospective effect on the loan facilitation business conducted prior to the issuance of Circular 141, as advised by our PRC legal counsel we believe that loans we originated prior to the issuance of Circular 141 or under our existing collaboration agreements executed prior to the issuance of Circular 141 are not subject to Circular 141. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that the government authorities would still consider our business practices described above to be in violation of Circular 141 and there can be no assurance that the PRC governmental authorities will ultimately take a view that is consistent with our PRC legal counsel. To the extent that any aspect of our products or services is deemed to be non-compliant with any requirements of the relevant PRC laws and regulations, we may need to further adjust our current practices within a limited time period and, as a result, our business operations may be negatively impacted.
Any new changes to, or new interpretations of, the existing regulations on the online consumer finance industry may discourage our funding partners to fund the loans through our platform. If our funding partners cease to fund the loans, either on a temporary basis to await more clarity on the new regulatory environment, or on a permanent basis for non-compliance concerns, our operation will be adversely impacted. If fewer financial institutions are willing to fund the loans, the competition for funding may become more intense, and the cost of funding may increase, which may adversely impact our results of operation.
In addition, we may be required to make significant changes to our operations from time to time in order to comply with the changes in laws, regulations and policies, which may increase our cost of operation, limits our options of products offering or even change our business model fundamentally. For example, the current rules and regulations prohibit a bank from outsourcing credit assessment, risk control and other key functions to a loan facilitation service provider. At present, although the collaboration agreements between us and banks stipulate that we only provide assistance and support regarding risk assessment and early-stage filtering of drawdown applications to the banks and banks still make the final credit decision, we cannot ensure that the authorities will have the same view as us.
Meanwhile, our risk management assistance to banks mainly depends on the evaluation of information regarding personal credit status, which may be deemed as a "data-driven risk management model," a model the regulations such as Circular 141 demands to be adopted with care and caution. If such assistance is prohibited, it may affect the subsequent collaboration between us and our institutional funding partners. If we are prohibited from conducting our credit assessment, our operation will be adversely affected.
Furthermore, from time to time, we may need additional licenses to operate our business. Failure to obtain, renew, or retain requisite licenses, permits or approvals may adversely affect our ability to conduct or expand our business.
Our transaction process may result in misunderstanding among our borrowers.
Our paperless transaction process is facilitated primarily on our mobile platform. While such transaction process is streamlined and convenient, it involves certain inherent risks. Our borrowers may not read the electronic agreements closely, which may result in misunderstanding of certain terms and conditions. Furthermore, information in our product promotion materials and our app may result in misunderstanding among our borrowers and be deemed misleading. For instance, for certain types of product, we present a daily interest rate in our product promotion to our potential borrowers. We utilize the internal rate of return methodology to calculate the total interest and service fees to be paid by borrowers and to determine the APR on our loan product. Despite that we have disclosed our fee structure in the agreements with our borrowers, they may overlook or misunderstand such information, and use the daily interest rate in our product promotion to calculate the APR, total interest and service fees utilizing a different methodology, which may result in misunderstanding of our fee structure. If the government authorities and the courts determine that our interest rate disclosed in our product promotion and our app is misleading, the courts may support the borrower's request to rescind the agreement or determine a lower interest and service fee to be paid by the borrower, and we may be subject to fines and penalties by the courts and government authorities for the misleading promotion. In addition, such misunderstanding may arouse negative publicity and complaints among our borrowers, harm our brand name and reputation and in turn hurt our ability to retain and attract borrowers, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We are subject to credit cycles and the risk of deterioration of credit profiles of borrowers.
Our business is subject to credit cycles associated with the volatility of the general economy. If economic conditions deteriorate, we may face an increased risk of default or delinquency of borrowers, which will result in lower returns or even losses. In the event that the creditworthiness of our borrowers deteriorates or we cannot track the deterioration of their creditworthiness, the criteria we use for the analysis of borrower credit profiles may be rendered inaccurate, and our risk management system may be subsequently rendered ineffective. This in turn may lead to higher default rates and adversely impact our result of operations.
In addition, any deterioration in our borrowers' creditworthiness, or any increase in our delinquency rate will also discourage our funding partners from cooperating with us. If our funding partners choose to adopt a tight credit approval and drawdown funding policy, our ability to secure funding will be materially restricted.
Fraudulent activity on our platform could negatively impact our operating results, brand and reputation and cause the use of our loan products and services to decrease.
We are subject to the risk of fraudulent activity associated with borrowers and parties handling borrower or institutional funding partner information. Our resources, technologies and fraud detection tools may be insufficient to accurately detect and prevent fraud. Even if we identify a fraudulent borrower and reject her credit application, such borrower may re-apply by using fraudulent information. We may fail to identify such behavior, despite our measures to verify personal identification information provided by borrowers. Furthermore, we may not be able to recoup funds underlying transactions made in connection with fraudulent activities. A significant increase in fraudulent activities could negatively impact our brands and reputation, discourage funding partners from collaborating with us, reduce the number of transactions originated to borrowers and lead us to take additional steps to reduce fraud risk, which could increase our costs. High profile fraudulent activity could even lead to regulatory intervention and may divert our management’s attention and cause us to incur additional expenses and costs.
We rely on our proprietary risk management model in assessing the creditworthiness of our borrowers and the risks associated with loans. If our model is flawed or ineffective, or if we otherwise fail or are perceived to fail to manage the default risks of loans originated through our platform, our reputation and market share would be materially and adversely affected, which would severely impact our business and results of operations.
Our ability to attract borrowers to, and build trust in, our platform is significantly dependent on our ability to effectively evaluate borrowers’ credit profiles and the likelihood of default based on our Argus RM Model. This model may be flawed or ineffective in processing the immense data and providing an accurate report. It may not adjust itself to the changes in the data patterns or macroeconomic situations. In addition, it may be breached, manipulated or otherwise compromised.
If any of the foregoing were to occur in the future, our funding partners may try to rescind their affected investments or decide not to invest in loans, or borrowers may seek to revise the terms of their loans or reduce the use of our platform for financing.
Meanwhile, as our Argus RM Model becomes more familiar to the public and fraudulent borrowers become better educated regarding the industry practice, it is possible that despite the iterative development of our anti-fraud and credit-scoring algorithm, our model becomes outdated and ineffective in detecting new fraud schemes or making accurate credit assessments. If that happens, our ability to control our delinquency rate will become substantially limited, which will adversely impact our operation and financial status.
We rely on our risk management team to establish and execute our risk management policies. If our risk management team or key members of such team were unable or unwilling to continue in their present positions, our business may be severely disrupted.
We rely on our risk management team to continuously iterate and train our Argus RM Model, which is the center of the establishment and execution of our risk management policies. Although our Argus RM Model is equipped with machine learning capability and conducts self-learning and self-development all based on the data we have, we still rely on our risk management team to spot and fix potential errors and flaws in our Argus RM Model. Meanwhile, the consumer finance market changes fast and we may need to adjust our risk management principles from time to time to control our loss rate while securing a stable increase in our borrowers and satisfying returns for our funding partners. We rely on our risk management team to closely monitor the change in the market and our business , and update our risk management principles accordingly, which will be then used to train our Argus RM Model. If our risk management team or key members of such team were unable or unwilling to continue in their present positions, we may have to incur additional time and monetary cost to find a replacement to our risk management team that fits us, and our result of business operation and financial status may be adversely and severely impacted.
Credit and other information that we receive from third parties about borrowers may be inaccurate or may not accurately reflect the borrower’s creditworthiness, which may compromise the accuracy of our credit assessment.
For the purpose of credit assessment, we obtain from prospective borrowers and third parties certain information of the prospective borrowers, which may not be complete, accurate or reliable. The credit score assigned to a borrower may not reflect that particular borrower’s actual creditworthiness because the credit score may be based on outdated, incomplete or inaccurate borrower information. We currently cannot determine for sure whether borrowers have outstanding loans through other online platforms at the time they obtain a loan from us even though we adopt certain investigation measures. This creates the risk that a borrower may borrow money through our platform in order to pay off loans on other online platforms and vice versa. If a borrower incurs additional debt before fully repaying any loan such borrower takes out on our platform, the additional debt may impair the ability of that borrower to make repayments on her loan. In addition, the additional debt may adversely affect the borrower’s creditworthiness generally and could result in the financial distress or insolvency of the borrower. Meanwhile, if the price of the quality data on which we run our algorithms increases, we may not get access to the quality information at the same cost in the future. We may be forced to run our algorithms on fewer quality data, iterate our algorithms or pay more for quality information in the future, each adversely affecting our result of the operation.
If we fail to promote and maintain our brand in an effective and cost-efficient way, our business and results of operations may be harmed.
The consumer finance industry is still new to the borrowers in China. Prospective borrowers may not be familiar with this market and may have difficulty distinguishing our products from those of our competitors. Convincing prospective borrowers of the value of our products is critical to increasing the number of transactions for borrowers and to the success of our business. We believe that developing and maintaining awareness of our brand effectively is critical to attracting and retaining borrowers. This, in turn, depends largely on the effectiveness of our borrower acquisition strategy, our marketing efforts, our collaboration with funding partners and the success of the channels we use to promote our platform. If any of our current borrower acquisition strategies or marketing channels become less effective, more costly or no longer feasible, we may not be able to attract new borrowers in a cost-effective manner or convert potential borrowers into active borrowers. Our collaboration with market-leading channel partners is essential to our borrower acquisition efforts. If such collaboration ceases or becomes less effective, for reasons attributable either to us or to our channel partners, we may face instant borrower acquisition pressure, and may need to incur additional cost to replace such partners for borrower acquisition, if we could replace them at all. Besides, if some of our channel partners were acquired or controlled by the competitors of 360 Group, our collaboration with such channel partners may be limited or severely and adversely impacted. We may not find new partners to replace our original ones.
Our efforts to build our brand have caused us to incur expenses, and it is likely that our future marketing efforts will require us to incur additional expenses. These efforts may not result in increased operating revenue in the immediate future or any increases at all, and even if they do, any increases in operating revenue may not offset the expenses incurred. If we fail to successfully promote and maintain our brand while incurring additional expenses, our results of operations and financial condition would be adversely affected, and our ability to grow our business may be impaired.
If we are unable to maintain or increase the volume of loan originated through our platform, our business and results of operations will be adversely affected.
The volume of loan originations through our platform has grown rapidly since our inception, and the total amount of loans originated through our platform was RMB326.1 billion (US$46.8 billion) as of December 31, 2019. To maintain the high growth momentum of our platform, we must continuously increase the volume of loan originations by retaining current borrowers and attracting more borrowers. We intend to continue to dedicate significant resources to our borrower acquisition efforts. If there are insufficient qualified loan requests, our funding partners may consider withdrawing from our collaboration or lowering their funding commitments to us. If there are insufficient funding commitments, borrowers may be unable to obtain capital through our platform and may turn to other sources for their borrowing needs.
The overall volume may be affected by several factors, including our brand recognition and reputation, the interest rates offered to borrowers relative to the market rates, the efficiency of our credit underwriting process, availability of our funding partners, the macroeconomic environment and other factors. In connection with the introduction of new products or response to general economic conditions, we may also impose more stringent borrower qualifications to ensure the quality of loans on our platform, which may negatively affect the growth of our loan origination volume. If we are unable to attract qualified borrowers or if borrowers do not continue to participate in our platform at the current rates, we might be unable to increase our loan origination volume and revenues as we expect, and our business and results of operations may be adversely affected.
If we fail to maintain collaboration with our financial institution funding partners or to maintain sufficient capacity to originate loans to our borrowers, our reputation, results of operations and financial condition may be materially and adversely affected.
Our top five financial institution funding partners contributed around 57.0% of total funding for all cumulative loan origination as of December 31, 2019. Our financial institution funding partners typically agree to provide funding to our borrowers who meet their predetermined criteria, subject to their credit approval process. These agreements have fixed terms of typically one year. In addition, while our borrowers’ loan requests are usually approved if they fall within the parameters set and agreed upon by us and our financial institution funding partners, our funding partners may implement additional requirements in their approval process outside of our monitor and control. Thus there is no assurance that our financial institution funding partners could provide reliable, sustainable and adequate funding, either because they could decline to fund borrower loans originated on our platform or decline to renew or renegotiate their participation in our direct lending programs.
In addition, if PRC laws and regulations impose more restrictions on our collaboration with funding partners, these financial institution funding partners will become more selective in choosing collaboration partners, which may drive up the funding costs and the competition among online lending platforms to collaborate with a limited number of funding partners. It was reported that governmental authorities were seeking comments to additional regulation which would set forth more stringent rules, both from procedural and substantive perspective, for banks to cooperate with online consumer finance platforms. Regional banks, which are an important category of our funding partners, should mainly focus on serving local borrowers, and ratio of loans extended to borrowers not residing in a that regional bank’s area should not exceed 20%, according to the reported draft regulation. The outstanding balance of the loans funded by regional banks was RMB357.4 billion (US$51.3 billion), representing 49.5 % of the total outstanding balance of loans we had facilitated as of December 31, 2019. If regional banks are restricted from funding loans nationwide, it may materially increase the funding costs to our loans, which may adversely affect our results of operations and profitability if such increasingly stringent regulation materializes. Furthermore, if the PRC government issues any laws and regulations that restrict or prohibit our collaboration with our financial institution funding partners, our collaboration with our funding partners may have to be terminated or suspended, which may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
If our business arrangements with certain institutional partners were deemed to violate PRC laws and regulations, our business and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
We have secured certain funding from institutional funding partners through the channel of trusts and asset management plans in collaboration with certain trust companies and asset management companies.
According to our cooperative arrangement with trust companies and the asset management company, each trust and asset management plan had a specified term. Institutional funding partners invested in such trusts or asset management plans in the form of trust or asset management units, which entitled the institutional funding partner to the return on the investment with each unit. We were designated as the service provider for the trusts and asset management plans. If a credit application was approved by us, credit drawdown would be funded by the trusts to borrowers directly subject to the independent credit review of such trusts. These trusts and asset management plans were identified as the lender under the loan agreements with our borrowers. The trust and asset management plan remitted to the funding partners investment returns pursuant to the terms of the trust and plan that reflected funds initially provided by the funding partners. The investment gains would be distributed to the trust based on the actual loan interest. The trust company or asset management company, as appropriate, was responsible for administering the trust and was paid a service fee.
In 2019, the trusts were set up with total assets of RMB6.6 billion which invested solely in loans on our platform. For the majority of trusts, we are considered as the primary beneficiary of the trusts and thus consolidated such trusts’ assets, liabilities, results of operations and cash flows. Although we have not been part of the fund-raising process by the trusts, we cannot assure you that our provision of services to the trusts will not be viewed by the PRC regulators as violating any laws or regulations. If we are prohibited from cooperating with trust companies, our access to sustainable funding may be adversely impacted, which may further increase the funding cost of our loans and affect our result of operations.
If our attempts to explore alternative funding initiatives were deemed to violate PRC laws and regulations, our business could be materially and adversely affected.
We have and expect to continue exploring alternative funding initiatives, including through standardized capital instruments such as the issuance of asset-backed securities, or ABS. We have been approved to list a total of RMB10 billion of ABS on the Shanghai Stock Exchange and Shenzhen Stock Exchange and already issued RMB2.3 billion. Pursuant to the relevant PRC laws and regulations, an institution is entitled to establish an ABS scheme as a credit originator for such scheme on the condition that it has legitimate ownership to the underlying transferred assets that are able to generate independent and predictable cash flow in compliance with relevant laws and regulations. However, the initiators of any potential ABS scheme with whom we work are required to be financial institutions and they are subject to a variety of laws and regulations in the PRC, such as Administrative Provisions on the Asset Securitization Business of Securities Companies and the Subsidiaries of Fund Management Companies and Measures for the Supervision and Administration of Pilot Projects of Credit Asset Securitization of Financial Institutions. The laws and regulations applicable to ABS are still developing, it remains uncertain as to the application and interpretation of such laws and regulations, particularly relating to the new and rapidly evolving online consumer finance industry in which we operate. In addition, we rely on trust companies and other parties we collaborate with to secure the successful issuance of the ABS. If our collaboration with such parties is interrupted or affected, our ability to utilize the remaining approved quota of issuing such ABS may be materially limited. If our attempts to issue ABS under the current quota is limited, or our attempts to seek further approval on additional quota in ABS is rejected, our capability to secure funding with lower comprehensive cost may be limited, and our business and financial condition may be adversely impacted.
Although we have been diversifying our sources of funds and gradually downsizing our fund streams from the peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platform operated by our affiliate, our business and operation may nevertheless be interrupted if such P2P lending platform is prohibited from conducting its business.
Certain P2P lending platform operated by a subsidiary of Beijing Qibutianxia, thus an affiliate of us, funded 3.0% of loans originated through our platform in the fourth quarter of 2019. The platform operator has not completed its peer-to-peer (P2P) lending registration, or the P2P registration. PRC regulations on P2P lending industry is still evolving and the impact of failure to maintain a P2P registration remains unclear. Such platform operator may be requested by the governmental authority to cease its business operation for its failure to complete and maintain the P2P registration or to meet the requirements of transforming into microcredit companies. Although we have been diversifying our sources of funds and gradually downsizing our fund streams from such P2P platform operator, our business and operation may nevertheless be interrupted if such operator is prohibited from conducting its business.
Our online microcredit company may not be able to provide a sufficient amount to fund the growth of our business. In addition, the regulatory regime and practice with respect to online microcredit companies are evolving and subject to uncertainty.
In March 2017, we established an online microcredit company, Fuzhou Microcredit, which has obtained the approval of the relevant competent local authorities to fund loans. The authorized amounts are currently sufficient to meet our funding needs for on-balance-sheet transactions. However, we may not be able to obtain the regulatory approvals to increase the authorized amounts or to establish additional online microcredit companies to fulfill our future growth need.
Government authorities have issued certain rules, laws, and regulations to regulate the organization and business activities of online microcredit companies. However, due to the lack of the detailed rules on interpretation and implementation of such rules, laws and regulations and the fact that the rules, laws, and regulations are expected to continue to evolve with respect to the online microcredit companies, there are uncertainties as to how such rules, laws and regulations will be interpreted and implemented and whether there will be new rules, laws or regulations issued that would set further requirements and restrictions on online microcredit companies. We cannot assure you that our existing practice of online microcredit companies will be deemed to be in full compliance with all rules, laws and regulations that are applicable, or may become applicable to us in the future.
If our funding partners fail to comply with applicable anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing laws and regulations, our business and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
In collaboration with our funding partners and payment companies, we have adopted various policies and procedures, such as internal controls and “know-your-customer” procedures, for anti-money laundering purposes. The Fintech Guidelines purports, among other things, to require internet financial service providers, including us, to comply with certain anti-money laundering requirements, including:
|●||the establishment of a borrower identification program;|
|●||the monitoring and reporting of the suspicious transaction;|
|●||the preservation of borrower information and transaction records; and|
|●||the provision of assistance to the public security department and judicial authority in investigations and proceedings in relation to anti-money laundering matters.|
There is no assurance that our anti-money laundering policies and procedures will protect us from being exploited for money laundering purposes or that we will be deemed to be in compliance with applicable anti-money laundering implementing rules, if and when adopted, in light of the anti-money laundering obligations proposed to be imposed on us by the Fintech Guidelines. Any new requirement under money laundering laws could increase our costs and may expose us to potential sanctions if we fail to comply.
In addition, we rely on our third-party service providers, in particular, payment companies that handle the transfer of the repayment to have their own appropriate anti-money laundering policies and procedures. If any of our third-party service providers fails to comply with applicable anti-money laundering laws and regulations, our reputation could suffer and we could become subject to regulatory intervention, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We have not been subject to fines or other penalties, or suffered business or other reputational harm, as a result of actual or alleged money laundering or terrorist financing activities in the past. However, our policies and procedures may not be completely effective in preventing other parties from using us, any of our funding partners or payment processors as a conduit for money laundering (including illegal cash operations) or terrorist financing without our knowledge. If we were to be associated with money laundering (including illegal cash operations) or terrorist financing, our reputation could suffer and we could become subject to regulatory fines, sanctions or legal enforcement, including being added to any “blacklists” that would prohibit certain parties from engaging in transactions with us, all of which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations. Even if we, our funding partners and payment processors comply with the applicable anti-money laundering laws and regulations, we, our funding partners and payment processors may not be able to fully eliminate money laundering and other illegal or improper activities in light of the complexity and the secrecy of these activities. Any negative perception of the industry, such as that arises from any failure of other online consumer finance service providers to detect or prevent money laundering activities, even if factually incorrect or based on isolated incidents, could compromise our image, undermine the trust and credibility we have established and negatively impact our financial condition and results of operations.
We need to engage guarantee companies to provide credit enhancement or additional comfort to our funding partners, and we recognize guarantee liability for accounting purposes. If we fail to source and engage a guarantee company to our funding partners’ satisfaction, at a reasonable price, our collaboration with our funding partners will deteriorate, and our results of operations may be adversely and severely impacted. If our guarantee liability recognition fails to address our current status, we may face unexpected changes to our financial conditions.
To comply with Circular 141, we have engaged guarantee companies to provide credit enhancement to our funding partners upon their request, and two of our VIEs, Fuzhou Financing Guarantee and Shanghai Financing Guarantee, have obtained the license of conducting guarantee service. Even though we use the licensed guarantee companies of our own to provide service to our funding partners, we may continue to engage third-party insurance companies or guarantee companies to satisfy the needs of our business. We cannot, however, assure you that either our guarantee companies could provide satisfying service to our funding partners from time to time, or we will always be able to source and engage guarantee companies to our funding partners’ satisfaction. If we fail to source and engage guarantee companies to our funding partners’ satisfaction, at a reasonable price, our collaboration with our funding partners will deteriorate or even suspended, and our results of operations will be materially and adversely affected. It is also possible that we have to pay a service fee to the third-party guarantee company that exceeds the reasonable market price, which will materially and adversely affect our results of operations.
As we provide either guarantee deposit to our funding partners, or back-to-back guarantee to the third party guarantee companies, from the accounting prospective, we recognize the guarantee liability at fair value which incorporates the expectation of potential future payments under the guarantee and take into both non-contingent and contingent aspects of the guarantee. We have established an evaluation process designed to determine the adequacy of our impairment allowances and guarantee liabilities. While this evaluation process uses historical and other objective information, it is also dependent on our subjective assessment based upon our estimates and judgment. Actual losses are difficult to forecast, especially if such losses stem from factors beyond our historical experience. Given that the online consumer finance market is rapidly evolving, and is subject to various factors beyond our control, such as shifting trends in the market, regulatory framework, and overall economic conditions, we may not be able to accurately forecast the delinquency rate of our current target borrower base due to the lack of sufficient data. Therefore, our actual delinquency rate may be higher than we expected. If our credit risk assessment and expectations differ from actual circumstances or if the quality of the loans originated by us deteriorates, our guarantee liabilities may be insufficient to absorb actual credit losses and we may need to set aside additional provisions, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
If our loan products do not achieve sufficient market acceptance, our financial results and competitive position will be harmed.
We have devoted significant resources to and will continue to put an emphasis on upgrading and marketing our existing loan products and enhancing its market awareness. We may also incur expenses and expend resources up front to develop and market new loan products and financial services that incorporate additional features, improve functionality or otherwise make our platform more attractive to borrowers. New loan products and financial services must achieve high levels of market acceptance in order for us to recoup our investments in developing and marketing them. To achieve market acceptance, it is essential for us to maintain and enhance our ability to match and recommend suitable financial products for our borrowers, the effectiveness of our curation process and our ability to provide relevant and timely content to meet changing borrower needs. If we are unable to respond to changes in borrower preference and deliver satisfactory and distinguishable borrower experience, borrowers and prospective borrowers may switch to competing platforms or obtain financial products directly from their providers. As a result, borrower access to and borrower activity on our platform will decline, our services and solutions will be less attractive to financial service providers and our business, financial performance and prospects will be materially and adversely affected.
Our existing and new loan products and financial services could fail to attain sufficient market acceptance for many reasons, including:
|●||borrowers may not find the features of our loan products, such as the prices and credit limits, competitive or appealing;|
|●||we may fail to predict market demand accurately and provide loan products that meet this demand in a timely fashion;|
|●||borrowers and funding partners using our platforms may not like, find useful or agree with the changes we make;|
|●||there may be defects, errors or failures on our platforms;|
|●||there may be negative publicity about our loan products, or our platform’s performance or effectiveness;|
|●||regulatory authorities may take the view that the new products or platform changes do not comply with PRC laws, regulations or rules applicable to us; and|
|●||there may be competing products or services introduced or anticipated to be introduced by our competitors.|
If our existing and new loan products do not maintain or achieve adequate acceptance in the market, our competitive position, results of operations and financial condition could be materially and adversely affected.
We face increasing competition, and if we do not compete effectively, our operating results could be harmed.
The online consumer finance industry in China is highly competitive and evolving. We face competition from other online platforms, major internet players and traditional financial institutions.
Our competitors operate with different business models, have different cost structures or participate selectively in different market segments. They may ultimately prove more successful or more adaptable to new regulatory, technological and other developments. Some of our current and potential competitors have significantly more financial, technical, marketing and other resources than we do, and may be able to devote greater resources to the development, promotion, sale and support of their platforms. Our competitors may also have longer operating histories, more extensive borrowers, larger amounts of data, greater brand recognition and loyalty, and broader partner relationships than we do. For example, traditional financial institutions may invest in technology and enter into the online consumer finance industry. Experienced in financial product development and risk management, and being able to devote greater resource to the development, promotion, sale and technical support, they may gain an edge in the competition against us. Additionally, a current or potential competitor may acquire one or more of our existing competitors or form a strategic alliance with one or more of our competitors. Any of the foregoing could adversely affect our business, results of operations, financial condition and future growth.
Our competitors may be better at developing new products, responding to new technologies, charging lower fees on loans and undertaking more extensive marketing campaigns. When new competitors seek to enter our target market, or when existing market participants seek to increase their market share, they sometimes undercut the pricing and/or terms prevalent in that market, which could adversely affect our market share or ability to exploit new market opportunities. Also, since the online consumer finance industry in China is relatively new and fast evolving, potential borrowers may not fully understand how our platform works. Our pricing and terms could deteriorate if we fail to act to meet these competitive challenges.
Furthermore, in response to more stringent PRC laws and regulations regarding cash loans, more online lending platforms may expand their services and products to scenario-based lending, including partnering with e-commerce platforms, which may drive up the competition among online lending platforms. Such intensified competition may increase our operating costs and adversely affect our results of operations and profitability. To the extent that our competitors are able to offer more attractive terms to our business partners, such business partners may choose to terminate their relationships with us or request us to accept terms matching our competitors’.
In addition, our competitors may implement certain procedures to reduce their fees in response to the current or potential PRC regulations on interest rates and fees charged by online lending platforms. Borrowers are generally interest sensitive with less brand loyalty. We may not succeed in utilizing the borrower stickiness if we fail to provide products with competitive prices. If we apply prices below the commercially reasonable level, our results of operations and financial conditions may be adversely impacted. If we are unable to compete with our competitors, or if we are forced to charge lower fees due to competitive pressures, we could experience reduced revenues or our platforms could fail to achieve market acceptance, any of which could materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.
If our ability to collect delinquent loans is impaired, our business and results of operations might be materially and adversely affected.
Our in-house collection team handles the collection of delinquent loans within 60 days after the default. We also engage certain third-party collection service providers from time to time. If either our or our third-party service providers’ collection methods, such as phone calls, and text messages, are not effective and we fail to respond quickly and improve our collection methods, our delinquent loan collection rate may decrease.
While we have implemented and enforced policies and procedures relating to collection activities by us and third-party service providers, if those collection methods were to be viewed by the borrowers or regulatory authorities as harassments, threats or as other illegal conducts, we may be subject to lawsuits initiated by the borrowers or prohibited by the regulatory authorities from using certain collection methods. If this were to happen and we fail to adopt alternative collection methods in a timely manner or the alternative collection methods are proven to be ineffective, we might not be able to maintain our delinquent loan collection rate, and the funding partners’ confidence in our platform may be negatively impacted. If any of the foregoing takes place and impairs our ability to collect delinquent loans, the loan origination volume on our platform will decrease, and our business and the results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
Any harm to our brand or reputation or any damage to the reputation of the online consumer finance industry may materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.
Enhancing the recognition and reputation of our brand is critical to our business and competitiveness. Factors that are vital to this objective include but are not limited to our ability to:
|●||maintain the quality and reliability of our platform;|
|●||provide borrowers with a superior experience in our platform;|
|●||enhance and improve our Argus RM Model;|
|●||effectively manage and resolve borrower complaints; and|
|●||effectively protect personal information and privacy of borrowers.|
Any malicious or innocent negative allegation made by the media or other parties about our company, including but not limited to our management, business, compliance with law, financial condition or prospects, whether with merit or not, could severely hurt our reputation and harm our business and operating results. As the market for China’s online consumer finance is new and the regulatory framework for this market is also evolving, negative publicity about this industry may arise from time to time. Negative publicity about China’s online consumer finance industry in general may also have a negative impact on our reputation, regardless of whether we have engaged in any inappropriate activities.
In addition, certain factors that may adversely affect our reputation are beyond our control. Negative publicity about our partners, outsourced service providers or other counterparties, such as negative publicity about their debt collection practices and any failure by them to adequately protect the information of borrowers, to comply with applicable laws and regulations or to otherwise meet required quality and service standards could harm our reputation. Furthermore, any negative development in the online consumer finance industry, such as bankruptcies or failures of other platforms, and especially a large number of such bankruptcies or failures, or negative perception of the industry as a whole, such as that arises from any failure of other platforms to detect or prevent money laundering or other illegal activities, even if factually incorrect or based on isolated incidents, could compromise our image, undermine the trust and credibility we have established and impose a negative impact on our ability to attract new borrowers. For instance, on March 15, 2019, CCTV's "315 Night", an influential show on consumer rights protection, reported that certain financial products offered by third-party financial service providers on a financing platform contained inappropriate conducts that were suspected of infringement of consumer rights, which had an immediate adverse impact on the consumers' recognition of the whole online consumer finance industry and in turn may adversely affect our business and results of operations. Negative developments in the online consumer finance industry, such as widespread borrower defaults, fraudulent behavior and/or the closure of other online platforms, may also lead to tightened regulatory scrutiny of the sector and limit the scope of permissible business activities that may be conducted by online platforms like us. As we are the finance partner of 360 Group, any negative allegation about 360 Group may also have adverse impact on us. If any of the foregoing takes place, our business and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
Misconduct, errors and failure to function by our employees and third-party service providers could harm our business and reputation.
We are exposed to many types of operational risks, including the risk of misconduct and errors by our employees and third-party service providers. Our business depends on our employees and third-party service providers to interact with prospective borrowers, process large numbers of transactions and support the loan collection process, all of which involve the use and disclosure of personal information. Although we have enforced strict data protection policy by desensitizing all personal information of our customers and clients, we could be materially adversely affected if transactions were redirected, misappropriated or otherwise improperly executed, if personal information was disclosed to unintended recipients or if an operational breakdown or failure in the processing of transactions occurred, whether as a result of human error, purposeful sabotage or fraudulent manipulation of our operations or systems. In addition, the manner in which we store and use certain personal information and interact with borrowers through our platform is governed by various PRC laws. It is not always possible to identify and deter misconduct or errors by employees or third-party service providers, and the precautions we take to detect and prevent this activity may not be effective in controlling unknown or unmanaged risks or losses. If any of our employees or third-party service providers take, convert or misuse funds, documents or data or fail to follow protocol when interacting with borrowers, such as during the collection process, we could be liable for damages and subject to regulatory actions and penalties. We could also be perceived to have originated or participated in the illegal misappropriation of funds, documents or data, or the failure to follow protocol, and therefore be subject to civil or criminal liability.
Moreover, the current regulatory regime for debt collection in the PRC remains unclear. Although we aim to ensure our collection efforts comply with the relevant laws and regulations in the PRC and we have established strict internal policies that our collections personnel do not engage in aggressive practices, we cannot assure you that such personnel will not engage in any misconduct as part of their collection efforts. Any such misconduct by our collection personnel or the perception that our collection practices are considered to be aggressive and not compliant with the relevant laws and regulations in the PRC may result in harm to our reputation and business, which could further reduce our ability to collect payments from borrowers, lead to a decrease in the willingness of prospective borrowers to apply for and utilize our credit or fines, penalties, administrative investigations or even criminal liabilities. imposed by the relevant regulatory authorities, any of which may have a material adverse effect on our results of operations.
Furthermore, we rely on certain third-party service providers, such as borrower acquisition, marketing and brand promotion, third-party payment platforms and collection service providers, to conduct our business. If these service providers failed to function properly or failed to comply with our compliance requirements, we cannot assure you that we would be able to find an alternative in a timely and cost-efficient manner or at all. We enter into collaboration contracts with fixed terms with such service providers. However, we cannot assure you that we can renew such collaboration agreements once they expire, or we can renew such agreements with the term we desire. Such service providers may also be demanded by their investors not to work with us, or form alliance to seek better terms dealing with us. Any of these occurrences could result in our diminished ability to operate our business, potential liability to borrowers, inability to attract borrowers, reputational damage, regulatory intervention and financial harm, which could negatively impact our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Fluctuations in interest rates could negatively affect our loan origination volume.
Most of the loans originated through our platform are issued with fixed interest rates. Fluctuations in the interest rate environment may discourage funding partners to fund our platform, which may adversely affect our business. Meanwhile, if we fail to respond to the fluctuations in interest rates in a timely manner and reprice our loan products, our loan products may become less attractive to our borrowers.
If we are unable to protect the confidential information of our users and adapt to the relevant regulatory framework as to protection of such information, our business and operations may be adversely affected
Our platform collects, stores and processes certain personal and other sensitive data from our borrowers, which makes it an attractive target and potentially vulnerable to cyberattacks, computer viruses, physical or electronic break-ins or similar disruptions. While we have taken steps to protect the confidential information that we have access to, our security measures could be breached. Because techniques used to sabotage or obtain unauthorized access to systems change frequently and generally are not recognized until they are launched against a target, we may be unable to anticipate these techniques or to implement adequate preventative measures. Any accidental or willful security breaches or other unauthorized access to our platform could cause confidential borrower information to be stolen and used for criminal purposes. Security breaches or unauthorized access to confidential information could also expose us to liability related to the loss of the information, time-consuming and expensive litigation and negative publicity. If security measures are breached because of third-party action, employee error, malfeasance or otherwise, or if design flaws in our technology infrastructure are exposed and exploited, our relationships with borrowers could be severely damaged, we could incur significant liability and our business and operations could be adversely affected.
In addition, PRC government authorities have enacted a series of laws and regulations in regard of the protection of personal information, under which internet service providers and other network operators are required to comply with the principles of legality, justification and necessity, to clearly indicate the purposes, methods and scope of any information collection and usage, and to obtain the consent of users, as well as to establish user information protection system with appropriate remedial measures. We have obtained the consents from our borrowers to use their personal information within the scope of authorization and we have taken technical measures to ensure the security of such personal information and prevent the personal information from being divulged, damaged or lost. However, there is uncertainty as to the interpretation and application of such laws which may be interpreted and applied in a manner inconsistent with our current policies and practices or require changes to the features of our system. Any non-compliance or perceived non-compliance with these laws, regulations or policies may lead to warnings, fines, investigations, lawsuits, confiscation of illegal gains, revocation of licenses, cancellation of filings, closedown of websites or even criminal liabilities against us by government agencies or other individuals. We cannot assure you that our existing user information protection system and technical measures will be considered sufficient under applicable laws and regulations. If we are unable to address any information protection concerns, or to comply with the then applicable laws and regulations, we may incur additional costs and liability and our reputation, business and operations might be adversely affected.
Meanwhile, if there is any failure by us to protect confidential information, we may be involved in various claims and litigations raised for privacy or other damages. Such claims and litigations will take a lot of time and resources to defend and we cannot assure you any result for such litigations.
If we fail to complete, obtain or maintain the value-added telecommunication license, requisite license, or approvals or filings in China, our business, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
PRC regulations impose sanctions for engaging in internet information services of a commercial nature without having obtained an internet content provider license, or the ICP license, and sanctions for engaging in the operation of online data processing and transaction processing without having obtained a value-added telecommunications service license, or the VATS license for online data processing and transaction processing, or ODPTP license (ICP and ODPTP are both sub-sets of value-added telecommunication business). These sanctions include corrective orders and warnings from the PRC communication administration authority, fines and confiscation of illegal gains and, in the case of significant infringements, the websites and mobile apps may be ordered to cease operation. Nevertheless, the interpretation of such regulations and PRC regulatory authorities’ enforcement of such regulations in the context of online consumer finance industry remains uncertain, it is unclear whether online consumer finance service providers like us are required to obtain ICP license or ODPTP license, or any other kind of VATS licenses. We have not obtained any ICP license and ODPTP license to date for Shanghai Qiyu. Given the evolving regulatory environment of the consumer finance industry and value-added telecommunication business, we cannot rule out the possibility that the PRC government authorities will explicitly require any of our VIEs or subsidiaries of our VIEs to obtain additional ICP licenses, ODPTP licenses or other VATS licenses, or issue new regulatory requirements to institute a new licensing regime for our industry. We could be found in violation of any future laws and regulations, or of the laws and regulations currently in effect due to changes in the relevant authorities, or interpretation of these laws and regulations. We cannot assure you that we would be able to obtain or maintain any required license, regulatory approvals or filings in a timely manner, or at all, which would subject us to the sanctions such as the imposition of fines and the discontinuation or restriction of our operations or other sanctions as stipulated in the new regulatory rules, and materially and adversely affect our business and impede our ability to continue our operations. Even though we intend to work proactively on applying the relevant licenses, due to the lack of detailed rules regulating the online consumer finance service and clarification of the nature of this innovative business model, we learned that the local telecommunication regulatory authority might put any applications on hold.
Any significant disruption in service on our platform or in our computer systems, including events beyond our control, could prevent us from processing loans on our platform, reduce the attractiveness of our platform and result in a loss of borrowers.
In the event of a platform outage and physical data loss, the performance of our platform and solutions would be materially and adversely affected. The satisfactory performance, reliability and availability of our platform, solutions and underlying technology infrastructure are critical to our operations and reputation and our ability to retain existing and attract new users and financial service providers. Much of our system hardware is hosted in a leased facility located in Beijing that is operated by 360 Group. We also maintain a real-time backup system in the same facility and a remote backup system in a separate facility. Our operations depend on our ability to protect our systems against damage or interruption from natural disasters, power or telecommunications failures, air quality issues, environmental conditions, computer viruses or attempts to harm our systems, criminal acts, and similar events. If there is a lapse in service or damage to our leased facilities, we could experience interruptions and delays in our service and may incur additional expense in arranging new facilities.
Any interruptions or delays in the availability of our platform or solutions, whether as a result of third-party or our error, natural disasters or security breaches, whether accidental or willful, could harm our reputation and our relationships with users and financial service providers. Additionally, in the event of damage or interruption, we have no insurance policy to adequately compensate us for any losses that we may incur. Our disaster recovery plan has not been tested under actual disaster conditions, and we may not have sufficient capacity to recover all data and services in the event of an outage. These factors could damage our brand and reputation, divert our employees’ attention and subject us to liability, any of which could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our platform and internal systems rely on software that is highly technical, and if it contains undetected errors, our business could be adversely affected.
Our platform and internal systems rely on software that is highly technical and complex. In addition, our platform and internal systems depend on the ability of such software to store, retrieve, process and manage immense amounts of data. The software on which we rely has contained, and may now or in the future contain, undetected errors or bugs. Some errors may only be discovered after the code has been released for external or internal use. Errors or other design defects within the software on which we rely may result in a negative experience for borrowers and funding partners, delay introductions of new features or enhancements, result in errors or compromise our ability to protect borrower data or our intellectual property. Any errors, bugs or defects discovered in the software on which we rely could result in harm to our reputation, loss of borrowers or funding partners, loss of revenue or liability for damages, any of which could adversely affect our business and financial results.
We may not be able to prevent others from unauthorized use of our intellectual property, which could harm our business and competitive position.
We regard our trademarks, domain names, software copyrights, know-how, proprietary technologies and similar intellectual property as critical to our success, and we rely on trademark and trade secret law and confidentiality, invention assignment and non-compete agreements with our employees and others to protect our proprietary rights. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Intellectual Properties” and “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Laws and Regulations relating to Intellectual Property.” However, we cannot assure you that any of our intellectual property rights would not be challenged, invalidated or circumvented, or such intellectual property will be sufficient to provide us with competitive advantages. In addition, other parties may misappropriate our intellectual property rights, which would cause us to suffer economic or reputational damages. Because of the rapid pace of technological change, nor can we assure you that all of our proprietary technologies and similar intellectual property will be patented in a timely or cost-effective manner, or at all. Furthermore, parts of our business rely on technologies developed or licensed by other parties, or co-developed with other parties, and we may not be able to obtain or continue to obtain licenses and technologies from these other parties on reasonable terms, or at all.
It is often difficult to register, maintain and enforce intellectual property rights in China. Statutory laws and regulations are subject to judicial interpretation and enforcement and may not be applied consistently due to the lack of clear guidance on statutory interpretation. Confidentiality, invention assignment and non-compete agreements may be breached by counterparties, and there may not be adequate remedies available to us for any such breach. Accordingly, we may not be able to effectively protect our intellectual property rights or to enforce our contractual rights in China. Preventing any unauthorized use of our intellectual property is difficult and costly, and the steps we take may be inadequate to prevent the misappropriation of our intellectual property. In the event that we resort to litigation to enforce our intellectual property rights, such litigation could result in substantial costs and in a diversion of our managerial and financial resources. We can provide no assurance that we will prevail in such litigation. In addition, our trade secrets may be leaked or otherwise become available to, or be independently discovered by, our competitors. To the extent that our employees or consultants use intellectual property owned by others in their work for us, disputes may arise as to the rights in related know-how and inventions. Any failure in protecting or enforcing our intellectual property rights could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Some aspects of our platform include open source software, and any failure to comply with the terms of one or more of these open source licenses could negatively affect our business.
Aspects of our platform include software covered by open source licenses. Open source license terms are often ambiguous, and there is little or no legal precedent governing the interpretation of many of the terms of certain of these licenses. Therefore, the potential impact of such terms on our business is somewhat unknown. If portions of our proprietary software are determined to be subject to an open source license, we could be required to publicly release the affected portions of our source code, re-engineer all or a portion of our technologies or otherwise be limited in the licensing of our technologies, each of which could reduce or eliminate the value of our technologies and loan products. There can be no assurance that efforts we take to monitor the use of open source software to avoid uses in a manner that would require us to disclose or grant licenses under our proprietary source code will be successful, and such use could inadvertently occur. This could harm our intellectual property position and have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations, cash flow and financial condition. In addition to risks related to license requirements, usage of open source software can lead to greater risks than use of third-party commercial software, as open source licensors generally do not provide warranties or controls on the origin of the software. Many of the risks associated with the use of open source software cannot be eliminated, and could adversely affect our business.
We may be subject to intellectual property infringement claims, which may be expensive to defend and may disrupt our business and operations.
We cannot be certain that our operations or any aspects of our business do not or will not infringe upon or otherwise violate trademarks, copyrights, know-how, proprietary technologies or other intellectual property rights held by other parties. We may be from time to time in the future subject to legal proceedings and claims relating to the intellectual property rights of others. In addition, there may be other parties’ trademarks, copyrights, know-how, proprietary technologies or other intellectual property rights that are infringed by our products or other aspects of our business without our awareness. Holders of such intellectual property rights may seek to enforce such intellectual property rights against us in China, the United States or other jurisdictions. If any infringement claims are brought against us, we may be forced to divert management’s time and other resources from our business and operations to defend against these claims, regardless of their merits.
Additionally, the application and interpretation of China’s intellectual property right laws and the procedures and standards for granting trademarks, copyrights, know-how, proprietary technologies or other intellectual property rights in China are still evolving and are uncertain, and we cannot assure you that PRC courts or regulatory authorities would agree with our analysis. If we were found to have violated the intellectual property rights of others, we may be subject to liability for our infringement activities or may be prohibited from using such intellectual property, and we may incur licensing fees or be forced to develop alternatives of our own. As a result, our business and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Our business depends on the continued efforts of our management. If one or more of our key executives were unable or unwilling to continue in their present positions, our business may be severely disrupted.
Our business operations depend on the continued services of our management, particularly the executive officers named in this annual report, and teams in charge of our risk management, products development and collaboration with funding partners. While we have provided different incentives to our management, we cannot assure you that we can continue to retain their services. If one or more of our management were unable or unwilling to continue in their present positions, we may not be able to replace them easily or at all, our future growth may be constrained, our business may be severely disrupted and our financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected, and we may incur additional expenses to recruit, train and retain qualified personnel. In addition, although we have entered into confidentiality and non-competition agreements with our management, there is no assurance that any member of our management team will not join our competitors or form a competing business, or disclose confidential information to the public. If any dispute arises between our current or former officers and us, we may have to incur substantial costs and expenses in order to enforce such agreements in China or we may be unable to enforce them at all.
From time to time we may evaluate and potentially consummate strategic investments or acquisitions, which could require significant management attention, disrupt our business and adversely affect our financial results.
We may evaluate and consider strategic investments, combinations, acquisitions or alliances to further increase the value of our platform. These transactions could be material to our financial condition and results of operations if consummated. If we are able to identify an appropriate business opportunity, we may not be able to successfully consummate the transaction, and even if we do consummate such a transaction, we may be unable to obtain the benefits or avoid the difficulties and risks of such transaction.
Strategic investments or acquisitions will involve risks commonly encountered in business relationships, including:
|●||difficulties in assimilating and integrating the operations, personnel, systems, data, technologies, rights, platforms, products and services of the acquired business;|
|●||the inability of the acquired technologies, products or businesses to achieve expected levels of revenue, profitability, productivity or other benefits;|
|●||difficulties in retaining, training, motivating and integrating key personnel;|
|●||the diversion of management’s time and resources from our daily operations;|
|●||difficulties in maintaining uniform standards, controls, procedures and policies within the combined organizations;|
|●||difficulties in retaining relationships with borrowers, employees and suppliers of the acquired business;|
|●||risks of entering markets in which we have limited or no prior experience;|
|●||regulatory risks, including remaining in good standing with existing regulatory bodies or receiving any necessary pre-closing or post-closing approvals, as well as being subject to new regulators with oversight over an acquired business;|
|●||the assumption of contractual obligations that contain terms that are not beneficial to us, require us to license or waive intellectual property rights or increase our risk of liability;|
|●||the failure to successfully further develop the acquired technology;|
|●||liability for activities of the acquired business before the acquisition, including intellectual property infringement claims, violations of laws, commercial disputes, tax liabilities and other known and unknown liabilities;|
|●||potential disruptions to our ongoing businesses; and|
|●||unexpected costs and unknown risks and liabilities associated with strategic investments or acquisitions.|
We may not make any investments or acquisitions, or any future investments or acquisitions may not be successful, may not benefit our business strategy, may not generate sufficient revenues to offset the associated acquisition costs or may not otherwise result in the intended benefits. In addition, we cannot assure you that any future investment in or acquisition of new businesses or technology will lead to the successful development of new or enhanced loan products and services or that any new or enhanced loan products and services, if developed, will achieve market acceptance or prove to be profitable.
If we fail to develop and maintain an effective system of internal control over financial reporting, we may be unable to accurately report our financial results or prevent fraud.
The Securities and Exchange Commission, or the SEC, as required by Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, adopted rules requiring every public company to include a management report on the company’s internal control over financial reporting in its annual report, which contains management’s assessment of the effectiveness of the company’s internal control over financial reporting. Our management has concluded that our internal control over financial reporting was effective as of December 31, 2019. See “Item 15. Controls and Procedures—Management’s Annual Report on Internal Control over Financial Reporting.” Our independent registered public accounting firm has issued an attestation report, which has concluded that our internal control over financial reporting was effective in all material aspects as of December 31, 2019. However, we and our independent registered public accounting firm identified one significant deficiency with respect to our internal control over financial reporting in the course of the evaluation or audit, as applicable, of the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting, which deficiency related to our lack of sufficient control over certain inputs used to ensure proper accounting for transactions of off-balance-sheet loan in accordance with U.S. GAAP. We have taken and will continue to take measures to remedy this significant deficiency. However, the implementation of our remedial measures may not fully address the significant deficiency. Any failure to correct this significant deficiency may result in inaccuracies in our financial statements and could also impair our ability to comply with applicable financial reporting requirements and related regulatory filings on a timely basis. Further, if we fail to maintain effective internal control over financial reporting in the future, our management and our independent registered public accounting firm may not be able to conclude that we have effective internal control over financial reporting at a reasonable assurance level. This could in turn result in loss of investor confidence in the reliability of our financial statements and negatively impact the trading price of our ADSs. Furthermore, we have incurred and anticipate that we will continue to incur considerable costs, management time and other resources in an effort to comply with Section 404 and other requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
Our quarterly results may fluctuate and may not fully reflect the underlying performance of our business.
Our quarterly results of operations, including the levels of our net revenue, operating cost and expenses, net (loss)/income and other key metrics may vary in the future due to a variety of factors, some of which are outside of our control, and period-to-period comparisons of our operating results may not be meaningful, especially given our limited operating history. Accordingly, the results for any one quarter are not necessarily an indication of future performance. Fluctuations in quarterly results may adversely affect the price of our ADSs.
In addition, we may experience seasonality in our business, reflecting seasonal fluctuations in internet usage and traditional personal consumption patterns, as our borrowers typically use their borrowing proceeds to finance their personal consumption needs. While our rapid growth has somewhat masked this seasonality, our results of operations could be affected by such seasonality in the future.
Competition for employees is intense, and we may not be able to attract and retain the qualified and skilled employees needed to support our business.
We believe our success depends on the efforts and talent of our employees, including risk management, software engineering, financial and marketing personnel. Our future success depends on our continued ability to attract, develop, motivate and retain qualified and skilled employees. Competition for highly skilled technical, risk management and financial personnel is extremely intense. We may not be able to hire and retain this personnel at compensation levels consistent with our existing compensation and salary structure. Some of the companies with which we compete for experienced employees have greater resources than we have and may be able to offer more attractive terms of employment.
In addition, we invest significant time and expenses in training our employees, which increases their value to competitors who may seek to recruit them. If we fail to retain our employees, we could incur significant expenses in hiring and training their replacements, and our ability to operate our platform could diminish, resulting in a material adverse effect to our business.
Increases in labor costs in the PRC may adversely affect our business and results of operations.
The economy in China has experienced increases in inflation and labor costs in recent years. As a result, average wages in the PRC are expected to continue to increase. In addition, we are required by PRC laws and regulations to pay various statutory employee benefits, including pension, housing fund, medical insurance, work-related injury insurance, unemployment insurance and maternity insurance to designated government agencies for the benefit of our employees. The relevant government agencies may examine whether an employer has made adequate payments to the statutory employee benefits, and those employers who fail to make adequate payments may be subject to late payment fees, fines and/or other penalties. We expect that our labor costs, including wages and employee benefits, will continue to increase. Unless we are able to control our labor costs or pass on these increased labor costs to our users by increasing the fees for our services, our financial condition and results of operations may be adversely affected.
We may not have sufficient business insurance coverage.
Insurance companies in China currently do not offer as extensive an array of insurance products as insurance companies in more developed economies. Currently, we do not have any business liability or disruption insurance to cover our operations. We have determined that the costs of insuring for these risks and the difficulties associated with acquiring such insurance on commercially reasonable terms make it impractical for us to have such insurance. Any uninsured business disruptions may result in our incurring substantial costs and the diversion of resources, which could have an adverse effect on our results of operations and financial condition.
Our operations have been impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19, which may continue throughout this year and may materially affect our financial performance.
Since the beginning of 2020, outbreaks of COVID-19 have resulted in the temporary closure of many corporate offices, retail stores, and manufacturing facilities across China. Our employees were unable to go to our offices for an extended period. Normal economic life throughout China was sharply curtailed. The population in most of the major cities was locked down to a greater or lesser extent and opportunities for discretionary consumption were extremely limited. We derive revenues from loan products facilitated through our platform. A reduction in discretionary consumption may adversely affect demand for personal loan products. In addition, outbreaks of COVID-19 have left a severe and negative impact on the Chinese economy in the first quarter of 2020. Globally, this impact is likely to continue into the second quarter, or even throughout the year. In particular, National Bureau of Statistics of China reported a 6.8% drop in gross domestic product (GDP) for the first quarter of 2020 compared with the same period of 2019. Downturn in the economy and previous suspension of business activities across various sectors might cause an increase in default of the loans facilitated through our platform as they are likely to lead to a rise in unemployment and may weaken borrowers’ willingness and ability to repay their debts. The increased defaults could in turn result in enhanced risks and financial losses to our funding partners and us. While many of the restrictions on movement within China have been relaxed as of the date of this annual report, there is great uncertainty as to the future progress of the disease. Currently, there is no vaccine or specific anti-viral treatment for COVID-19. Relaxation of restrictions on economic and social life may lead to new cases which may lead to the re-imposition of restrictions. Our daily operations have been negatively affected by this outbreak of coronavirus since the beginning of 2020 and we have seen early signs of deterioration of asset quality. We are still assessing its impact on our financial performance and are currently uncertain to what extent our financial condition and result of operations will be affected.
We face risks related to natural disasters, health epidemics and other outbreaks, which could significantly disrupt our operations.
In addition to the impact of COVID-19, our business could also be adversely affected by the effects of other epidemics. In recent years, there have been outbreaks of epidemics in China and globally. Our business operations could be disrupted if any of our employees are suspected of having contracted the COVID-19 as well as having affected by other epidemics such as the Ebola virus disease, Zika virus disease, H1N1 flu, H7N9 flu, avian flu, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, and other epidemics, since it could require our employees to be quarantined and/or our offices to be disinfected. In addition, our results of operations could be adversely affected to the extent that any of these epidemics harms the Chinese economy and the consumer finance industry in general.
We are vulnerable to natural disasters and other calamities. Fire, floods, typhoons, earthquakes, power loss, telecommunications failures, break-ins, war, riots, terrorist attacks or similar events may give rise to server interruptions, breakdowns, system failures, technology platform failures or internet failures, which could cause the loss or corruption of data or malfunctions of software or hardware as well as adversely affecting our ability to provide products and services on our platform.
Our headquarter is located in Shanghai and many of our senior management reside in Beijing. Most of our system hardware and back-up systems are hosted in leased facilities located in Shanghai and Beijing. Consequently, we are highly susceptible to factors adversely affecting Shanghai and Beijing. If any of the abovementioned natural disasters, health epidemics or other outbreaks were to occur or aggravate in Shanghai and Beijing, our operation may experience material disruptions, such as temporary closure of our offices and suspension of services, which may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure
If the PRC government deems that the contractual arrangements in relation to our VIEs do not comply with PRC regulatory restrictions on foreign investment in the relevant industries, or if these regulations or the interpretation of existing regulations change in the future, we could be subject to severe penalties or be forced to relinquish our interests in those operations.
Foreign ownership of internet-based businesses, such as the distribution of online information, is subject to restrictions under current PRC laws and regulations. For example, foreign investors are generally not allowed to own more than 50% of the equity interests in a value-added telecommunications service provider and any such foreign investor must have experience in providing value-added telecommunications services overseas and maintain a good track record in accordance with the Special Management Measures for the Access of Foreign Investment (Negative List) (2019 version), or the Negative List, which became effective on July 30, 2019 and replaced the negative list in the Guidance Catalog for Foreign Investment Industries (2018 Revision), and other applicable laws and regulations.
We are a Cayman Islands company and our PRC subsidiaries are considered foreign-invested enterprises. We have set up a series of contractual arrangements entered into among our WFOE, our VIEs, and the record holders of our VIEs to conduct our operations in China. For a detailed description of these contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—C. Organizational Structure.” As a result of these contractual arrangements, we exert control over our VIEs and consolidate their operating results in our financial statements under U.S. GAAP. Shanghai Qiyu has been operating our online consumer finance business, including, among others, operations of our 360 Jietiao since its incorporation. According to relevant PRC laws and regulations, Shanghai Qiyu may be required to obtain VATS licenses. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulations—Regulations on Foreign Investment Restrictions—Regulations on value-added telecommunications services.” Fuzhou Microcredit, which also provides loans through our 360 Jietiao, has obtained a microcredit license from the relevant competent local authorities.
In the opinion of our PRC counsel, Commerce & Finance Law Offices, based on its understanding of the relevant PRC laws and regulations, each of the contracts among our WFOE, our VIEs and their shareholders is valid, binding and enforceable in accordance with its terms. However, Commerce & Finance Law Offices has also advised us that there are substantial uncertainties regarding the interpretation and application of current or future PRC laws and regulations and there can be no assurance that the PRC government will ultimately take a view that is consistent with the opinion of our PRC counsel.
It is uncertain whether any new PRC laws, regulations or rules relating to the “variable interest entity” structure will be adopted or if adopted, what they would provide. If the ownership structure, contractual arrangements and business of our company, our PRC subsidiaries or our variable interest entity are found to be in violation of any existing or future PRC laws or regulations, or we fail to obtain or maintain any of the required permits or approvals, the relevant governmental authorities would have broad discretion in dealing with such violation, including levying fines, confiscating our income or the income of our VIEs, revoking the business licenses or operating licenses of our WFOE or our VIEs, shutting down our servers or blocking our online platform, discontinuing or placing restrictions or onerous conditions on our operations, requiring us to undergo a costly and disruptive restructuring, restricting or prohibiting our use of proceeds from our initial public offering to finance our business and operations in China, and taking other regulatory or enforcement actions that could be harmful to our business. Any of these actions could cause significant disruption to our business operations and severely damage our reputation, which would in turn materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. If any of these occurrences result in our inability to direct the activities of our VIEs, and/or our failure to receive economic benefits from our VIEs, we may not be able to consolidate their results into our consolidated financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP.
We rely on contractual arrangements with our VIEs and the shareholders of our VIEs for all of our business operations, which may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing operational control.
We have relied and expect to continue to rely on contractual arrangements with our VIEs and the shareholders of our VIEs, to operate our online consumer finance business, including, among others, the operation of 360 Jietiao, as well as certain other complementary businesses. For a description of these contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—C. Organizational Structure.” These contractual arrangements may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing us with control over our VIEs. For example, our VIEs or the shareholder of our VIEs may fail to fulfill their contractual obligations with us, such as failure to maintain our platform and use the domain names and trademarks in a manner as stipulated in the contractual arrangements, or taking other actions that are detrimental to our interests.
If we had direct ownership of our VIEs, we would be able to exercise our rights as a shareholder to effect changes in the board of directors of our VIEs, which in turn could implement changes, subject to any applicable fiduciary obligations, at the management and operational level. However, under the current contractual arrangements, we rely on the performance by our VIEs and the shareholders of our VIEs of their obligations under the contractual arrangements to exercise control over our VIEs. The shareholders of our VIEs may not act in the best interests of our company or may not perform their obligations under these contracts. Such risks exist throughout the period in which we intend to operate our business through the contractual arrangements with our VIEs and the shareholders of our VIEs. Although we have the right, subject to registration process with PRC governmental authorities, to replace Beijing Qibutianxia as the record holder of our VIEs under the contractual arrangements, if it becomes uncooperative or any dispute relating to these contracts remains unresolved, we will have to enforce our rights under these contracts through the operations of PRC laws and arbitration, litigation and other legal proceedings, the outcome of which will be subject to uncertainties. See “—Any failure by our VIEs or the shareholders of our VIEs to perform their obligations under our contractual arrangements with them would have a material adverse effect on our business.” Therefore, our contractual arrangements with our VIEs and the shareholders of our VIEs may not be as effective in ensuring our control over the relevant portion of our business operations as direct ownership would be.
Any failure by our VIEs or the shareholders of our VIEs to perform their obligations under our contractual arrangements with them would have a material adverse effect on our business.
We have entered into a series of contractual arrangements with our VIEs, and the shareholders of our VIEs. For a description of these contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—C. Organizational Structure.” If our VIEs or the shareholders of our VIEs fail to perform their respective obligations under the contractual arrangements, we may incur substantial costs and expend additional resources to enforce such arrangements. We may also have to rely on legal remedies under PRC laws, including seeking specific performance or injunctive relief, and claiming damages, which we cannot assure you will be effective under PRC laws. For example, if the shareholders of our VIEs were to refuse to transfer its equity interests in our VIEs to us or our designee when we exercise the purchase option pursuant to these contractual arrangements, or if it was otherwise to act in bad faith toward us, then we may have to take legal actions to compel them to perform its contractual obligations.
All of these contractual arrangements are governed by and interpreted in accordance with PRC law, and disputes arising from these contractual arrangements between us and our VIEs will be resolved through arbitration in China. For the sake of clarity, the arbitration provisions here relate to the claims arising from the contractual relationship created by the VIE agreements, rather than claims under the US federal securities laws, and they do not prevent our shareholders or ADS holders from pursuing claims under the US federal securities laws in the United States. The legal system in the PRC is not as developed as in some other jurisdictions, such as the United States. As a result, uncertainties in the PRC legal system could limit our ability to enforce these contractual arrangements. Meanwhile, there are very few precedents and little formal guidance as to how contractual arrangements in the context of a variable interest entity should be interpreted or enforced under PRC laws. There remain significant uncertainties regarding the ultimate outcome of such arbitration should legal action become necessary. In addition, under PRC laws, rulings by arbitrators are final and parties cannot appeal arbitration results in court unless such rulings are revoked or determined unenforceable by a competent court. If the losing parties fail to carry out the arbitration awards within a prescribed time limit, the prevailing parties may only enforce the arbitration awards in PRC courts through arbitration award recognition proceedings, which would require additional expenses and delay. In the event that we are unable to enforce these contractual arrangements, or if we suffer significant delay or other obstacles in the process of enforcing these contractual arrangements, we may not be able to exert effective control over our VIEs, and our ability to conduct our business may be negatively affected. See “—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—Uncertainties in the interpretation and enforcement of PRC laws and regulations could limit the legal protections available to us.”
The shareholders of our VIEs may have potential conflicts of interest with us, which may materially and adversely affect our business and financial condition.
The record holders of our VIEs are beneficially owned by some of our shareholders. However, as we raise additional capital, and our shareholders sell the shares they hold in our company in the future, the interests of such record holders of our VIEs might become different from the interests of our company as a whole. Under influence of its shareholders, such record holders of our VIEs may breach, or cause our VIEs to breach, the existing contractual arrangements we have with them, which would have a material adverse effect on our ability to effectively control our VIEs and receive economic benefits from them. For example, the record holders of our VIEs may be able to cause our agreements with our VIEs to be performed in a manner adverse to us by, among other things, failing to remit payments due under the contractual arrangements to us on a timely basis. We cannot assure you that when conflicts of interest arise, it will act in the best interests of our company or such conflicts will be resolved in our favor.
Currently, we do not have any arrangements to address potential conflicts of interest between our VIEs’ shareholders and our company, except that we could exercise our purchase option under the option agreement with such shareholders to request it to transfer all of its equity interests in our VIEs to a PRC entity or individual designated by us, to the extent permitted by PRC laws. If we cannot resolve any conflict of interest or dispute between us and the shareholders of our VIEs, we would have to rely on legal proceedings, which could result in the disruption of our business and subject us to substantial uncertainty as to the outcome of any such legal proceedings.
Contractual arrangements in relation to our VIEs may be subject to scrutiny by the PRC tax authorities and they may determine that we or our VIEs owe additional taxes, which could negatively affect our financial condition and the value of your investment.
Under applicable PRC laws and regulations, arrangements and transactions among related parties may be subject to audit or challenge by the PRC tax authorities. The PRC enterprise income tax law requires every enterprise in China to submit its annual enterprise income tax return together with a report on transactions with its related parties to the relevant tax authorities. The tax authorities may impose reasonable adjustments on taxation if they have identified any related party transactions that are inconsistent with arm’s length principles. We may face material and adverse tax consequences if the PRC tax authorities determine that the contractual arrangements between our WFOE, our VIEs, and the shareholders of our VIEs were not entered into on an arm’s length basis in such a way as to result in an impermissible reduction in taxes under applicable PRC laws, regulations and rules, and adjust our VIEs’ income in the form of a transfer pricing adjustment. A transfer pricing adjustment could, among other things, result in a reduction of expense deductions recorded by our VIEs for PRC tax purposes, which could in turn increase their tax liabilities. In addition, if our WFOE requests the shareholders of our VIEs to transfer its equity interests in our VIEs at nominal or no value pursuant to these contractual arrangements, such transfer could be viewed as a gift and subject our WFOE to PRC income tax. Furthermore, the PRC tax authorities may impose late payment fees and other penalties on our VIEs for the adjusted but unpaid taxes according to the applicable regulations. Our financial position could be materially and adversely affected if our VIEs’ tax liabilities increase or if they are required to pay late payment fees and other penalties.
We may lose the ability to use and enjoy assets held by our VIEs that are material to the operation of our business if the entity goes bankrupt or becomes subject to a dissolution or liquidation proceeding.
Our VIEs hold substantially all of our assets, some of which are material to our operation, including, among others, intellectual properties, hardware and software. Under the contractual arrangements, our VIEs may not, and the shareholders of our VIEs may not cause them to, in any manner, sell, transfer, mortgage or dispose of their assets or their legal or beneficial interests in the business without our prior consent. However, in the event our VIEs’ shareholders breach these contractual arrangements and voluntarily liquidate our VIEs, or our VIEs declare bankruptcy and all or part of their assets become subject to liens or rights of third-party creditors, or are otherwise disposed of without our consent, we may be unable to continue some or all of our business activities, which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. If our VIEs undergo a voluntary or involuntary liquidation proceeding, independent third-party creditors may claim rights to some or all of these assets, thereby hindering our ability to operate our business, which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Risks Related to Doing Business in China
Changes in China’s economic, political or social conditions or government policies could have a material adverse effect on our business and results of operations.
Substantially all of our operations are located in China. Accordingly, our business, prospects, financial condition and results of operations may be influenced to a significant degree by political, economic and social conditions in China generally and by continued economic growth in China as a whole.
The Chinese economy differs from the economies of most developed countries in many respects, including but not limited to the extent of government involvement, level of development, growth rate, control of foreign exchange and allocation of resources. Although the Chinese government has implemented measures emphasizing the utilization of market forces for economic reform, the reduction of state ownership of productive assets and the establishment of improved corporate governance in business enterprises, a substantial portion of productive assets in China is still owned by the Chinese government. In addition, the Chinese government continues to play a significant role in regulating industry development by imposing industrial policies. The Chinese government also exercises significant control over China’s economic growth through allocating resources, controlling payment of foreign currency-denominated obligations, setting monetary policy, and providing preferential treatment to particular industries or companies.
While the Chinese economy has experienced significant growth over the past decades, growth has been uneven, both geographically and among various sectors of the economy. The Chinese government has implemented various measures to encourage economic growth and guide the allocation of resources. Some of these measures may benefit the overall Chinese economy, but may have a negative effect on us. For example, our financial condition and results of operations may be adversely affected by government control over capital investments or changes in tax regulations.
A downturn in the Chinese or global economy could reduce the demand for consumer loans, which could materially and adversely affect our business and financial condition.
COVID-19 had a severe and negative impact on the Chinese and the global economy in the first quarter of 2020. Whether this will lead to a prolonged downturn in the economy is still unknown. Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, the global macroeconomic environment was facing numerous challenges. The growth rate of the Chinese economy has already been slowing since 2010. In particular, National Bureau of Statistics of China reported a 6.8% drop in gross domestic product (GDP) for the first quarter of 2020 compared with the same period of 2019. There is considerable uncertainty over the long-term effects of the expansionary monetary and fiscal policies which had been adopted by the central banks and financial authorities of some of the world’s leading economies, including the United States and China, even before 2020. Unrest, terrorist threats and the potential for war in the Middle East and elsewhere may increase market volatility across the globe. There have also been concerns about the relationship between China and other countries, including the surrounding Asian countries, which may potentially have economic effects. In particular, there is significant uncertainty about the future relationship between the United States and China with respect to trade policies, treaties, government regulations and tariffs. Economic conditions in China are sensitive to global economic conditions, as well as changes in domestic economic and political policies and the expected or perceived overall economic growth rate in China. Any severe or prolonged slowdown in the global or Chinese economy may reduce the demand for consumer loans and have a negative impact on our business, results of operations and financial condition. Additionally, continued turbulence in the international markets may adversely affect our ability to access the capital markets to meet liquidity needs.
Uncertainties in the interpretation and enforcement of PRC laws and regulations could limit the legal protections available to us.
The PRC legal system is based on written statutes and prior court decisions have limited value as precedents. Since these laws and regulations are relatively new and the PRC legal system continues to rapidly evolve, the interpretations of many laws, regulations and rules are not always uniform and enforcement of these laws, regulations and rules involves uncertainties.
From time to time, we may have to resort to administrative and court proceedings to enforce our legal rights. However, since PRC administrative and court authorities have significant discretion in interpreting and implementing statutory and contractual terms, it may be more difficult to evaluate the outcome of administrative and court proceedings and the level of legal protection we enjoy than in more developed legal systems. Furthermore, the PRC legal system is based in part on government policies and internal rules (some of which are not published in a timely manner or at all) that may have retroactive effect. As a result, we may not be aware of our violation of these policies and rules until sometime after the violation. Such uncertainties, including uncertainty over the scope and effect of our contractual, property (including intellectual property) and procedural rights, could materially and adversely affect our business and impede our ability to continue our operations.
Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the newly enacted Foreign Investment Law and how it may impact the viability of our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations.
On March 15, 2019, the PRC National People’s Congress approved the Foreign Investment Law, which came into effect on January 1, 2020 and replaces the trio of existing laws regulating foreign investment in the PRC, namely, the Sino-Foreign Equity Joint Venture Enterprise Law, the Sino-Foreign Cooperative Joint Venture Enterprise Law and the Wholly Foreign-Invested Enterprise Law, and become the legal foundation for foreign investment in the PRC.
The Foreign Investment Law sets out the basic regulatory framework for foreign investments and proposes to implement a system of pre-entry national treatment with a negative list for foreign investments, pursuant to which (i) foreign entities and individuals are prohibited from investing in the areas that are not open to foreign investments, (ii) foreign investments in the restricted industries must satisfy certain requirements under the law, and (iii) foreign investments in business sectors outside of the negative list will be treated equally with domestic investments. The Foreign Investment Law also sets forth necessary mechanisms to facilitate, protect and manage foreign investments and proposes to establish a foreign investment information reporting system, through which foreign investors are required to submit information relating to their investments to the Ministry of Commerce, or MOFCOM, or its local branches.
However, since the Foreign Investment Law is relatively new, uncertainties still exist in relation to its interpretation and implementation. For instance, under the Foreign Investment Law, “foreign investment” refers to the investment activities directly or indirectly conducted by foreign individuals, enterprises or other entities in China. Though it does not explicitly classify contractual arrangements as a form of foreign investment, there is no assurance that foreign investment via contractual arrangement would not be interpreted as a type of indirect foreign investment activities under the definition in the future. In addition, the definition contains a catch-all provision which includes investments made by foreign investors through means stipulated in laws or administrative regulations or other methods prescribed by the State Council. Therefore, it still leaves leeway for future laws, administrative regulations or provisions promulgated by the State Council to provide for contractual arrangements as a form of foreign investment. In any of these cases, it will be uncertain whether our contractual arrangements will be deemed to be in violation of the market access requirements for foreign investment under the PRC laws and regulations. Furthermore, if future laws, administrative regulations or provisions prescribed by the State Council mandate further actions to be taken by companies with respect to existing contractual arrangements, we may face substantial uncertainties as to whether we can complete such actions in a timely manner, or at all. Failure to take timely and appropriate measures to cope with any of these or similar regulatory compliance challenges could materially and adversely affect our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations.
We may be adversely affected by the complexity, uncertainties and changes in PRC regulation of internet-related businesses and companies, and any lack of requisite approvals, licenses or permits applicable to our business may have a material adverse effect on our business and results of operations.
The PRC government extensively regulates the internet industry, including foreign ownership of, and the licensing and permit requirements pertaining to, companies in the internet industry. These internet-related laws and regulations are relatively new and evolving, and their interpretation and enforcement involve significant uncertainties. As a result, in certain circumstances it may be difficult to determine what actions or omissions may be deemed to be in violation of applicable laws and regulations.
We only have contractual control over our website and mobile app platform. We do not directly own the website and mobile app platform due to the restriction of foreign investment in businesses providing value-added telecommunications services in China, including internet information provision services. This may significantly disrupt our business, subject us to sanctions, compromise enforceability of related contractual arrangements, or have other harmful effects on us.
The evolving PRC regulatory system for the internet industry may lead to the establishment of new regulatory agencies. For example, in May 2011, the State Council announced the establishment of a new department, the Cyberspace Administration of China, (with the involvement of the State Council Information Office, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, or the MIIT, and the Ministry of Public Security). The primary role of this new agency is to facilitate the policy-making and legislative development in this field, to direct and coordinate with the relevant departments in connection with online content administration and to deal with cross-ministry regulatory matters in relation to the internet industry.
According to relevant PRC laws and regulations, any enterprise must obtain a value-added telecommunication business license to operate value-added telecommunication business. As a result, our online platform, 360 Jietiao, operated by Shanghai Qiyu, one of our VIEs, may be required to obtain VATS license. Furthermore, it is uncertain if Fuzhou Microcredit will be required to obtain a separate operating license with respect to our mobile app or website in addition to the VATS license.
The interpretation and application of existing PRC laws, regulations and policies and possible new laws, regulations or policies relating to the internet industry have created substantial uncertainties regarding the legality of existing and future foreign investments in, and the businesses and activities of, internet businesses in China, including our business. We cannot assure you that we have obtained all the permits or licenses required for conducting our business in China or will be able to maintain our existing licenses or obtain new ones. If the PRC government considers that we were operating without the proper approvals, licenses or permits or promulgates new laws and regulations that require additional approvals or licenses or imposes additional restrictions on the operation of any part of our business, it has the power, among other things, to levy fines, confiscate our income, revoke our business licenses, and require us to discontinue our relevant business or impose restrictions on the affected portion of our business. Any of these actions by the PRC government may have a material adverse effect on our business and results of operations.
We rely on dividends and other distributions on equity paid by our PRC subsidiary to fund any cash and financing requirements we may have, and any limitation on the ability of our PRC subsidiary to make payments to us could have a material adverse effect on our ability to conduct our business.
We are a holding company, and we rely on dividends and other distributions on equity paid by our PRC subsidiary for our cash and financing requirements, including the funds necessary to pay dividends and other cash distributions to our shareholders and service any debt we may incur. If our PRC subsidiary incurs debt on its own behalf in the future, the instruments governing the debt may restrict its ability to pay dividends or make other distributions to us. In addition, the PRC tax authorities may require our PRC subsidiary to adjust its taxable income under the contractual arrangements it currently has in place with our VIEs in a manner that would materially and adversely affect their ability to pay dividends and other distributions to us. See “—Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure—Contractual arrangements in relation to our VIEs may be subject to scrutiny by the PRC tax authorities and they may determine that we or our VIEs owe additional taxes, which could negatively affect our financial condition and the value of your investment.”
Under PRC laws and regulations, our PRC subsidiary, as wholly foreign-owned enterprises in China, may pay dividends only out of its accumulated after-tax profits as determined in accordance with PRC accounting standards and regulations. In addition, a wholly foreign-owned enterprise is required to set aside at least 10% of its accumulated after-tax profits each year, if any, to fund certain statutory reserve funds, until the aggregate amount of such funds reaches 50% of its registered capital. At its discretion, a wholly foreign-owned enterprise may allocate a portion of its after-tax profits based on PRC accounting standards to employee benefits and bonus funds. These reserve funds and employee benefits and bonus funds are not distributable as cash dividends.
In response to the persistent capital outflow and the Renminbi’s depreciation against U.S. dollar in the fourth quarter of 2016, the People’s Bank of China and the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, or SAFE, have implemented a series of capital control measures, including stricter vetting procedures for China-based companies to remit foreign currency for overseas acquisitions, dividend payments and shareholder loan repayments. For instance, the SAFE issued the Notice of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Further Improving and Adjusting the Policy for Foreign Exchange Control of Capital Accounts, or the Circular 2, on May 12, 2014, which provides that offshore Renminbi loans provided by a domestic enterprise to offshore enterprises that it holds equity interests in shall not exceed 30% of such equity interests. The Circular 2 may constrain our PRC subsidiary’s ability to provide offshore loans to us. The PRC government may continue to strengthen its capital controls and our PRC subsidiary’s dividends and other distributions may be subjected to tighter scrutiny in the future. Any limitation on the ability of our PRC subsidiary to pay dividends or make other distributions to us could materially and adversely limit our ability to grow, make investments or acquisitions that could be beneficial to our business, pay dividends, or otherwise fund and conduct our business. See also “—If we are classified as a PRC resident enterprise for PRC income tax purposes, such classification could result in unfavorable tax consequences to us and our non-PRC shareholders or ADS holders.”
PRC regulation of loans to and direct investment in PRC entities by offshore holding companies and governmental control of currency conversion may delay or prevent us from using the proceeds of our securities offerings to make loans to or make additional capital contributions to our PRC subsidiary, which could materially and adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business.
Any funds we transfer to our PRC subsidiary, either as a shareholder loan or as an increase in registered capital, are subject to approval by or registration with relevant governmental authorities in China. According to the relevant PRC regulations on foreign-invested enterprises in China, capital contributions to our PRC subsidiary are subject to the requirement of making necessary filings in the Foreign Investment Comprehensive Management Information System, or FICMIS, and registration with other governmental authorities in China. In addition, (a) any foreign loan procured by our PRC subsidiary is required to be registered with SAFE, or its local branches, and (b) our PRC subsidiary may not procure loans which exceed the difference between its registered capital and its total investment amount as recorded in FICMIS. Any medium or long-term loan to be provided by us to a variable interest entity of our company must be recorded and registered by the National Development and Reform Committee and SAFE or its local branches. We may not complete such recording or registrations on a timely basis, if at all, with respect to future capital contributions or foreign loans by us to our PRC subsidiary. If we fail to complete such recording or registration, our ability to use the proceeds of our securities offerings and to capitalize our PRC operations may be negatively affected, which could adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business.
The Circular on Reforming the Management Approach Regarding the Foreign Exchange Capital Settlement of Foreign-Invested Enterprises, or SAFE Circular 19, and the Circular on Reforming and Standardizing the Administrative Provisions on Capital Account Foreign Exchange, or SAFE Circular 16, prohibit foreign-invested enterprises from, among other things, using Renminbi fund converted from its foreign exchange capitals for expenditure beyond its business scope, investment and financing (except for security investment or guarantee products issued by bank), providing loans to non-affiliated enterprises or constructing or purchasing real estate not for self-use. This restriction was relaxed, however, in October 2019 since when non-investment foreign-funded enterprises can make domestic equity investments by converting their foreign exchange capital,provided that such investments should be in compliance with the Negative List and other relevant PRC laws and regulations.
SAFE Circular 19, SAFE Circular 16 and other relevant rules and regulations may significantly limit our ability to transfer to and use in China the net proceeds from our securities offerings, which may adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Fluctuations in exchange rates could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and the price of our ADSs.
The conversion of Renminbi into foreign currencies, including U.S. dollars, is based on rates set by the People’s Bank of China. The Renminbi has fluctuated against the U.S. dollar, at times significantly and unpredictably. The value of Renminbi against the U.S. dollar and other currencies is affected by changes in China’s political and economic conditions and by China’s foreign exchange policies, among other things. We cannot assure you that Renminbi will not appreciate or depreciate significantly in value against the U.S. dollar in the future. It is difficult to predict how market forces or PRC or U.S. government policy may impact the exchange rate between Renminbi and the U.S. dollar in the future.
Any significant appreciation or depreciation of Renminbi may materially and adversely affect our revenues, earnings and financial position, and the value of, and any dividends payable on, our ADSs in U.S. dollars. For example, to the extent that we need to convert U.S. dollars we receive into Renminbi to pay our operating expenses, appreciation of Renminbi against the U.S. dollar would have an adverse effect on the RMB amount we would receive from the conversion. Conversely, a significant depreciation of Renminbi against the U.S. dollar may significantly reduce the U.S. dollar equivalent of our earnings, which in turn could adversely affect the price of our ADSs.
Very limited hedging options are available in China to reduce our exposure to exchange rate fluctuations. To date, we have not entered into any hedging transactions in an effort to reduce our exposure to foreign currency exchange risk. While we may decide to enter into hedging transactions in the future, the availability and effectiveness of these hedges may be limited and we may not be able to adequately hedge our exposure or at all. In addition, our currency exchange losses may be magnified by PRC exchange control regulations that restrict our ability to convert Renminbi into foreign currency. As a result, fluctuations in exchange rates may have a material adverse effect on your investment.
Governmental control of currency conversion may limit our ability to utilize our net revenue effectively and affect the value of your investment.
The PRC government imposes controls on the convertibility of the Renminbi into foreign currencies and, in certain cases, the remittance of currency out of China. We receive substantially all of our net revenue in Renminbi. Under our current corporate structure, our company in the Cayman Islands relies on dividend payments from our PRC subsidiary to fund any cash and financing requirements we may have. Under existing PRC foreign exchange regulations, payments of current account items, such as profit distributions and trade and service-related foreign exchange transactions, can be made in foreign currencies without prior approval from SAFE by complying with certain procedural requirements. Therefore, our PRC subsidiary is able to pay dividends in foreign currencies to us without prior approval from SAFE, subject to the condition that the remittance of such dividends outside of the PRC complies with certain procedures under PRC foreign exchange regulation, such as the overseas investment registrations by the shareholders of our company who are PRC residents. But approval from or registration with appropriate government authorities is required where Renminbi is to be converted into foreign currency and remitted out of China to pay capital expenses such as the repayment of loans denominated in foreign currencies.
In light of the flood of capital outflows of China in 2016 due to the weakening Renminbi, the PRC government has imposed more restrictive foreign exchange policies and stepped up scrutiny of major outbound capital movement. More restrictions and substantial vetting process are put in place by SAFE to regulate cross-border transactions falling under the capital account. The PRC government may at its discretion further restrict access in the future to foreign currencies for current account transactions. If the foreign exchange control system prevents us from obtaining sufficient foreign currencies to satisfy our foreign currency demands, we may not be able to pay dividends in foreign currencies to our shareholders, which could also affect holders of our ADSs.
Failure to make adequate contributions to various employee benefit plans and withhold individual income tax on employees’ salaries as required by PRC regulations may subject us to penalties.
Companies operating in China are required to participate in various government sponsored employee benefit plans, including certain social insurance, housing funds and other welfare-oriented payment obligations, and contribute to the plans in amounts equal to certain percentages of salaries of our employees up to a maximum amount specified by the local government from time to time at locations where we operate our businesses. The requirement of employee benefit plans has not been implemented consistently by the local governments in China given the different levels of economic development in different locations. Companies operating in China are also required to withhold individual income tax on employees’ salaries based on the actual salary of each employee upon payment. If we do not make adequate employee benefit payments, we may be required to make up the contributions for these plans as well as to pay late fees and fines; with respect to the underwithheld individual income tax, we may be required to make up sufficient withholding and pay late fees and fines. If we are subject to late fees or fines in relation to the underpaid employee benefits and underwithheld individual income tax, our financial condition and results of operations may be adversely affected.
The M&A Rules and certain other PRC regulations establish complex procedures for some acquisitions of Chinese companies by foreign investors, which could make it more difficult for us to pursue growth through acquisitions in China.
The Regulations on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Companies by Foreign Investors, or the M&A Rules, adopted by six PRC regulatory agencies in 2006 and amended in 2009, and some other regulations and rules concerning mergers and acquisitions established additional procedures and requirements that could make merger and acquisition activities by foreign investors more time consuming and complex, including requirements in some instances that the MOFCOM be notified in advance of any change-of-control transaction in which a foreign investor takes control of a PRC domestic enterprise. Moreover, the Anti-Monopoly Law requires that the MOFCOM shall be notified in advance of any concentration of undertaking if certain thresholds are triggered. In addition, the security review rules issued by the MOFCOM that became effective in September 2011 specify that mergers and acquisitions by foreign investors that raise “national defense and security” concerns and mergers and acquisitions through which foreign investors may acquire de facto control over domestic enterprises that raise “national security” concerns are subject to strict review by the MOFCOM, and the rules prohibit any activities attempting to bypass a security review, including by structuring the transaction through a proxy or contractual control arrangement. In the future, we may grow our business by acquiring complementary businesses. Complying with the requirements of the above-mentioned regulations and other relevant rules to complete such transactions could be time consuming, and any required approval processes, including obtaining approval from the MOFCOM or its local counterparts may delay or inhibit our ability to complete such transactions, which could affect our ability to expand our business or maintain our market share.
PRC regulations relating to offshore investment activities by PRC residents may limit our PRC subsidiary’s ability to increase their registered capital or distribute profits to us or otherwise expose us or our PRC resident beneficial owners to liability and penalties under PRC law.
SAFE promulgated the Circular on Relevant Issues Relating to PRC Resident’s Investment and Financing and Roundtrip Investment through Special Purpose Vehicles, or SAFE Circular 37, in July 2014 that requires PRC residents or entities to register with SAFE or its local branch in connection with their establishment or control of an offshore entity established for the purpose of overseas investment or financing. In addition, such PRC residents or entities must update their SAFE registrations when the offshore special purpose vehicle undergoes material events relating to any change of basic information (including change of such PRC residents or entities, name and operation term), increases or decreases in investment amount, transfers or exchanges of shares, or mergers or divisions.
SAFE Circular 37 is issued to replace the Circular on Relevant Issues Concerning Foreign Exchange Administration for PRC Residents Engaging in Financing and Roundtrip Investments through Overseas Special Purpose Vehicles.
If our shareholders who are PRC residents or entities do not complete their registration with the local SAFE branches, our PRC subsidiary may be prohibited from distributing their profits and proceeds from any reduction in capital, share transfer or liquidation to us, and we may be restricted in our ability to contribute additional capital to our PRC subsidiary. Moreover, failure to comply with SAFE registration described above could result in liability under PRC laws for evasion of applicable foreign exchange restrictions.
However, we may not be informed of the identities of all the PRC residents or entities holding direct or indirect interest in our company, nor can we compel our shareholders to comply with the requirements of SAFE Circular 37. As a result, we cannot assure you that all of our shareholders who are PRC residents or entities have complied with, and will in the future make or obtain any applicable registrations or approvals required by, SAFE Circular 37. Failure by such shareholders to comply with SAFE Circular 37, or failure by us to amend the foreign exchange registrations of our PRC subsidiary, could subject us to fines or legal sanctions, restrict our overseas or cross-border investment activities, limit our PRC subsidiary’s ability to make distributions or pay dividends to us or affect our ownership structure, which could adversely affect our business and prospects.
Any failure to comply with PRC regulations regarding the registration requirements for employee stock incentive plans may subject the PRC plan participants or us to fines and other legal or administrative sanctions.
Pursuant to SAFE Circular 37, PRC residents who participate in stock incentive plans in overseas non-publicly-listed companies may submit applications to SAFE or its local branches for the foreign exchange registration with respect to offshore special purpose vehicles. In the meantime, our directors, executive officers and other employees who are PRC citizens, subject to limited exceptions, and who have been granted stock options by us, may follow the Notices on Issues Concerning the Foreign Exchange Administration for Domestic Individuals Participating in Stock Incentive Plan of Overseas Publicly-Listed Company, promulgated by SAFE in 2012, or the 2012 SAFE Notices. Pursuant to the 2012 SAFE Notices, PRC citizens and non-PRC citizens who reside in China for a continuous period of not less than one year are required to register with SAFE through a domestic qualified agent, which could be the PRC subsidiaries of such overseas listed company, and complete certain other procedures if they participate in any stock incentive plan of an overseas publicly traded company, unless certain exceptions are available. In addition, an overseas entrusted institution must be retained to handle matters in connection with the exercise or sale of stock options and the purchase or sale of shares and interests. We and our directors, executive officers and other employees who are PRC citizens or non PRC citizens living in the PRC for a continuous period of not less than one year and have been granted stock options are subject to these regulations. Failure to complete SAFE registrations may subject them to fines and legal sanctions, and may also limit our ability to contribute additional capital into our PRC subsidiary and limit our PRC subsidiary’s ability to distribute dividends to us. We also face regulatory uncertainties that could restrict our ability to adopt additional incentive plans for our directors, executive officers and employees under PRC law. See “Regulations—Regulations on Foreign Exchange—Regulations on stock incentive plans.”
The State Administration of Taxation, or SAT, has issued certain circulars concerning employee stock options and restricted shares. Under these circulars, our employees working in China who exercise stock options or are granted restricted shares will be subject to PRC individual income tax. Our PRC subsidiary has obligations to file documents related to employee stock options or restricted shares with relevant tax authorities and to withhold individual income taxes of those employees who exercise their share options. If our employees fail to pay or we fail to withhold their income taxes according to relevant laws and regulations, we may face sanctions imposed by the tax authorities or other PRC governmental authorities. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations on Foreign Exchange—Regulations on stock incentive plans.”
If we are classified as a PRC resident enterprise for PRC income tax purposes, such classification could result in unfavorable tax consequences to us and our non-PRC shareholders or ADS holders.
Under the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementation rules, an enterprise established outside of the PRC with a “de facto management body” within the PRC is considered a resident enterprise and will be subject to the enterprise income tax on its global income at the rate of 25%. The implementation rules define the term “de facto management body” as the body that exercises full and substantial control over and overall management of the business, productions, personnel, accounts and properties of an enterprise. In April 2009, the SAT issued a circular, known as Circular 82, which provides certain specific criteria for determining whether the “de facto management body” of a PRC-controlled enterprise that is incorporated offshore is located in China. Although this circular only applies to offshore enterprises controlled by PRC enterprises or PRC enterprise groups, not those controlled by PRC individuals or foreigners like us, the criteria set forth in the circular may reflect the SAT’s general position on how the “de facto management body” test should be applied in determining the tax resident status of all offshore enterprises. According to Circular 82, an offshore incorporated enterprise controlled by a PRC enterprise or a PRC enterprise group will be regarded as a PRC tax resident by virtue of having its “de facto management body” in China and will be subject to PRC enterprise income tax on its global income only if all of the following conditions are met: (i) the primary location of the day-to-day operational management is in the PRC; (ii) decisions relating to the enterprise’s financial and human resource matters are made or are subject to approval by organizations or personnel in the PRC; (iii) the enterprise’s primary assets, accounting books and records, company seals, and board and shareholder resolutions, are located or maintained in the PRC; and (iv) at least 50% of voting board members or senior executives habitually reside in the PRC.
We believe none of our entities outside of China is a PRC resident enterprise for PRC tax purposes. See “Item 10. Additional Information—E. Taxation—People’s Republic of China Taxation.” However, the tax resident status of an enterprise is subject to determination by the PRC tax authorities and uncertainties remain with respect to the interpretation of the term “de facto management body.” As substantially all of our management members are based in China, it remains unclear how the tax residency rule will apply to our case. If the PRC tax authorities determine that we or any of our subsidiaries outside of China is a PRC resident enterprise for PRC enterprise income tax purposes, then we or such subsidiary could be subject to PRC tax at a rate of 25% on its worldwide income, which could materially reduce our net income. In addition, we will also be subject to PRC enterprise income tax reporting obligations. Furthermore, if the PRC tax authorities determine that we are a PRC resident enterprise for enterprise income tax purposes, gains realized on the sale or other disposition of our ADSs or ordinary shares may be subject to PRC tax, at a rate of 10% in the case of non-PRC enterprises or 20% in the case of non-PRC individuals (in each case, subject to the provisions of any applicable tax treaty), if such gains are deemed to be from PRC sources. It is unclear whether non-PRC shareholders of our company would be able to claim the benefits of any tax treaties between their country of tax residence and the PRC in the event that we are treated as a PRC resident enterprise. Any such tax may reduce the returns on your investment in the ADSs or ordinary shares.
We may not be able to obtain certain benefits under relevant tax treaty on dividends paid by our PRC subsidiary to us through our Hong Kong subsidiary.
We are a holding company incorporated under the laws of the Cayman Islands and as such rely on dividends and other distributions on equity from our PRC subsidiary to satisfy part of our liquidity requirements. Pursuant to the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law, a withholding tax rate of 10% currently applies to dividends paid by a PRC “resident enterprise” to a foreign enterprise investor, unless any such foreign investor’s jurisdiction of incorporation has a tax treaty with China that provides for preferential tax treatment. Pursuant to the Arrangement between the Mainland China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and Tax Evasion on Income, or the Double Tax Avoidance Arrangement, and Circular 81 issued by the SAT, such withholding tax rate may be lowered to 5% if the PRC enterprise is at least 25% held by a Hong Kong enterprise for at least 12 consecutive months prior to distribution of the dividends and is determined by the relevant PRC tax authority to have satisfied other conditions and requirements under the Double Tax Avoidance Arrangement and other applicable PRC laws. Furthermore, under the Administrative Measures for Non-Resident Enterprises to Enjoy Treatments under Tax Treaties, which became effective in August 2015, the non-resident enterprises shall determine whether they are qualified to enjoy the preferential tax treatment under the tax treaties and file relevant report and materials with the tax authorities. There are also other conditions for enjoying the reduced withholding tax rate according to other relevant tax rules and regulations. See “Item 10. Additional Information—E. Taxation—People’s Republic of China Taxation.” We cannot assure you that our determination regarding our qualification to enjoy the preferential tax treatment will not be challenged by the relevant PRC tax authority or we will be able to complete the necessary filings with the relevant PRC tax authority and enjoy the preferential withholding tax rate of 5% under the Double Tax Avoidance Arrangement with respect to dividends to be paid by our PRC subsidiary to our Hong Kong subsidiary.
We face uncertainty with respect to indirect transfers of equity interests in PRC resident enterprises by their non-PRC holding companies.
We face uncertainties regarding the reporting on and consequences of previous private equity financing transactions involving the transfer and exchange of shares in our company by non-resident investors.
In February 2015, the SAT issued the Bulletin on Issues of Enterprise Income Tax on Indirect Transfers of Assets by Non-PRC Resident Enterprises, or SAT Bulletin 7, as amended in 2017. Pursuant to this bulletin, an “indirect transfer” of assets, including equity interests in a PRC resident enterprise, by non-PRC resident enterprises may be re-characterized and treated as a direct transfer of PRC taxable assets, if such arrangement does not have a reasonable commercial purpose and was established for the purpose of avoiding payment of PRC enterprise income tax. As a result, gains derived from such indirect transfer may be subject to PRC enterprise income tax. According to SAT Bulletin 7, “PRC taxable assets” include assets attributed to an establishment in China, immovable properties located in China, and equity investments in PRC resident enterprises, in respect of which gains from their transfer by a direct holder, being a non-PRC resident enterprise, would be subject to PRC enterprise income taxes. When determining whether there is a “reasonable commercial purpose” of the transaction arrangement, features to be taken into consideration include: whether the main value of the equity interest of the relevant offshore enterprise derives from PRC taxable assets; whether the assets of the relevant offshore enterprise mainly consist of direct or indirect investment in China or if its income mainly derives from China; whether the offshore enterprise and its subsidiaries directly or indirectly holding PRC taxable assets have real commercial nature which is evidenced by their actual function and risk exposure; the duration of existence of the business model and organizational structure; the replicability of the transaction by direct transfer of PRC taxable assets; and the tax situation of such indirect transfer and applicable tax treaties or similar arrangements. In respect of an indirect offshore transfer of assets of a PRC establishment, the resulting gain is to be included with the enterprise income tax filing of the PRC establishment or place of business being transferred, and would consequently be subject to PRC enterprise income tax at a rate of 25%. Where the underlying transfer relates to the immovable properties located in China or to equity investments in a PRC resident enterprise, which is not related to a PRC establishment or place of business of a non-resident enterprise, a PRC enterprise income tax of 10% would apply, subject to available preferential tax treatment under applicable tax treaties or similar arrangements, and the party who is obligated to make the transfer payments has the withholding obligation. SAT Bulletin 7 does not apply to transactions of sale of shares by investors through a public stock exchange where such shares were acquired from a transaction through a public stock exchange.
There is uncertainty as to the application of SAT Bulletin 7. We face uncertainties as to the reporting and other implications of certain past and future transactions where PRC taxable assets are involved, such as offshore restructuring, sale of the shares in our offshore subsidiaries or investments. Our company may be subject to filing obligations or taxed if our company is transferor in such transactions, and may be subject to withholding obligations if our company is transferee in such transactions under SAT Bulletin 7. For transfer of shares in our company by investors that are non-PRC resident enterprises, our PRC subsidiaries may be requested to assist in the filing under SAT Bulletin 7. As a result, we may be required to expend valuable resources to comply with SAT Bulletin 7 or to request the relevant transferors from whom we purchase taxable assets to comply with these circulars, or to establish that our company should not be taxed under these circulars, which may have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
The audit report included in this annual report is prepared by an auditor who is not inspected by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board and, as such, our investors are deprived of the benefits of such inspection.
Our independent registered public accounting firm that issues the audit report included in our annual report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, or the SEC, as auditor of companies that are traded publicly in the United States and a firm registered with the U.S. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, or the PCAOB, is required by the laws of the United States to undergo regular inspections by the PCAOB to assess its compliance with the laws of the United States and professional standards. Because our auditors are located in the PRC, a jurisdiction where the PCAOB is currently unable to conduct inspections without the approval of the Chinese authorities, our auditor is not currently inspected by the PCAOB.
Inspections of other firms that the PCAOB has conducted outside China have identified deficiencies in those firms’ audit procedures and quality control procedures, which may be addressed as part of the inspection process to improve future audit quality. This lack of PCAOB inspections in China prevents the PCAOB from regularly evaluating our auditor’s audits and its quality control procedures. As a result, investors may be deprived of the benefits of PCAOB inspections.
The inability of the PCAOB to conduct inspections of auditors in China makes it more difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of our auditor’s audit procedures or quality control procedures as compared to auditors outside of China that are subject to PCAOB inspections. Investors may lose confidence in our reported financial information and procedures and the quality of our financial statements, which may have a material adverse effect on our ADS price.
On December 7, 2018, the SEC and the PCAOB issued a joint statement highlighting continued challenges faced by the U.S. regulators in their oversight of financial statement audits of U.S.-listed companies with significant operations in China. The joint statement reflects a heightened interest in an issue that has vexed U.S. regulators in recent years. However, it remains unclear what further actions the SEC and PCAOB will take to address the problem.
On April 21, 2020, the SEC and the PCAOB issued another joint statement reiterating the greater risk that disclosures will be insufficient in many emerging markets, including China, compared to those made by U.S. domestic companies. In discussing the specific issues related to the greater risk, the statement again highlights the PCAOB's inability to inspect audit work paper and practices of accounting firms in China, with respect to their audit work of U.S. reporting companies.
Proceedings instituted by the SEC against five PRC-based accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, could result in financial statements being determined to not be in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act.
Starting in 2011 the Chinese affiliates of the “big four” accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, were affected by a conflict between U.S. and PRC law. Specifically, for certain U.S.-listed companies operating and audited in mainland China, the SEC and the PCAOB sought to obtain from the Chinese firms access to their audit work papers and related documents. The firms were, however, advised and directed that under PRC law, they could not respond directly to the U.S. regulators on those requests, and that requests by foreign regulators for access to such papers in China had to be channeled through the China Securities Regulatory Commission, or the CSRC.
In late 2012, this impasse led the SEC to commence administrative proceedings under Rule 102(e) of its Rules of Practice and also under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 against the Chinese accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm. A first instance trial of the proceedings in July 2013 in the SEC’s internal administrative court resulted in an adverse judgment against the firms. The administrative law judge proposed penalties on the firms including a temporary suspension of their right to practice before the SEC, although that proposed penalty did not take effect pending review by the Commissioners of the SEC. On February 6, 2015, before a review by the Commissioners had taken place, the firms reached a settlement with the SEC. Under the settlement, the SEC accepts that future requests by the SEC for the production of documents will normally be made to the CSRC. The firms will receive matching Section 106 requests, and are required to abide by a detailed set of procedures with respect to such requests, which in substance require them to facilitate production via the CSRC. If they fail to meet specified criteria, the SEC retains authority to impose a variety of additional remedial measures on the firms depending on the nature of the failure. Under the terms of the settlement, the underlying proceeding against the four PRC-based accounting firms was deemed dismissed with prejudice at the end of four years starting from the settlement date, which was February 6, 2019. We cannot predict if the SEC will further challenge the four PRC-based accounting firms’ compliance with U.S. law in connection with U.S. regulatory requests for audit work papers or if the results of such a challenge would result in the SEC imposing penalties such as suspensions. If additional challenges are imposed on the Chinese affiliates of the “big four” accounting firms, we could be unable to timely file future financial statements in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act.
In the event that the SEC restarts the administrative proceedings, depending upon the final outcome, listed companies in the United States with major PRC operations may find it difficult or impossible to retain auditors in respect of their operations in the PRC, which could result in financial statements being determined to not be in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act, including possible delisting. Moreover, any negative news about any such future proceedings against these audit firms may cause investor uncertainty regarding China-based, U.S.-listed companies and the market price of our ADSs may be adversely affected.
If our independent registered public accounting firm was denied, even temporarily, the ability to practice before the SEC and we were unable to timely find another registered public accounting firm to audit and issue an opinion on our financial statements, our financial statements could be determined not to be in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act. Such a determination could ultimately lead to the delisting of our ADSs from the Nasdaq Stock Market or deregistration from the SEC, or both, which would substantially reduce or effectively terminate the trading of our ADSs in the United States.
Risks Related to Our ADSs
The market price for our ADSs may be volatile.
The trading prices of our ADSs are likely to be volatile and could fluctuate widely due to factors beyond our control. This may happen because of broad market and industry factors, like the performance and fluctuation in the market prices or the
underperformance or deteriorating financial results of other listed internet or other companies based in China that have listed their securities in the United States in recent years. The securities of some of these companies have experienced significant volatility since their initial public offerings, including, in some cases, substantial price declines in their trading prices. The trading performances of other Chinese companies’ securities after their offerings, including internet and e-commerce companies, may affect the attitudes of investors toward Chinese companies listed in the United States, which consequently may impact the trading performance of our ADSs, regardless of our actual operating performance. In addition, any negative news or perceptions about inadequate corporate governance practices or fraudulent accounting, corporate structure or other matters of other Chinese companies may also negatively affect the attitudes of investors towards Chinese companies in general, including us, regardless of whether we have conducted any inappropriate activities. In addition, securities markets may from time to time experience significant price and volume fluctuations that are not related to our operating performance, such as the large decline in share prices in the United States, China and other jurisdictions in late 2008, early 2009 and the second half of 2011, which may have a material adverse effect on the market price of our ADSs.
In addition to the above factors, the price and trading volume of our ADSs may be highly volatile due to multiple factors, including the following:
|●||regulatory developments affecting us, our users, or our industry;|
|●||deterioration of the collaboration relationship with 360 Group;|
|●||conditions in the online consumer finance industries;|
|●||announcements of studies and reports relating to the quality of our product and service offerings or those of our competitors;|
|●||changes in the economic performance or market valuations of other online consumer finance platforms;|
|●||actual or anticipated fluctuations in our quarterly results of operations and changes or revisions of our expected results;|
|●||changes in financial estimates by securities research analysts;|
|●||announcements by us or our competitors of new product and service offerings, acquisitions, strategic relationships, joint ventures or capital commitments;|
|●||additions to or departures of our senior management;|
|●||detrimental negative publicity about us, our management or our industry;|
|●||fluctuations of exchange rates between the Renminbi and the U.S. dollar;|
|●||release or expiry of lock-up or other transfer restrictions on our outstanding ordinary shares or ADSs; and|
|●||sales or perceived potential sales of additional ordinary shares or ADSs.|
If securities or industry analysts do not publish research or publish inaccurate or unfavorable research about our business, the market price for our ADSs and trading volume could decline.
The trading market for our ADSs will depend in part on the research and reports that securities or industry analysts publish about us or our business. If research analysts do not establish and maintain adequate research coverage or if one or more of the analysts who cover us downgrade our ADSs or publish inaccurate or unfavorable research about our business, the market price for our ADSs would likely decline. If one or more of these analysts cease coverage of our company or fail to publish reports on us regularly, we could lose visibility in the financial markets, which, in turn, could cause the market price or trading volume for our ADSs to decline.
Because we have not yet adopted a dividend policy with respect to future dividends, you must rely on price appreciation of our ADSs for return on your investment.
We currently intend to retain most, if not all, of our available funds and any future earnings to fund the development and growth of our business. As a result, we have not yet adopted a dividend policy with respect to future dividends. Therefore, you should not rely on an investment in our ADSs as a source for any future dividend income.
Our board of directors has discretion as to whether to distribute dividends, subject to certain restrictions under Cayman Islands law, namely that our company may only pay dividends either out of profits or share premium account, and provided always that in no circumstances may a dividend be paid if this would result in our company being unable to pay its debts at they fall due in the ordinary course of business. In addition, our shareholders may by ordinary resolution declare a dividend, but no dividend may exceed the amount recommended by our board of directors. Even if our board of directors decides to declare and pay dividends, the timing, amount and form of future dividends, if any, will depend on, among other things, our future results of operations and cash flow, our capital requirements and surplus, the amount of distributions, if any, received by us from our subsidiary, our financial condition, contractual restrictions and other factors deemed relevant by our board of directors. Accordingly, the return on your investment in our ADSs will likely depend entirely upon any future price appreciation of our ADSs. There is no guarantee that our ADSs will appreciate in value or even maintain the price at which you purchased the ADSs. You may not realize a return on your investment in our ADSs and you may even lose your entire investment in our ADSs.
The voting rights of holders of ADSs are limited by the terms of the deposit agreement, and you may not be able to exercise your right to direct the voting of the underlying class A ordinary shares which are represented by your ADSs.
As a holder of our ADSs, you will not have any direct right to attend general meetings of our shareholders or to cast any votes at such meetings. You will only be able to exercise the voting rights which attach to the underlying class A ordinary shares which are represented by your ADSs indirectly by giving voting instructions to the depositary in accordance with the provisions of the deposit agreement. Upon receipt of your voting instructions, if we asked the depositary to solicit your instructions, the depositary will endeavor to vote the underlying class A ordinary shares represented by your ADSs in accordance with your instructions. If we do not instruct the depositary to solicit, you can still send voting instructions to the depositary and the depositary may, but it is not required, to endeavor to carry out those instructions. You will not be able to directly exercise any right to vote with respect to the underlying class A ordinary shares unless you withdraw the shares and become the registered holder of such shares prior to the record date for the general meeting. If we ask the depositary to solicit your voting instructions in connection with a shareholders’ meeting, we have agreed to give the depositary notice of that meeting and details of the matters to be voted upon at least 30 days prior to the meeting. Under our memorandum and articles of association, the minimum notice period required to be given by our company to our registered shareholders for convening a general meeting is ten (10) calendar days. When a general meeting is convened, you may not receive sufficient advance notice to enable you to withdraw the underlying class A ordinary shares which are represented by your ADSs and become the registered holder of such shares prior to the record date for the general meeting to allow you to attend the general meeting or to vote directly with respect to any specific matter or resolution which is to be considered and voted upon at the general meeting. In addition, under our memorandum and articles of association, for the purposes of determining those shareholders who are entitled to attend and vote at any general meeting, our directors may close our register of members and/or fix in advance a record date for such meeting, and such closure of our register of members or the setting of such a record date may prevent you from withdrawing the underlying class A ordinary shares which are represented by your ADSs and becoming the registered holder of such shares prior to the record date, so that you would not be able to attend the general meeting or to vote directly. Where any matter is to be put to a vote at a general meeting, the depositary will, if we request, and subject to the terms of the deposit agreement, endeavor to notify you of the upcoming vote and to deliver our voting materials to you. We cannot assure you that you will receive the voting materials in time to ensure that you can instruct the depositary to vote the underlying class A ordinary shares which are represented by your ADSs. In addition, the depositary and its agents are not responsible for failing to carry out voting instructions or for their manner of carrying out your voting instructions. This means that you may not be able to exercise your right to direct the voting of the underlying class A ordinary shares which are represented by your ADSs, and you may have no legal remedy if the underlying class A ordinary shares are not voted as you requested.
The depositary for our ADSs may give us a discretionary proxy to vote our class A ordinary shares underlying your ADSs if you do not instruct the depositary how to vote such shares, which could adversely affect your interests.
Under the deposit agreement for our ADSs, the depositary will give us (or our nominee) a discretionary proxy to vote the underlying class A ordinary shares represented by your ADSs at shareholders’ meetings if you do not give voting instructions to the depositary as to how to vote the underlying class A ordinary shares represented by your ADSs at a meeting and as to a matter, if:
|●||we gave the depositary timely notice of the meeting and related voting materials;|
|●||we confirmed to the depositary that we wish a discretionary proxy to be given;|
|●||we confirmed to the depositary that we reasonably do not know of any substantial opposition as to a matter to be voted on at the meeting; and|
|●||we have confirmed to the depositary that the matter voted not have material adverse impact on shareholders.|
The effect of this discretionary proxy is that, if you fail to give voting instructions to the depositary as to how to vote the underlying class A ordinary shares represented by underlying your ADSs at any particular shareholders’ meeting, you cannot prevent such underlying class A ordinary shares represented by your ADSs from being voted at that meeting, provided the other conditions described above are satisfied, and it may make it more difficult for shareholders to influence our management. Holders of our ordinary shares are not subject to this discretionary proxy.
The deposit agreement may be amended or terminated without your consent.
We and the depositary may agree to amend the deposit agreement without your consent. If you continue to hold your ADSs after an amendment to the deposit agreement, you agree to be bound by the deposit agreement as amended. See “Item 12. Description of Securities Other than Equity Securities—D. American Depositary Shares” for more information.
Your right to participate in any future rights offerings may be limited, which may cause dilution to your holdings.
We may from time to time distribute rights to our shareholders, including rights to acquire our securities. However, we cannot make such rights available to you in the United States unless we register both the rights and the securities to which the rights relate under the Securities Act or an exemption from the registration requirements is available. Under the deposit agreement, the depositary will not make rights available to you unless both the rights and the underlying securities to be distributed to ADS holders are either registered under the Securities Act or exempt from registration under the Securities Act. We are under no obligation to file a registration statement with respect to any such rights or securities or to endeavor to cause such a registration statement to be declared effective and we may not be able to establish a necessary exemption from registration under the Securities Act. Accordingly, you may be unable to participate in our rights offerings in the future and may experience dilution in your holdings.
You may not receive dividends or other distributions on our ordinary shares and you may not receive any value for them, if it is illegal or impractical to make them available to you.
The depositary has agreed to pay to you the cash dividends or other distributions it or the custodian receives on our class A ordinary shares or other deposited securities underlying our ADSs, after deducting its fees and expenses. You will receive these distributions in proportion to the number of class A ordinary shares your ADSs represent. However, the depositary is not responsible if it decides that it is unlawful or impractical to make a distribution available to any holders of ADSs. For example, it would be unlawful to make a distribution to a holder of ADSs if it consists of securities that require registration under the Securities Act but that are not properly registered or distributed under an applicable exemption from registration. The depositary may also determine that it is not feasible to distribute certain property. Additionally, the value of certain distributions may be less than the cost of mailing them. In these cases, the depositary may determine not to distribute such property. We have no obligation to register under U.S. securities laws any ADSs, ordinary shares, rights or other securities received through such distributions. We also have no obligation to take any other action to permit the distribution of ADSs, ordinary shares, rights or anything else to holders of ADSs. This means that you may not receive distributions we make on our ordinary shares or any value for them if it is illegal or impractical for us to make them available to you. These restrictions may cause a material decline in the value of our ADSs.
You may be subject to limitations on transfer of your ADSs.
Your ADSs are transferable on the books of the depositary. However, the depositary may close its transfer books at any time or from time to time when it deems expedient in connection with the performance of its duties. In addition, the depositary may refuse to deliver, transfer or register transfers of ADSs generally when our books or the books of the depositary are closed, or at any time if we or the depositary deems it advisable to do so because of any requirement of law or of any government or governmental body, or under any provision of the deposit agreement, or for any other reason.
Certain judgments obtained against us by our shareholders may not be enforceable.
We are an exempted company incorporated under the laws of the Cayman Islands with limited liability. We conduct substantially all of our operations in China and substantially all of our assets are located in China. In addition, a majority of our directors and executive officers reside within China, and most of the assets of these persons are located within China. As a result, it may be difficult or impossible for you to effect service of process within the United States upon these individuals, or to bring an action against us or against these individuals in the United States in the event that you believe your rights have been infringed under the U.S. federal securities laws or otherwise. Even if you are successful in bringing an action of this kind, the laws of the Cayman Islands and of the PRC may render you unable to enforce a judgment against our assets or the assets of our directors and officers. For more information regarding the relevant laws of the Cayman Islands and China, see “Enforceability of Civil Liabilities.”
ADSs holders may not be entitled to a jury trial with respect to claims arising under the deposit agreement or relating to our shares or the ADSs, which could result in less favorable outcomes to the plaintiff(s) in any such action.
The deposit agreement governing the ADSs representing our class A ordinary shares provides that, to the fullest extent permitted by law, ADS holders waive the right to a jury trial of any claim they may have against us or the depositary arising out of or relating to our shares, the ADSs or the deposit agreement, including any claim under the U.S. federal securities laws.
If we or the depositary opposed a jury trial demand based on the waiver, the court would determine whether the waiver was enforceable based on the facts and circumstances of that case in accordance with the applicable state and federal law. To our knowledge, the enforceability of a contractual pre-dispute jury trial waiver in connection with claims arising under the federal securities laws has not been finally adjudicated by the United States Supreme Court. However, we believe that a contractual pre-dispute jury trial waiver provision is generally enforceable, including under the laws of the State of New York, which govern the deposit agreement, by a federal or state court in the City of New York, which has non-exclusive jurisdiction over matters arising under the deposit agreement. In determining whether to enforce a contractual pre-dispute jury trial waiver provision, courts will generally consider whether a party knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waived the right to a jury trial. We believe that this is the case with respect to the deposit agreement and the ADSs. It is advisable that you consult legal counsel regarding the jury waiver provision before entering into the deposit agreement.
If you or any other holders or beneficial owners of ADSs bring a claim against us or the depositary in connection with matters arising under the deposit agreement or the ADSs, including claims under federal securities laws, you or such other holder or beneficial owner may not be entitled to a jury trial with respect to such claims, which may have the effect of limiting and discouraging lawsuits against us or the depositary. If a lawsuit is brought against us or the depositary under the deposit agreement, it may be heard only by a judge or justice of the applicable trial court, which would be conducted according to different civil procedures and may result in different outcomes than a trial by jury would have had, including results that could be less favorable to the plaintiff(s) in any such action.
Nevertheless, if this jury trial waiver provision is not permitted by applicable law, an action could proceed under the terms of the deposit agreement with a jury trial. No condition, stipulation or provision of the deposit agreement or ADSs serves as a waiver by any holder or beneficial owner of ADSs or by us or the depositary of compliance with any substantive provision of the U.S. federal securities laws and the rules and regulations promulgated thereunder.
You may face difficulties in protecting your interests, and your ability to protect your rights through U.S. courts may be limited, because we are incorporated under Cayman Islands law.
We are an exempted company incorporated under the laws of the Cayman Islands with limited liability. Our corporate affairs are governed by our memorandum and articles of association, the Companies Law (2020 Revision) of the Cayman Islands and the common law of the Cayman Islands. The rights of shareholders to take action against the directors, actions by minority shareholders and the fiduciary duties of our directors to us under Cayman Islands law are to a large extent governed by the common law of the Cayman Islands. The common law of the Cayman Islands is derived in part from comparatively limited judicial precedent in the Cayman Islands as well as from the common law of England, the decisions of whose courts are of persuasive authority, but are not binding, on a court in the Cayman Islands. The rights of our shareholders and the fiduciary duties of our directors under Cayman Islands law are not as clearly established as they would be under statutes or judicial precedent in some jurisdictions in the United States. In particular, the Cayman Islands has a less developed body of securities laws than the United States. Some U.S. states, such as Delaware, have more fully developed and judicially interpreted bodies of corporate law than the Cayman Islands. In addition, Cayman Islands companies may not have standing to initiate a shareholder derivative action in a federal court of the United States.
Shareholders of Cayman Islands exempted companies like us have no general rights under Cayman Islands law to inspect corporate records (apart from our memorandum and articles of association) or to obtain copies of lists of shareholders of these companies. Our directors have discretion under our memorandum and articles of association, to determine whether or not, and under what conditions, our corporate records may be inspected by our shareholders, but are not obliged to make them available to our shareholders. This may make it more difficult for you to obtain the information needed to establish any facts necessary for a shareholder resolution or to solicit proxies from other shareholders in connection with a proxy contest.
As a result of all of the above, our public shareholders may have more difficulty in protecting their interests in the face of actions taken by management, members of the board of directors or controlling shareholders than they would as public shareholders of a company incorporated in the United States.
Our dual class share structure will limit your ability to influence corporate matters and could discourage others from pursuing any change of control transactions that holders of our class A ordinary shares and ADSs may view as beneficial.
Our ordinary shares consist of class A ordinary shares and class B ordinary shares. Holders of class A ordinary shares are entitled to one vote per share in respect of matters requiring the votes of shareholders, while holders of class B ordinary shares are entitled to twenty votes per share. Each class B ordinary share is convertible into one class A ordinary share at any time by the holder thereof, while class A ordinary shares are not convertible into class B ordinary shares under any circumstances. Due to the disparate voting powers associated with our two classes of ordinary shares, Mr. Hongyi Zhou, beneficially owned 76.0% of the aggregate voting power of our company as of February 29, 2020. As a result, he has considerable influence over matters such as electing directors and approving material mergers, acquisitions or other business combination transactions. Furthermore, given our dual-class shares structure, Mr. Zhou will have the ability to influence the outcome of all corporate governance matters so long as he beneficially owns at least 4.8% of our total issued and outstanding share capital in class B ordinary shares. This structure will limit your ability to influence corporate matters and could also discourage others from pursuing any potential merger, takeover or other change of control transactions, which could have the effect of depriving the holders of our class A ordinary shares and our ADSs of the opportunity to sell their shares at a premium over the prevailing market price.
We are a “controlled company” as defined under the Nasdaq Stock Market Rules because Mr. Hongyi Zhou, the chairman of our board of directors, enjoys more than 50% of our total voting power. For so long as we remain a controlled company under that definition, we are permitted to elect to rely, and may rely, on certain exemptions from corporate governance rules, including an exemption from the rule that a majority of our board of directors must be independent directors or that we have to establish a nominating and corporate governance committee and a compensation committee composed entirely of independent directors. As a result, you may not have the same protection afforded to shareholders of companies that are subject to these corporate governance requirements.
The dual class structure of our ordinary shares may adversely affect the trading market for our ADSs.
S&P Dow Jones and FTSE Russell have announced changes to their eligibility criteria for inclusion of shares of public companies on certain indices, including the S&P 500, to exclude companies with multiple classes of shares and companies whose public shareholders hold no more than 5% of total voting power from being added to such indices. In addition, several shareholder advisory firms have announced their opposition to the use of multiple class structures. As a result, the dual class structure of our ordinary shares may prevent the inclusion of our ADSs, each representing two of our class A ordinary shares, in such indices and may cause shareholder advisory firms to publish negative commentary about our corporate governance practices or otherwise seek to cause us to change our capital structure. Any such exclusion from indices could result in a less active trading market for our ADSs. Any actions or publications by shareholder advisory firms critical of our corporate governance practices or capital structure could also adversely affect the value of our ADSs.
Our memorandum and articles of association contains anti-takeover provisions that could discourage a third party from acquiring us and adversely affect the rights of holders of our ordinary shares and ADSs.
Our memorandum and articles of association contains certain provisions that could limit the ability of others to acquire control of our company, including a provision that grants authority to our board of directors to issue from time to time one or more series of preferred shares without action by our shareholders and to determine, with respect to any series of preferred shares, the terms and rights of that series. These provisions could have the effect of depriving our shareholders and ADS holders of the opportunity to sell their shares or ADSs at a premium over the prevailing market price by discouraging third parties from seeking to obtain control of our company in a tender offer or similar transactions.
Certain existing shareholder has substantial influence over our company and their interests may not be aligned with the interests of our other shareholders.
Mr. Hongyi Zhou, the chairman of our board of directors, influences 76.0% of the total voting power of our issued and outstanding ordinary shares as of February 29, 2020. As a result, he has substantial influence over our business, including significant corporate actions such as mergers, consolidations, sales of all or substantially all of our assets, election of directors and other significant corporate actions.
Mr. Zhou may take actions that are not in the best interest of us or our other shareholders. This concentration of beneficial ownership may discourage, delay or prevent a change in control of our company, which could deprive our shareholders of an opportunity to receive a premium for their shares as part of a sale of our company and may reduce the price of the ADSs. These actions may be taken even if they are opposed by our other shareholders, including those who purchase ADSs in our public offerings. In addition, the significant concentration of beneficial ownership may adversely affect the trading price of the ADSs due to investors’ perception that conflicts of interest may exist or arise.
We have granted, and may continue to grant, share incentive awards, which may result in increased share-based compensation expenses.
In May 2018 and November 2019, we adopted our 2018 Share Incentive Plan and 2019 Share Incentive Plan, respectively, for purposes of granting share-based compensation awards to employees, directors and consultants to incentivize their performance and align their interests with ours. The 2018 Share Incentive Plan was later amended in November 2019. We account for compensation costs for all share options using a fair-value based method and recognize expenses in our combined and consolidated statements of comprehensive income in accordance with U.S. GAAP. Under the 2018 Share Incentive Plan and 2019 Share Incentive Plan, we are authorized to grant options to purchase ordinary shares of our company, restricted shares and restricted share units. The maximum aggregate number of ordinary shares that may be issued under the 2018 Share Incentive Plan is 25,336,096. The maximum aggregate number of ordinary shares that may be issued under the 2019 Share Incentive Plan is 1.0% of the total number of the issued and outstanding shares on January 1, 2019, and may increase annually by an amount up to 1.0% of the total number of ordinary shares then issued and outstanding commencing with the first fiscal year beginning January 1, 2020. As of March 31, 2020, class A ordinary shares underlying the options and restricted share units that have been granted and are outstanding under the 2018 Share Incentive Plan totaled 17,392,365 and the class A ordinary shares underlying the restricted share units that have been granted and are outstanding under the 2019 Share Incentive Plan amounted to 1,741,548. We believe the granting of share incentive awards is of significant importance to our ability to attract and retain employees, and we will continue to grant share incentive awards to employees in the future. As a result, our expenses associated with share-based compensation may increase, which may have an adverse effect on our results of operations.
The sale or availability for sale of substantial amounts of our ADSs could adversely affect their market price.
Sales of substantial amounts of our ADSs in the public market, or the perception that these sales could occur, could adversely affect the market price of our ADSs and could materially impair our ability to raise capital through equity offerings in the future. The ADSs sold in our offering will be freely tradable without restriction or further registration under the Securities Act, and shares held by our existing shareholders may also be sold in the public market in the future subject to the restrictions in Rule 144 and Rule 701 under the Securities Act and the applicable lock-up agreements. In particular, a majority of our outstanding shares are held by venture capital and/or private equity fund investors that are not our affiliates. These shareholders may have varying investment horizons, cash needs and repayment obligations under certain financing arrangements, including one entered into by certain beneficial owners of our shares, whom were originally organized and capitalized for the purpose of the privatization transaction of Qihoo 360 Technology Co. Ltd., and may sell their shares in reliance on Rule 144 without volume limitation.
Certain holders of our ordinary shares may cause us to register under the Securities Act the sale of their shares. Registration of these shares under the Securities Act would result in ADSs representing these shares becoming freely tradable without restriction under the Securities Act immediately upon the effectiveness of the registration. Sales of these registered shares in the form of ADSs in the public market could cause the price of our ADSs to decline.
We are a foreign private issuer within the meaning of the rules under the Exchange Act, and as such we are exempt from certain provisions applicable to U.S. domestic public companies.
Because we qualify as a foreign private issuer under the Exchange Act, we are exempt from certain provisions of the securities rules and regulations in the United States that are applicable to U.S. domestic issuers, including:
|●||the rules under the Exchange Act requiring the filing with the SEC of quarterly reports on Form 10-Q or current reports on Form 8-K;|
|●||the sections of the Exchange Act regulating the solicitation of proxies, consents, or authorizations in respect of a security registered under the Exchange Act;|
|●||the sections of the Exchange Act requiring insiders to file public reports of their stock ownership and trading activities and liability for insiders who profit from trades made in a short period of time; and|
|●||the selective disclosure rules by issuers of material nonpublic information under Regulation FD.|
We are required to file an annual report on Form 20-F within four months of the end of each fiscal year. In addition, we publish our results on a quarterly basis as press releases, distributed pursuant to the rules and regulations of the Nasdaq Stock Market. Press releases relating to financial results and material events will also be furnished to the SEC on Form 6-K. However, the information we are required to file with or furnish to the SEC will be less extensive and less timely compared to that required to be filed with the SEC by U.S. domestic issuers. As a result, you may not be afforded the same protections or information that would be made available to you were you investing in a U.S. domestic issuer.
As an exempted company incorporated in the Cayman Islands, we are permitted to adopt certain home country practices in relation to corporate governance matters that differ significantly from the Nasdaq listing standards; these practices may afford less protection to shareholders than they would enjoy if we complied fully with such corporate governance listing standards.
As a Cayman Islands exempted company listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market, we are subject to the Nasdaq listing standards. However, the Nasdaq Stock Market Rules permit a foreign private issuer like us to follow the corporate governance practices of its home country. Currently, we rely on home country practice with respect to certain aspects of our corporate governance. See “Item 16G. Corporate Governance.” Our shareholders may be afforded less protection than they would otherwise enjoy under the Nasdaq listing standards applicable to U.S. domestic issuers given our reliance on the home country practice exception.
There can be no assurance that we will not be a passive foreign investment company, or PFIC, for United States federal income tax purposes for any taxable year, which could subject United States investors in our ADSs or ordinary shares to significant adverse United States income tax consequences.
We will be classified as a PFIC for United States federal income tax purposes for any taxable year if either (a) 75% or more of our gross income for such year consists of certain types of “passive” income or (b) 50% or more of the value of our assets (determined on the basis of a quarterly average) during such year produce or are held for the production of passive income (the “asset test”). Although the law in this regard is unclear, we intend to treat our VIEs (including their respective subsidiaries, if any) as being owned by us for United States federal income tax purposes, not only because we exercise effective control over the operation of such entities but also because we are entitled to substantially all of their economic benefits, and, as a result, we consolidate their results of operations in our combined and consolidated financial statements. Assuming that we are the owner of our VIEs (including their respective subsidiaries, if any) for United States federal income tax purposes, and based upon our current and expected income and assets, including goodwill and other unbooked intangibles not reflected on our balance sheet, we do not believe we were a PFIC for the taxable year ended December 31, 2019 and we do not presently expect to be a PFIC for the current taxable year or the foreseeable future. However, no assurance can be given in this regard because the determination of whether we are or will become a PFIC is a fact-intensive inquiry made on an annual basis that depends, in part, upon the composition of our income and assets. Recent fluctuations in the market price of our ADSs and ordinary shares increased our risk of becoming a PFIC. The market price of our ADSs and ordinary shares may continue to fluctuate considerably, consequently, we cannot assure you of our PFIC status for any taxable year. The composition of our income and assets may also be affected by how, and how quickly, we use our liquid assets. If we determine not to deploy significant amounts of cash for active purposes or if it were determined that we do not own the stock of our VIEs for United States federal income tax purposes, our risk of being a PFIC may substantially increase. Because there are uncertainties in the application of the relevant rules and PFIC status is a factual determination made annually after the close of each taxable year, there can be no assurance that we will not be a PFIC for the current taxable year or any future taxable year. In addition, it is possible that the IRS may challenge our classification of certain income and assets as non-passive, which may result in our company being a PFIC for the taxable year ended December 31, 2019 or becoming a PFIC in one or more future taxable years.
If we are a PFIC in any taxable year, a U.S. Holder (as defined in “Item 10. Additional Information—E. Taxation—United States Federal Income Tax Considerations—General”) may incur significantly increased United States income tax on gain recognized on the sale or other disposition of the ADSs or ordinary shares and on the receipt of distributions on the ADSs or ordinary shares to the extent such gain or distribution is treated as an “excess distribution” under the United States federal income tax rules, and such holder may be subject to burdensome reporting requirements. Further, if we are a PFIC for any year during which a U.S. Holder holds our ADSs or ordinary shares, we generally will continue to be treated as a PFIC for all succeeding years during which such U.S. Holder holds our ADSs or ordinary shares. For more information see “Item 10. Additional Information—E. Taxation—United States Federal Income Tax Considerations—Passive foreign investment company considerations.”
We incur increased costs as a result of being a public company, particularly after we ceased to qualify as an “emerging growth company.”
As a public company, we incur significant legal, accounting and other expenses that we did not incur as a private company. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, as well as rules subsequently implemented by the SEC and the Nasdaq Stock Market, impose various requirements on the corporate governance practices of public companies. For example, as a result of becoming a public company, we increased the number of independent directors and adopted policies regarding internal controls and disclosure controls and procedures. We have also incurred additional costs in obtaining director and officer liability insurance. In addition, we incurred additional costs associated with our public company reporting requirements. It may also be more difficult for us to find qualified persons to serve on our board of directors or as executive officers. We are currently evaluating and monitoring developments with respect to these rules and regulations, and we cannot predict or estimate with any degree of certainty the amount of additional costs we may incur or the timing of such costs.
In addition, we have ceased to be an “emerging growth company” as of December 31, 2019, and therefore are no longer able to take advantage of certain exemptions from various requirements applicable to other public companies that are not emerging growth companies including, most significantly, not being required to comply with the auditor attestation requirements of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. We have incurred significant expenses and devoted substantial management efforts, and expect to continue to do so to ensure compliance with the requirements of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the other rules and regulations of the SEC.
In the past, shareholders of a public company often brought securities class action suits against the company following periods of instability in the market price of that company’s securities. If we were involved in a class action suit, it could divert a significant amount of our management’s attention and other resources from our business and operations, which could harm our results of operations and require us to incur significant expenses to defend the suit. Any such class action suit, whether or not successful, could harm our reputation and restrict our ability to raise capital in the future. In addition, if a claim is successfully made against us, we may be required to pay significant damages, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
ITEM 4. INFORMATION ON THE COMPANY
A. History and Development of the Company
We started our operation in July 2016, when Beijing Qibutianxia incorporated Shanghai Qiyu. In March 2017, Fuzhou Microcredit was founded and later obtained the license to conduct online microcredit lending business. In June 2018, Fuzhou Financing Guarantee was founded and obtained the license to provide financing guarantee services.
In April 2018, 360 Finance, Inc. was incorporated in the Cayman Islands as an offshore holding company to facilitate our financing and offshore listing. In May 2018, all shareholders of Beijing Qibutianxia adopted a unanimous resolution to reorganize for offshore listing and determine to spin off the online consumer finance service, microcredit lending as well as related financing guarantee businesses, which were hosted by Shanghai Qiyu, Fuzhou Microcredit and Fuzhou Financing Guarantee.
During the reorganization process we issued ordinary shares and preferred shares to the beneficial owners of Beijing Qibutianxia in exchange for the contribution of Shanghai Qiyu, Fuzhou Microcredit and Fuzhou Financing Guarantee. We in addition have incorporated a wholly-owned subsidiary, HK Qirui International Technology Company Limited, in Hong Kong. It has further incorporated a wholly-owned subsidiary in China, Shanghai Qiyue Information Technology Co., Ltd., which is referred to as our WFOE in this annual report. Our WFOE has entered into a series of contractual arrangements with Shanghai Qiyu, Fuzhou Microcredit, and Fuzhou Financing Guarantee, which three entities we collectively refer to as our VIEs in this annual report, and their respective record shareholders. These contractual arrangements enable us to exercise effective control over our VIEs; receive substantially all of the economic benefits of our VIEs; and have an exclusive option to purchase all or part of the equity interests in and assets of them when and to the extent permitted by PRC law. For risks and uncertainties associated with this structure, please see “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure.”
As a result of our direct ownership in our WFOE and the contractual arrangements with our VIEs, we will be regarded as the primary beneficiary of our VIEs, and may treat them as our consolidated affiliated entities under U.S. GAAP. Accordingly, we will be able to consolidate the financial results of our VIEs in our combined and consolidated financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP.
On September 10, 2018, we issued an aggregate of 24,937,695 series B preferred shares to several investors in a private placement transaction and raised US$203.5 million.
On December 14, 2018, our ADSs commenced trading on the Nasdaq Global Market under the symbol “QFIN.” We raised from our initial public offering approximately US$43.3 million in net proceeds after deducting underwriting commissions and discounts and the offering expenses payable by us.
On July 1, 2019, we completed a follow-on public offering of ADSs by certain selling shareholders. Through the follow-on offering the selling shareholders sold an aggregate of 9,609,000 ADSs at the price of US$10.00 per ADS. Net proceeds to the selling shareholders, after deducting underwriting commissions and before expenses, amounted to approximately US$92.7 million. We did not receive any proceeds from the sale of the ADSs by the selling shareholders.
On January 30, 2019, Shanghai Financing Guarantee, through which we provide the guarantee to our borrowers for the loans provided by our funding partners, obtained the financing guarantee certificate granted by competent governmental authorities to conduct financing guarantee business.
On November 27, 2019, FountainVest Partners, or FountainVest, acquired an aggregate of 11,521,266 ADSs of the Company from certain shareholders unaffiliated with our company in a series of privately negotiated, off-market transactions through Ruby Finance Investment. On December 9, 2019, a company wholly-owned by the spouse of Mr. Hongyi Zhou and a company established on behalf of certain management of the Company, including most of senior members of the management, or entities of Zhou and Management, reached agreement with FountainVest to subscribe for certain newly issued ordinary shares of Ruby Finance Investment for a total subscription price of US$20 million, and together with FountainVest, to invest up to US$60 million to purchase our company’s shares in the next twelve months through Ruby Finance Investment. On December 19, 2019, Ruby Finance Investment received US$20 million from entities of Zhou and Management. Ruby Finance Investment then further acquired 2,023,544 ADSs of the Company and held an aggregate of 13,544,810 ADSs of the Company as of December 31, 2019
Our principal executive offices are located at 7/F Lujiazui Finance Plaza, No. 1217 Dongfang Road, Pudong New Area, Shanghai 200122, People’s Republic of China. Our telephone number at this address is +86 21 6151-6360. Our registered office in the Cayman Islands is located at PO Box 309, Ugland House, Grand Cayman, KY1-1104, Cayman Islands. Our agent for service of process in the United States is Cogency Global Inc., located at 10 E. 40 Street, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10016.
The SEC maintains an Internet website that contains reports, proxy and information statements, and other information regarding us that filed electronically with the SEC, which can be accessed at http://www.sec.gov. Our annual reports, quarterly results, press release and other SEC filings can also be accessed via our investor relationship website at http://ir.360jinrong.net.
B. Business Overview
We are a leading digital consumer finance platform and the finance partner of the 360 Group, one of the largest internet companies in China. Through our services, we match underserved individual borrowers with credit demand to a diversified pool of financial institutions with credit to supply.
Our proprietary technology platform enables a unique user experience supported by resolute risk management. When coupled with our 360 Group partnership, our technology translates to a meaningful borrower acquisition, borrower retention and funding advantage, supporting the rapid growth and scaling of our business. From inception to December 31, 2019, we had facilitated over RMB326.1 billion (US$46.8 billion) in loans to 15.9 million of our borrowers.
We were born with genes of a technology company, and aim to empower financial institutions with our technologies through more efficiently solving the mismatch of demand and supply of credit. At the inception, we first started to tap into the market taking credit risk in a substantial portion of loans underwritten through our platform, by providing guarantees to financial institution lenders either directly or indirectly. We are gradually transitioning to a more technology-centric approach and in the same time deleverage our business to more healthy level and enhance our platform's sustainability. In the meantime, we continued to diversify our funding sources, into banks, consumer finance companies and peer-to-peer lending platforms.
In providing platform services, we substantially reduce our guarantee services and take no or limited credit risks related the loans we facilitate. Our platform services include the capital light model of loan origination and referral services. We either refer borrowers to our funding partners, assist them with credit assessment, credit management and collection, and charge service fee accordingly – which we refer to as capital light model of loan origination – or refer borrowers to certain online lending marketplaces and earn referral fees. In the fourth quarter of 2019, loans originated under the capital-light model accounted for 22.0% of total loan originations, a significant increase from 0.8% in the first quarter of 2019. As of December 31, 2019, outstanding loan balance for capital-heavy loans was RMB58,086.4 million (US$8,343.6 million), 8.1 times of our total equity, as compared to 9.5 times as of December 31, 2018.
The adoption of ASC 326 is expected to reduce the beginning balance of retained earnings as of January 1, 2020 by approximately 1.8 billion without taking into consideration of effect of income tax, which will lead our outstanding loan balance for capital-heavy loans to be 10 times of our adjusted total equity as of December 31, 2019. In addition, the reduction of retained earnings is mainly caused by the requirement to record a contingent guarantee liability with an allowance for credit losses under CECL model at inception of the guarantee together with the stand-ready guarantee liability. While the latter will be released into guarantee revenue over the term of the guarantee, the impact on net profit will be the same at the expiry of the guarantee term.
We match underserved individual borrowers with credit demand to a diversified pool of financial institutions with credit to supply, through both credit-driven services and platform services.
Credit driven services
Under the credit driven services category, we provide incremental credit assessment, collection and other services to facilitate transactions in addition to matching borrowers with funding sources. We also conduct risk management and provide guarantee for defaulted loans. We either by our own licensed financing guarantee companies or engage licensed third-party vendors and insurance company to guarantee loans originated through our platform, and often, we provide back-to-back guarantee to these external vendors at their requests. Under the cooperation with third-party vendors, we provide certain deposits in bank accounts of licensed guarantee companies as back-to-back guarantee, when in the event of default, the deposits will be used to compensate licensed guarantee companies for their payout amount to our funding partners in accordance with the agreements with these guarantee companies. Under the cooperation with insurance companies, we are obligated to prepay funding in the form of security deposit with the insurance companies which is used to compensate the institutional funding partners.
Our platform services include the capital light model of loan origination and referral services.
We focused on implementing our strategic transition from a traditional loan facilitator to a technology enabler through the ‘capital-light’ model in 2019. Under the capital-light model, we help our financial institution partners provide loans directly to borrowers by leveraging our technology capabilities, conducting preliminary risk analysis and providing post-origination services. As of December 31, 2019, we worked with 12 funding partners under our capital-light model.
In addition to the credit assessment, credit management and collection services we provide to our financial institution lender customers, we also refer some applicants on our platform who do not fit our risk appetite to certain online lending marketplaces, and earned referral fees. We consider this supplemental in nature to our loan origination services, due to its relatively small size and significantly volatile revenue streams swayed strongly by credit demand, credit cycle and regulatory restrictions.
The following table reflects our operating data related to credit driven services and platform services respectively for 2019 or as of December 31, 2019:
Loan origination volume
(in RMB millions)
Products presented to individual borrowers
The core product that we present to individual borrowers is an affordable, digital revolving line of credit allowing multiple loan drawdowns, with a convenient application process and flexible loan tenors. Our product is provided under the 360 Jietiao brand (“360 ” in Chinese, which means “360 notes”).
Our borrower engagement begins with a credit application which typically takes less than five minutes. Once approved, a prospective borrower is granted a line of credit, with a principal amount ranging from RMB1,000 to RMB200,000, for drawdowns based on specific needs with an amount ranging from RMB500 to RMB40,000. The average single drawdown amount for 2019, was RMB4,360.4. When an approved borrower makes a drawdown request, we and our funding partners then complete separate credit assessments. Once a drawdown is approved, a borrower may elect a loan tenor best suited for her financial needs, in fixed terms of one month, three months, six months, twelve months, eighteen months or twenty-four months, to be repaid in monthly installments. We are also offering other payment terms such as repayment at any time with a fixed daily interest within one or two months.
As of December 31, 2019, we have approved credit lines for 24.7 million users, with an average credit line per user of approximately RMB9,983.6. The average amount of approved credit line for 2019 was RMB10,581. The volume of loan origination in 2019 was RMB198.7 billion (US$28.5 billion). The outstanding balance of all loans made through 360 Jietiao as of December 31, 2019 was RMB72.2 billion (US$10.4 billion). The average tenor of loans originated in 2019 was 7.9 months, and 7.7 months if considering prepayments.
Credit Demand - Our Borrowers
We target the large and growing Chinese population of young borrowers between 18 to 35 years old, with established credit histories and low default risk, but underserved by the traditional financial institutions. As of December 31, 2019, we had a total of 24.7 million users with approved credit lines, 63.8% of whom held credit cards and 52.6% were between 18 to 35 years old. We have launched a pilot program that targets micro- and small-business owners, which we tailored to reflect such borrowers’ actual needs while giving consideration of their unique risk profiles. As we are diversifying our funding channel and improving our risk management capacities, we proactively extended services to users with different profile, while at the same time keeping our overall risk levels under control.
Our borrowers are generally drawn to our platform for supplemental credit solutions. We believe our borrowers choose us for an ease of use beginning with our streamlined credit application and extending to the flexibility to make drawdowns at any time.
In addition to tracking total borrowers on our platform, we also measure performance by monitoring our repeat borrower contribution and loss rates. Our repeat borrower contribution was 71.8% for the year ended December 31, 2019 and our M3+ delinquency rate as of December 31, 2019 was 1.31%. We believe our high levels of repeat borrower contribution coupled with low delinquency rates reflect our borrowers’ loyalty and creditworthiness.
360 Group has historically been our most important borrower acquisition channel. We access many of these borrowers through our mobile app which is built into 360 Group’s products, accessible to the 360 Group’s user base.
We are improving our targeted marketing capabilities leveraging big data analytics. We generate target borrower profiles based on our registered user and borrower base, collaborate with some of our major channel partners to co-develop analytics algorithms based on anonymous borrower information, and then mirror the target borrower profiles to a much larger user base of our channel partners. Our channel partners can distribute targeted advertisements to their users according to specific rules and instructions based on the analytics algorithms. We continue to optimize our proprietary AI system to cover more acquisition channels and reach more quality borrowers. We are also working with our channel partners to explore marketing opportunities under richer scenarios such as social network to further improve our borrower acquisition efficiency.
Lastly, we have initiated a borrower referral program which contributed 5.3% of our new borrowers cumulatively as of December 31, 2019.
We have a stable and diversified base of funding partners. In addition to matching borrowers with funding sources, we also provide incremental credit assessment, collection and other services to facilitate transactions for a substantial portion of loans originated through our platform. We primarily rely on our diversified financial institution funding partners, while also have access to retail investor base through a peer-to-peer institutional partner. With sufficient and strong funding commitment, we have the flexibility to adjust funding mix subject to market condition. For our cumulative loan originations as of December 31, 2019, financial institutions accounted for 83.4%, peer-to-peer institutional partner accounted for a 15.7%, and our online microcredit company accounted for 0.9%.
Institutional funding partners
As of December 31, 2019, we cooperated with a total of 81 institutional funding partners, including financial institutions and Peer-to-peer institutional partner.
We refer qualified borrowers to institutional funding partners, who may elect to underwrite loans based on their own risk appetites. Our financial institution funding partners are primarily national and regional commercial banks with lower funding costs, more comprehensive compliance protocol and more conservative risk management infrastructures compared with other lending market participants. As of December 31, 2019, all our financial institution funding partners covers a geographic scope of 24 provinces and 50 cities. Within the category of commercial banks, regional commercial banks underwrote 50.0% of all loans facilitated through our platform in 2019, and national banks underwrote 10.7%.
In certain special cases and as required by a small number of financial institution funding partners, some of our loans are funded and disbursed indirectly through trusts and asset management plans. We are considered the primary beneficiary of the trusts and asset management plans and consolidate their assets and liabilities on our balance sheet.
The value proposition we offer our financial institution funding partners includes risk management technical support, nationwide borrower acquisition and risk adjusted returns. Our technology infrastructure integrates directly with the risk management systems of financial institution funding partners, providing them with a more seamless and real-time risk management experience. We provide our financial institution funding partners an opportunity to acquire borrowers throughout China.
CloudBank is our workflow system capable of processing millions of transactions each day. CloudBank integrates with our financial institution funding partners’ loan disbursement, credit decision, and payment clearance systems. The primary benefit is to facilitate automated matching with borrowers based on pre-defined risk appetites, all with minimal manual intervention, allowing funding within minutes. CloudBank is also the system powering work and information flow around loan servicing.
Peer-to-peer institutional partner
We have access to retail investor base by collaborating with a P2P lending platform operated by a subsidiary of Beijing Qibutianxia and thus a related party, which matches our borrowers with individual investors and facilitates loan funding. We retain the flexibility to evaluate retail funding strategy based on market and regulatory environment. Loan funded by P2P lending platforms represented 3.0% of our total loan origination volume for the fourth quarter of 2019, as compared to 21.9% in the same period of 2018.
We may have and expect to continue exploring alternative funding initiatives, including through standardized capital instruments such as the issuance of ABS. We have been approved to list a total of RMB10 billion of ABS on the Shanghai Stock Exchange and Shenzhen Stock Exchange. As of December 31, 2019, we issued ABS of RMB2.3 billion with the comprehensive cost of funding less than 6.0%.
Our online microcredit company
In March 2017, we established an online microcredit company, Fuzhou Microcredit, which obtained regulatory approval and was issued a microcredit license to fund loans directly. In 2019, RMB390.37 million (US$56.1 million) of credit drawdowns were funded through our online microcredit company, representing approximately 0.2% of the total amount of loans originated by us during such period. All loans funded by Fuzhou Microcredit were originated through our platform and we record such loans on our balance sheet. As of December 31, 2019, Fuzhou Microcredit had registered capital of RMB500 million.
We believe our industry-leading risk management capabilities are a key competitive advantage allowing up to scale.
We believe large volumes of high quality data differentiate online consumer lending platforms, and we have a meaningful competitive advantage based on our proprietary data collection abilities, our collaboration with 360 Group and other third-party providers. In addition, we have obtained approval in September 2019 from People’s Bank of China to access its credit system, which will allow us to download and submit data on borrower’s credit profile.
Our Argus RM Model aggregates and structures borrower data we have collected in an automated and efficient way relying on our algorithm. As of December 31, 2019, we have generated profiles for 135.0 million registered users.
Behavior analysis and fraud detection
Fraud is the single largest source of credit-related loss within the online consumer finance industry today. Our underwriting process is differentiated, we believe, based on our fraud detection capabilities. Through our Argus RM Model, we marry data aggregation with fraud detection capabilities as follows:
|●||Identity authentication. We use facial recognition technology and other tools and processes leveraging internal and external data sources to verify the identity of a prospective borrower, denying those applications completed with what we believe to be a false identify.|
|●||Blacklist filtering. We maintain a real-time list of suspicious devices and accounts referred to as a blacklist and to which we have automated access. We refer to the blacklist as well as fraud histories provided by third-party institutions to filter prospective borrowers with high fraud risks.|
|●||Anti-fraud algorithms. We filter borrowers through the use of anti-fraud algorithms based on machine learning:|
|●||we utilize supervised machine learning processes to learn from known fraud behavior patterns, training our algorithms to develop rules to identify similar patterns and deny suspicious applications;|
|●||we utilize unsupervised machine learning to run anomaly detection to detect individual and aggregated abnormal patterns to identify unknown fraud behaviors; and|
|●||we conduct a social network analysis, connecting seemingly unrelated factors to often detect fraud schemes.|
Proprietary credit scoring and risk models
When a credit application is deemed to not represent a fraud risk, it is then subjected to the credit assessment module of our Argus RM Model. This module will select and analyze approximately 3,000 variables associated with a given credit application. The variables which the Argus RM Model analyzes are selected based on the perceived risk profile of the borrower. The Argus RM Model ultimately generates an A-Score to quantify a borrower’s credit profile. Prospective borrowers with higher A-Scores are granted higher credit limits. The A-Score is then directed to the Cosmic Cube Pricing Model for pricing.
We continuously monitor our borrowers and conduct a credit assessment each time a borrower requests a drawdown. A-Score is the result of the initial credit assessment performed on an applicant based on her credit profile, considering various factors including financial condition, education, past credit history, social behaviors, etc. Different from A-Score, B-Score is applied to existing borrowers on our platform with more than three months of borrowing history, by monitoring borrower behaviors, such as account, drawdown, repayment, operating and recommendation behaviors, etc. The B-Score replaces the A-Score for the purpose of future credit assessment and re-evaluation. The B-Score is reevaluated each time the borrower applies for a drawdown and at the end of each month. Given that we have high repeat borrower contribution, we expect the B-Score, reflecting the latest borrower behavior, to play a prominent role in our overall risk management effort.
Based on the B-Score we assigned to borrowers, we adjust their credit line both proactively and in response to the requests made by them. For a given borrower, the adjustment can be done no more than once every three months. A typical 15% to 25% increase will be given to the credit line of the borrower if we approve the underlying adjustment each time.
We believe we optimize the collection process for delinquent loans based on the use of a C-Score we assign to each borrower in default using the Argus RM Model. The C-Score processes data from historical collection efforts to automatically identify the most efficient channel for collection, including text messages, mobile app push notices, AI initiated collection calls, human collection calls, emails or legal letters. We also outsource our collection to third-party collection service providers, particularly after 60 days of delinquency. To fulfill the compliance requirements, all the third-party collection will not only be completed through our internal collection system but also be subject to 100% real-time inspection by AI and our internal inspectors. We have adopted and enforced comprehensive collection policies and procedures, including close monitoring of our third-party service providers, to ensure that our collection practices are in compliance with current laws and regulations. In 2019, we further strengthened data protection of our collection services by desensitizing all personal contact information of our customers and clients.
We have built an AI-powered collection and borrower service system based on automatic speech recognition, text-to-speech and natural language processing technologies. As of the date of this annual report, the application of our AI-powered collection has covered nearly 80% manpower in our collection services. Our collection system can conduct automatic outbound calls in batches and interact with our borrowers. We assess the appropriateness of AI-driven communication, and will adjust the approach and tone of the system, based on the risk level and the type of collection. This assessment is conducted automatically and we leverage the capability for all early-stage notification, contact confirmation and basic collection negotiations, while focusing our collection team on complicated collection cases, or other challenging interactions as identified by our system, to increase our operational efficiency and reduce our collection costs.
We have maintained a delinquent loan collection rate of about 90% until the fourth quarter of 2019, during which we purposefully adjusted some of our loan collection methods in response to regulatory authorities’ more stringent compliance requirements, which resulted in our relatively less effective loan collection.
We are dedicated to privacy protection of our borrowers during our risk management process, and we adopt policies to make sure we always obtain users’ consent for our use of data and enquire from other sources of their information. We also obtain consent from our borrowers to use the data collected by 360 Group for risk management purposes at the registration stage. All 360 Group’s data we relied on for risk management purposes is provided on a machine-readable-only basis, without subject to any human review or intervention. We can only access the output of such credit analysis to eliminate the possibility of data leakage or unnecessary privacy
invasion as much as possible. We also rely on our technologies and internal policies to prevent our systems from being infiltrated or exploited maliciously for data theft purpose.
Furthermore, in line with our commitment to protection of borrowers’ privacy, we do not leverage 360 Group’s rich and proprietary user data by gaining direct access to such user data. Instead, we offer 360 Group our artificial intelligence and other advanced data tools to enable it to develop algorithms that can translate complex user data into insights relating to a user’s financial status and creditworthiness. In return, 360 Group provides us with access to such insights by allowing us to conduct query searches for credit analysis and risk management purposes. In this way, we capitalize on 360 Group’s valuable user data set but avoid unnecessary privacy invasion.
Technology & Security
We are a technology-driven company. The success of our business is dependent upon our technological capabilities, which deliver a superior borrower experience, protect information on our platform, increase operational efficiency and facilitate continued innovation. Our innovation efforts are driven by a strong research, development and risk management team which, as of December 31, 2019, accounted for 33.6% of our total employees.
Principal components of our technology infrastructure include:
|●||Data science. Data science contributes to many elements of our business and operations, extending across an entire borrower lifecycle. Our Argus RM Model allows us to aggregate and assess thousands of data points to build a comprehensive profile for each borrower which guides fraud detection, credit assessment and general borrower behavior, useful in anticipating our borrowers’ needs. Our Cosmic Cube Pricing Model then applies similar data science strategies in establishing pricing. We have also developed our network relationship database with tens of billions of connecting points for fraud detection purpose. The algorithms powering the majority of our decision systems iterate in real-time through machine learning, allowing us to promptly identify and correct operational issues.|
|●||Artificial intelligence. We have identified specific applications for AI across our platform, notably around precision marketing, rapid underwriting and post-loan management and collections. We consistently update our capabilities through machine learning. For instance, our fraud detection and credit assessment capabilities are based on the self-learning of the Argus RM Model, which consistently re-evaluates statistically significant variables and re-develops policies around borrower assessment. A key benefit of AI is the automation of many of our processes. We can generally process a credit application from submission through drawdown approval without material human intervention, and our internal credit decision only takes less than a minute in accordance with recent IT records, achieving massive operational efficiency. For instance, our AI-powered voice system, which we apply to the collection of delinquent loans, has reduced our collections staff significantly and empowered the remaining staff to be more efficient and effective. Lastly, we are in the process of evaluating applications of blockchain across our business model.|
|●||Security. We are committed to maintaining a secure online platform. Our platform benefits from the expertise of the 360 Group’s platform as many of our employees, across all levels, came from 360 Group and contributed to building that business into China’s leading internet security platform. Our focus on security provides operational benefits, as borrowers are more willing to share sensitive information with us, we believe, because of our security reputation. Key security features are as follows:|
● Our firewall monitors and controls incoming and outgoing traffic 24 hours per day;
● Our servers are managed by 360 Group and as such are both physically and virtually isolated with the intensive security protocols; and
● All transmission of borrower information is encrypted.
● We have also adopted a series of policies on internal controls over information systems and network access management. We maintain redundancy through a real-time multi-layer data backup system to prevent loss of data resulting from unforeseen circumstances. We conduct periodic reviews of our technology platform, identifying and correcting problems that may undermine our system security. Such efforts include having 360 Group’s software and mobile apps security team scan and reinforce our software and applications.
|●||Stability. We operate on the 360 Group’s private cloud. Our systems infrastructure is hosted in data centers at three separate locations in Beijing and Shanghai. We maintain redundancy through a real-time multi-layer data backup system to ensure the reliability of our network. Our platform adopts a modular architecture that consists of multiple connected components, each of which can be separately upgraded and replaced without compromising the functioning of other components. This makes our platform both highly reliable and scalable.|
|●||Scalability. With a modular architecture our platform can be easily expanded as data storage requirements and borrower visits increase. In addition, load balancing technology helps us improve the distribution of workloads across multiple computing components, optimizing resource utilization and minimizing response time. Meanwhile, we have built our system in a partner-friendly approach as we provide flexible options to our partners regarding the scope of the data to be provided as well as how the data is provided. With such flexibility, we can cut a considerable amount of time and monetary cost in synchronizing the systems of ours and our partners’. For instance, it typically takes one to two weeks for us to develop our system access to a new partner’s system, which is a key selling point when prospective funding partners evaluate joining our platform.|
The online consumer finance industry in China is intensely competitive. We compete with other online finance platforms, including technology giant backed internet consumer finance platforms, and independent internet consumer finance platforms. Meanwhile, we also compete with other online consumer finance platforms for funding, data and other third-party services. As increasingly more technology giants are tapping into this industry, we expect the market landscape to be further changed. Principal methods of competition include enhancing data analytics capabilities, engaging borrowers cost-effectively and strengthening funding sources.
As evidenced by our market leadership, we believe that our user-friendly product design, proprietary risk management system and our ability to offer affordable credit products make us more attractive and efficient to both borrowers and institutional funding partners. We anticipate that more established internet, technology and financial services companies that possess large, existing borrower bases, substantial financial resources and established distribution channels may also enter the market in the future. We believe that our brands, scale, ecosystem, historical data and performance record provide us with competitive advantages over existing and potential competitors.
As the online consumer finance industry in China is new and evolving, publicly available information regarding the industry, our competitors and their respective market share may be unreliable, and such information is based, at least partly, on estimates.
We regard our trademarks, domain names, software copyrights, know-how, proprietary technologies and similar intellectual property as critical to our success, and we rely on a combination of patent, copyright, trademark and trade secret laws in China, as well as license agreements and other contractual protections, to protect our proprietary technology.
We have one registered trademark and five trademarks pending approval in China, and 336 patents pending approval in China. We have 29 registered software copyrights and three software copyrights pending approval in China. We are also the registered holder of 34 domain names in China.
Despite our efforts to protect our proprietary rights, unauthorized parties may attempt to copy or otherwise obtain and use our technology. Monitoring unauthorized use of our technology is difficult and costly, and we cannot be certain that the steps we have taken will prevent misappropriation of our technology. From time to time, we may have to resort to litigation to enforce our intellectual property rights, which could result in substantial costs and diversion of our resources. In addition, third parties may initiate litigation against us alleging infringement of their proprietary rights or declaring their non-infringement of our intellectual property rights. In the event of a successful claim of infringement and our failure or inability to develop non-infringing technology or license the infringed or similar technology on a timely basis, our business could be harmed. Even if we are able to license the infringed or similar technology, license fees could be substantial and may adversely affect our results of operations. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—We may not be able to prevent others from unauthorized use of our intellectual property, which could harm our business and competitive position” and “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—We may be subject to intellectual property infringement claims, which may be expensive to defend and may disrupt our business and operations.”
This section sets forth a summary of the most significant rules and regulations that affect our business activities in China or our shareholders’ rights to receive dividends and other distributions from us.
Regulations on Foreign Investment Restrictions
The PRC Foreign Investment Law
On March 15, 2019, the National People’s Congress approved the Foreign Investment Law, which came into effect on January 1, 2020 and replaces the trio of existing laws regulating foreign investment in the PRC, namely, the Sino-Foreign Equity Joint Venture Enterprise Law, the Sino-Foreign Cooperative Joint Venture Enterprise Law and the Wholly Foreign-Invested Enterprise Law, and become the legal foundation for foreign investment in the PRC.
The Foreign Investment Law sets out the basic regulatory framework for foreign investments and proposes to implement a system of pre-entry national treatment with a negative list for foreign investments, pursuant to which (i) foreign entities and individuals are prohibited from investing in the areas that are not open to foreign investments, (ii) foreign investments in the restricted industries must satisfy certain requirements under the law, and (iii) foreign investments in business sectors outside of the negative list will be treated equally with domestic investments. The Foreign Investment Law also sets forth necessary mechanisms to facilitate, protect and manage foreign investments and proposes to establish a foreign investment information report system, through which foreign investors are required to submit information relating to their investments to MOFCOM or its local branches.
The Implementing Regulation for the Foreign Investment Law of the PRC (Decree No. 723 of the State Council), adopted at the 74th executive meeting of the State Council on December 12, 2019 which came into effect on January 1, 2020, provides implementing measures and detailed rules to ensure the effective implementation of the Foreign Investment Law of the PRC.
Regulations on foreign investment industries
The National Development and Reform Commission and the MOFCOM issued the Guiding Catalog for Foreign Investment Industries (2017 Revision), in June 2017. In accordance with this catalog, foreign investment industries are divided into three categories: the “encouraged category,” the “restricted category” and the “prohibited category,” and industries not mentioned, in these three categories, are generally deemed permitted. The Foreign Investment Catalog is subject to review and update by the Chinese government from time to time. Moreover, the NDRC and the MOFCOM promulgated the Special Management Measures (Negative List) for the Access of Foreign Investment (2019 version) (the “Negative List”) on June 30, 2019, which has become effective as of July 30, 2019. The Negative List repeals the “restricted” and “prohibited” categories stipulated in the Foreign Investment Catalog. Pursuant to Interim Provisions on the Investment of Foreign-invested Enterprise in China implemented in September 2000 and most recently amended in October 2015, foreign investment enterprises may invest in encouraged and permitted projects in the PRC, but shall not invest in prohibited projects.
Pursuant to the Interim Administrative Measures on the Record-filing of the Incorporation and Changes of Foreign-invested Enterprises (2018 Revision) implemented on June 30, 2018 and the Foreign Investment Catalog, the foreign-invested enterprises, whose incorporation and changes involve no approval under the special entry management measures stipulated by the State, shall be subject to the administrative measures on registration and within 30 days of the occurrence of the following change events, complete the registration of changes online procedure: (i) changes of basic information of foreign-invested enterprises; (ii) changes of basic information of investors of foreign-invested enterprises; (iii) changes of equity (share) on cooperation interest; (iv) merger, division and termination; (v) pledge or transfer of property interests of foreign-invested enterprises to external parties; and (vi) other regulated changes. The changes of foreign-invested enterprises which, subject to the approval under the special entry management measures, shall apply for approval procedures in accordance with relevant foreign investment laws and regulations.
Regulations on value-added telecommunications services
The Telecommunications Regulations of the PRC issued by the PRC State Council in September 2000, as most recently amended in February 2016 set out a regulatory framework for telecommunications service providers in the PRC. Under these regulations, telecommunications service providers are required to procure operating licenses for basic telecommunications services and licenses for value-added telecommunications services, or VATS License. In July 2017, the MIIT, issued the Administrative Measures for the Telecommunications Business Operating Permit which took effect in September 2017 and invalidated the prior telecommunications permit measures issued in 2009. These measures regulate that a commercial operator of value-added telecommunications services must first obtain the VATS License and conduct its business in accordance with the specifications listed in the VATS License, providing more detailed requirements and procedures for the value-added telecommunications services industry. In September 2000, the PRC State Council promulgated the Administrative Measures on Internet Information Services, which as amended, became effective in January 2011. The measures define “internet information services” as the services providing information through the internet to online users and further divide such services into “commercial internet information services” and “non-commercial internet information services.” In accordance with the aforementioned regulations, commercial internet information services operators must obtain a VATS License from the competent government authorities before engaging in any commercial internet information services business in the PRC.
The Provisions on the Administration of Foreign-Invested Telecommunications Enterprises, issued by the PRC State Council in December 2001 and amended in September 2008 and February 2016, respectively, clarify that foreign-invested value-added telecommunications enterprises may only be Sino-foreign equity joint ventures, whose foreign equity ownership may not exceed 50%, except for online data processing and transaction processing businesses (operating e-commerce businesses) which may be 100% owned by foreign investors. Furthermore, those foreign-invested value-added telecommunications enterprises are required to have a good track record and operational experience in value-added telecommunications businesses.
Additionally, in July 2006, the MIIT issued the Circular on Strengthening the Administration of Foreign Investment in and Operation of Value-added Telecommunications Businesses, which regulates that foreign investors can only operate telecommunications businesses in China through telecommunications enterprises with valid telecommunications business operation licenses and prohibits a domestic company that holds a VATS License from leasing, transferring or selling such license to foreign investors in any form, and from providing any assistance, including providing resources, sites or facilities, to foreign investors that conduct a value-added telecommunications business illegally in China.
We provide commercial internet information services for which a VATS License is required through Shanghai Qiyu, one of our VIEs. As of December 31, 2019, Shanghai Qiyu has not obtained a VATS License. The PRC government may levy fines up to five times of the illegal income or RMB1 million, confiscate its income, revoke its business licenses, and require us to discontinue our relevant business. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—We may be adversely affected by the complexity, uncertainties and changes in PRC regulation of internet-related businesses and companies, and any lack of requisite approvals, licenses or permits applicable to our business may have a material adverse effect on our business and results of operations.”
Regulation on Online Finance Services Industry
General regulations on internet finance service
In July 2015, the Guidelines on Promoting the Healthy Growth of Internet Finance, were promulgated by ten PRC regulatory agencies, including the People’s Bank of China, or the PBOC, the MIIT and the China Banking Regulatory Commission, or the CBRC, defining “online lending.” Online lending under the Fintech Guidelines includes peer-to-peer online lending, meaning the direct loans between investors and borrowers through the internet, and online microcredit, meaning the small-sum loans through the internet by online microcredit companies.
In April 2016, the General Office of the PRC State Council issued the Implementing Proposal for the Special Rectification of Internet Financial Risk, which emphasizes the legitimacy and compliance of the internet finance service industry and specifies the rectification measures regarding the internet finance business and the institutions engaged in the internet finance business.
Regulations on private lending
According to the PRC Contract Law, promulgated in March 1999 and effective as of October 1, 1999, a loan contract between natural persons becomes effective when an individual lender provides a loan to an individual borrower. In addition, pursuant to the PRC Contract Law, a creditor may assign its rights under an agreement to a third party, provided that the debtor is notified. Upon due assignment of the creditor’s rights, the assignee is entitled to the creditor’s rights and the debtor must perform the relevant obligations under the agreement for the benefit of the assignee. In addition, CBRC’s Official Reply to Related Issues on the Legal Validity of Commercial Banks Transfer Credits to Non-Finance-Institutional Social Investors, dated February 5, 2009 confirms that commercial banks may transfer the creditor’s rights to social investors such as natural persons, legal persons or other institutions except finance institutions.
In August 2015, Provisions on Several Issues Concerning Laws Applicable to Trials of Private Lending Cases, or the Private Lending Judicial Interpretation, issued by the Supreme People’s Court, effective in September 2015, demonstrates that private lending is defined as financing between individuals, legal entities and other organizations. The Private Lending Judicial Interpretation establishes that private lending contracts are to be upheld as valid in the absence of (i) relending of funds to a borrower who knew or should have known that the funds were fraudulently obtained from a financial institution; (ii) relending of funds to a borrower who knew or should have known that the funds were borrowed from other enterprises or raised by the company’s employees; (iii) lending of funds to a borrower wherein the investor knew or should have known that the borrower intended to use the borrowed funds for illegal or criminal purposes; (iv) violations of public orders or good morals; or (v) violations of mandatory provisions of laws or administrative regulations. In addition, pursuant to the Private Lending Judicial Interpretation, lending agreements between private lenders and borrowers with annual interest rates below 24% are valid and enforceable. As to the loans with annual interest rates between 24% (exclusive) and 36% (inclusive), if the interest on the loans has already been paid to the lender voluntarily, and so long as such payments have not damaged the interest of the state, the community and any third party, the courts will turn down the borrower’s request to demand the return of the excess interest payments. If the annual interest rate of a private loan is higher than 36%, the agreement on the excess part of the interest is invalid, and if the borrower requests the lender to return the part of interest exceeding 36% of the annual interest that has been paid, the courts will support such requests.
In addition, on August 4, 2017, the Supreme People’s Court issued the Circular of Several Suggestions on Further Strengthening the Judicial Practice Regarding Financial Cases, which provides that (i) the claim of the borrower under a financial loan agreement to adjust or cut down the part of interest exceeding 24% per annum on the basis that the aggregate amount of interest, compound interest, default interest, liquidated damages and other fees collectively claimed by the lender is obviously high shall be supported by the PRC courts and (ii) in the context of internet finance disputes, if the online lending information intermediaries and the lender evade the maximum interest rate protected under the law by charging intermediary fee, the claim shall be determined as invalid.
We charge service fees for all loans originated through our platform and our institutional funding partners, Fuzhou Microcredit or the retail investors are entitled to charge the interests for the loans they fund. The interest and the service fees, on a combined basis, will not exceed 36%.
Regulations on illegal fund-raising
The Measure for the Banning of Illegal Financial Institution and Illegal Financial Business Operations promulgated by PRC State Council in July 1998 and amended in 2011, and the Circular on Relevant Issues Concerning the Penalty on Illegal Fund-Raising issued by the General Office of PRC State Council in July 2007, explicitly prohibit illegal public fund-raising. In accordance with the aforementioned regulations, the following description is deemed to detail the key features of illegal public fund-raising: (i) soliciting and raising funds from the general public by means of issuing stocks, bonds, lotteries or other securities without required approval, (ii) promising or guaranteeing a return of interest or profits or investment returns in cash, properties or other forms, or (iii) using a legitimate form to disguise the unlawful purpose. In December 2010, the Supreme People’s Court promulgated the Judicial Interpretations to Issues Concerning Applications of Laws for Trial of Criminal Cases on Illegal Fund-Raising, which sets up the criteria, criminal charges and the punishment on illegal fund-raising.
We act as an online consumer finance service platform to help facilitate loans between our borrowers and our funding partners, and we are not a party to the loans facilitated. We do not raise funds from our funding partners to provide loans to borrowers.
Regulations on the business of cash loans
In April 2017, the P2P Online Lending Working Group issued the Notices on Cash Loans. The Notices on Cash Loans require that the local branches of the P2P Online Lending Working Group conduct a comprehensive review and inspection of the cash loan business on online lending platforms and require such platforms to take necessary improvement and remediation measures within a specific period of time to comply with the relevant requirements under the applicable PRC laws and regulations. The Notices on Cash Loans aim to eliminate the non-compliance in the operations of online lending platforms, including fraudulent activities, loans with excessive interest rates, and forced loan collection practices.
The Circular 141 issued by the Special Rectification of Internet Financial Risks Working Group and the P2P Credit Risks Rectification Working Group on December 1, 2017, introduces the regulating guidance on cash loan businesses including online microcredit companies, P2P platforms and banking financial institutions. According to Circular 141, cash loans, which are characterized by the lack of specific consumption scenarios, designated purposes, targeted users or mortgages, may be inspected and rectified to prohibit the issue of excessive borrowing and granting credits repeatedly of individual borrowers, collecting abnormally high interest rate and violating privacy. Circular 141 clarifies that no organization or individual shall start a loan business without the required qualifications and approved licenses. The synthetic fund cost charged by various institutions from borrowers in the form of interest rates and other fees must comply with the regulation of private lending of the Supreme People’s Court. The loan shall not be collected through violence, intimidation or insult. It also sets out requirements and limitations for various entities involving internet finance service and banking financial institutions’ involvement in cash loan operation.
The Circular 141 further specifies that the core practice or business of the P2P lending information intermediaries shall not be outsourced, including but not limited to borrower information collection, discriminating and selecting borrowers, credit evaluation, and accounts opening. The banking finance institutions, in addition to observing the promulgations set forth by the Interim Measures on Administration of Personal Loans, issued by CBRC in February 2010, shall comply with the regulations relating to cash loans, including: (i) not extending loan funded by its own capital and funding from unqualified institutions; (ii) not accepting the credit-granting service, risk management service or other core business service from third party; including not accepting credit enhancement services, loss-bearing commitments or other credit enhancement services provided in a disguised form by any unqualified third party; (iii) making sure that the third party with which it cooperates will not charge any interest or fees from borrowers; and (iv) not directly investing or investing in a disguised form in asset-backed securitization products or other products backed by cash loans, campus loans or down payment loans.
If institutions violate the aforementioned provisions, the regulatory authorities may enforce business suspensions, compulsory enforcements, cancellation of business qualifications or supervise the rectifications. If the circumstances are extremely serious, business license may be revoked.
We are not aware if any of our online consumer finance service products have been identified as cash loan products. However, we cannot assure that the governmental authorities would always share the same view with us as the interpretation and application of related regulations is still unclear. We have also taken considerable measures to comply with Circular 141, Circular 56 and other recent regulations. For example, we have been switching to a guarantee company model, adopted new payment models and make sure all APRs of our product are below 36%. However, given that detailed regulations and guidance in the area of online consumer finance industry are yet to be promulgated, we cannot be certain that our existing practices would not be deemed to violate any existing or future laws, regulations or rules. Please refer to “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—The laws and regulations governing the online consumer finance industry and online microcredit companies in China are developing and evolving rapidly. If any of our business practices are deemed to violate any PRC laws or regulations, our business, financial condition and results of operations would be materially and adversely affected.”
Regulations on online lending information intermediaries
In August 2016, the CBRC, the MIIT, the Ministry of Public Security, and the State Internet Information Office jointly issued the Interim Lending Measures on Administration of Business Activities of Online Lending Information Intermediaries, which introduced online lending information intermediaries as financing information enterprises specifically engaged in the business of lending information intermediation services connecting investors and borrowers. Pursuant to that, online lending information service providers must complete registration with local financial regulatory departments, apply for appropriate telecommunication business licenses in accordance with relevant rules issued by competent telecommunication authorities and cover the “online lending information intermediary” in its business scope.
In accordance with these measures, the CBRC, the MIIT and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce jointly issued the Circular on Printing and Distribution the Guidelines on the Filing-based Administration of the Online Lending Information Intermediaries in November 2016, setting forth the rules on the filing-based administrative regime of online lending information intermediaries which requires local financial regulators to register, publicize and archive the basic information of online lending information intermediaries within their respective jurisdiction.
In November 2019, the Special Rectification of Internet Financial Risks Working Group and the P2P Credit Risks Rectification Working Group issued the Guiding Opinions on the Transformation of Online Lending Information Intermediaries into Pilot Microcredit Companies, or the Circular 83. The Circular 83 allows qualified Online Lending Information Intermediaries to transform into Microcredit Companies in order to proactively deal with and resolve the existing business risks of Online Lending Information Intermediaries industry. The Online Lending Information Intermediaries to be transformed must comply with certain requirements including strong shareholder background and registered capital of RMB50 million.
Regulations on micro-credit business
In May 2008, Guidance on the Pilot Establishment of Microcredit Companies was jointly promulgated by the CBRC and the PBOC, authorizing provincial governments to approve the establishment of microcredit companies on a test basis. The establishment of a microcredit company is subject to the approval of the competent government authority at the provincial level. The major sources of funds for a microcredit company are limited to capital paid by shareholders, donated capital and capital borrowed from up to two financial institutions. Furthermore, the balance of the capital borrowed by a microcredit company from financial institutions must not exceed 50% of the net capital of such microcredit company. The interest rate and terms of the borrowed capital is required to be determined by the company with the banking financial institutions upon consultation, and the interest rate must be determined by using the Shanghai Inter-bank Offered Rate as the base rate. With respect to the grant of credit, microcredit companies are required to adhere to the principle of “small sum and decentralization.” The outstanding balance of the loans granted by a microcredit company to one borrower cannot exceed 5% of the net capital of such company. The interest ceiling used by a microcredit company may be determined by such companies but in no circumstance shall they exceed the restrictions prescribed by the judicatory authority. The interest floor is 0.9 times the base interest rate published by the PBOC. Microcredit companies have the flexibility to determine the specific interest rate within the range depending on certain market conditions. In addition, according to the aforementioned guidance, microcredit companies are required to establish and improve their corporate governance structures, the loan management systems, the financial accounting systems, the asset classification systems, the provision systems for accurate asset classification and their information disclosure systems, and such companies are required to make adequate provisions for impairment losses. Microcredit companies are also required to accept public scrutiny supervision and are prohibited from carrying out illegal fund-raising in any form.
Based on this guidance, many provincial governments, including that of Fujian Province, promulgated local implementing rules on the administration of microcredit companies. In March 2012, Fujian Provincial People’s Government issued the Interim Administrative Measures on Microcredit Companies of Fujian, imposing the management duties upon the relevant regulatory authorities and specifies more detailed requirements on the microcredit companies. We operate online microcredit business through one of our consolidated VIEs, Fuzhou Microcredit which is approved by the local governmental authority.
In November 2017, the Online Finance Working Group issued the Notice on the Immediate Suspension of Approvals for the Establishment of Online Microcredit Companies, requiring all relevant regulatory authorities of microcredit companies to suspend the approval of the establishment of any online microcredit companies and the approval of any microcredit business conducted across provinces. Circular 141 further confirms to suspend the approval of the establishment of online microcredit companies and the approval of any microcredit business across province and enhance the regulation of online microcredit companies, stipulating that (i) the relevant regulatory authorities must suspend the approval for the establishment of any new online microcredit companies and the conduct of offline business of any microcredit companies across provinces (districts or cities); (ii) online microcredit companies must not extend loans to any borrowers without income, such as students; (iii) online microcredit companies must suspend the funding of online microcredits with no specific consumption scenarios or specified uses of loan proceeds, and gradually reduce the volume of the existing business relating to such loans and take rectification measures in a period to be specified by authorities.
On December 8, 2017, the P2P Credit Risks Rectification Working Group promulgated the Implementation Plan of Specific Rectification for Risks in Microcredit Companies and Online Microcredit Companies, or the Circular 56. Pursuant to the Circular 56, “online microcredits” are defined as microcredits provided through the internet by online microcredit companies. Circular 56 emphasizes several material aspects for inspection and rectification, which include but not limited to (i) online microcredit companies must be approved by the competent authorities in accordance with the applicable regulations promulgated by the State Council, and approved online microcredit companies that act in violation of any regulatory requirements must be re-examined; (ii) whether the qualification and funding source of the shareholders of online microcredit companies are in compliance with the applicable laws and regulations; (iii) whether the “integrated actual interest” (namely the aggregated borrowing costs charged to borrowers in the form of interest and various fees) are annualized and subject to the limit on interest rates of private lending set forth in the Private Lending Judicial Interpretations and, whether any interest, handling fee, management fee or deposit are deducted from the principal of loans provided to the borrowers in advance; (iv) whether campus loans, or online microcredits with no specific scenario or designated use of loan proceeds are granted; (v) with respect to the loan business conducted in collaboration with third-party institutions, whether microcredit companies cooperate with internet platform without website filing or telecommunications business license to lend online microcredit, whether the online microcredit companies outsource their core business (including the credit assessment and risk control), or accept any credit enhancement service provided by any third-party institutions with no guarantee qualification; or whether any applicable third-party institution collects any interest or fee from the borrowers; and (vi) whether there are any entities conducting online microcredit business without relevant approval or license for lending business.
Fuzhou Microcredit has obtained the approval to operate microcredit businesses as issued by the competent supervising authority, which allows Fuzhou Microcredit to conduct microcredit businesses through the internet. However, as the regulatory regime and practice with respect to online microcredit companies are evolving, there is uncertainty as to how the requirements in the above rules will be interpreted and implemented and whether there will be new rules issued which would establish further requirements and restrictions on online microcredit companies.
Regulations on Financing Guarantee
In March 2010, seven governmental authorities including CBRC, the MOFCOM and Ministry of Finance, or MOF promulgated the Interim Administrative Measures for Financing Guarantee Companies which requires an entity or individual to obtain a prior approval from the relevant governmental authority before engaging in the financing guarantee business. Financing guarantee is defined as an activity whereby the guarantor and the creditor, such as a financial institution in the banking sector, agree that the guarantor shall bear the guarantee obligations in the event that the secured party fails to perform its financing debt owed to the creditor.
On August 2, 2017, the PRC State Council promulgated the Regulations on the Supervision and Administration of Financing Guarantee Companies, which became effective on October 1, 2017. These regulations define “financing guarantee” as a guarantee provided for the debt financing, including but not limited to the extension of loans or issuance of bonds, and set out that the establishment of a financing guarantee company or engagement in the financing guarantee business without approval may result in several penalties, including but not limited to an order to cease business operation, confiscation of illegal gains, fines of up to RMB1,000,000 and criminal liabilities. These regulations on financing guarantee also set forth that the outstanding guarantee liabilities of a financing guarantee company shall not exceed ten times of its net assets, and that the ratio of the balance amount of outstanding guarantee liabilities of a financing guarantee company for the same guaranteed party shall not exceed 10%, while the ratio of the balance amount of outstanding guarantee liabilities of a financing guarantee company for the same guaranteed party and its affiliated parties shall not exceed 15%.
On October 9, 2019, nine governmental authorities including China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, the NDRC and the MIIT promulgated the Supplementary Financing Guarantee Provisions, which requires that institutions providing services as customer recommendation and credit assessment for various lending institutions shall not provide, directly or in a disguised form, financing guarantee services without approval. For the companies without the relevant financing guarantee license but actually engaging in financing guarantee business, the regulatory authorities shall cease such companies’ operation and properly make settlement for existing business contracts.
Fuzhou Financing Guarantee, through which we provide the guarantee to our borrowers for the loans provided by our funding partners, has obtained the financing guarantee certificate granted by relevant governmental authority to conduct financing guarantee business in June 2018. Shanghai Financing Guarantee, through which we provide the guarantee to our borrowers for the loans provided by our funding partners, has obtained the financing guarantee certificate granted by competent governmental authorities to conduct financing guarantee business in January 2019.
Although our online consumer finance platform neither collects guarantee fees from our institutional funding partners, nor take providing guarantees as our main operating business, our platform may be deemed to operate financing guarantee business and violate the Supplementary Financing Guarantee Provisions by the PRC regulatory authorities since some of our PRC subsidiaries without the relevant financing guarantee license provide guarantees or other credit enhancement services to some of our institutional funding partners. We have been switching to a new model and provide back-to-back guarantees for external guarantee companies. However, given the lack of further interpretations, the exact definition and scope of “providing financing guarantee business in a disguised form” under the Supplementary Financing Guarantee Provisions is unclear, therefore we cannot be certain that our new model will not be determined to violate the Supplementary Financing Guarantee Provisions. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—The laws and regulations governing the online consumer finance industry and online microcredit companies in China are developing and evolving rapidly. If any of our business practices are deemed to violate any PRC laws or regulations, our business, financial condition and results of operations would be materially and adversely affected.”
Regulations on Anti-Money Laundering
The PRC Anti-Money Laundering Law, which was issued by Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, or the NPC Standing Committee, in October, 2006 and became effective in January 2007, sets forth the principal anti-money laundering requirements applicable to financial institutions as well as nonfinancial institutions with anti-money laundering obligations, including the adoption of precautionary and supervisory measures, the establishment of various systems for client identification, the retention of clients’ identification information and transactions records, and the reporting obligation on material transactions and suspicious transactions. The PBOC and other governmental authorities issued a series of administrative rules and regulations to specify the anti-money laundering obligations of financial institutions and certain non-financial institutions. However, PRC State Council has not promulgated the list of the non-financial institutions with anti-money laundering obligations.
The Fintech Guidelines, as defined previously, clarify, among other things, internet financial service provider requirements to comply with certain anti-money laundering provisions, including the establishment of a customer identification program, the monitoring and reporting of suspicious transactions, the preservation of customer information and transaction records, and the provision of assistance to the public security department and judicial authority in investigations and proceedings in relation to anti-money laundering matters. The PBOC will formulate implementing rules to further specify the anti-money laundering obligations of internet financial service providers. On October 10, 2018, the PBOC, China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission and CSRC jointly promulgated the Administrative Measures for Anti-money Laundering and Counter-terrorism Financing by Internet Finance Service Agencies (for Trial Implementation), effective as of January 1, 2019, which specify the anti-money laundering obligations of internet finance service agencies and regulate that the internet finance service agencies (i) shall adopt continuous customer identification measures; (ii) shall implement the system for reporting large-value or suspicious transactions; (iii) shall conduct real-time monitoring of the lists of terrorist organizations and terrorists; and (iv) shall properly keep the information, data and materials such as customer identification and transaction reports etc.
Pursuant with the aforementioned regulations, we have implemented various policies and procedures, such as internal controls and “know-your-customer” procedures, for anti-money laundering purposes. However, our policies and procedures may not be completely effective in preventing other parties from using us for money laundering without our knowledge. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—If our funding partners fail to comply with applicable anti-money laundering and anti-terrorist financing laws and regulations, our business and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.”
Regulations on Information Security and Privacy Protection
In recent years, PRC government authorities have enacted laws and regulations on internet use to protect personal information from any unauthorized disclosure. Under the Several Provisions on Regulating the Market Order of Internet Information Services, issued by the MIIT in December 2011 and effective as of March 2012, an internet information service provider may not collect any user personal information or provide any such information to third parties without the specific consent of the user. An internet information service provider must expressly inform the users of the method, content and purpose of the collection and processing of such user personal information, and may only collect such information necessary for the provision of its services.
In addition, pursuant to the Decision on Strengthening the Protection of Online Information issued by the NPC Standing Committee in December 2012, which purposes to enhance the legal protection of information security and privacy on the internet, and the Order for the Protection of Telecommunication and Internet User Personal Information issued by the MIIT in July 2013, which regulates the collection and use of users’ personal information in the provision of telecommunications services and internet information services in China, any collection and use of user personal information must be subject to the consent of the user, abide by the principles of legality, rationality and necessity and be within the specified purposes, methods and scopes.
The State Internet Information Office issued the Administrative Provisions on Mobile Internet App Information Services in June 2016, effective as of August 2016, to demonstrate the regulations of the mobile app information services. Pursuant to such Provisions, a mobile internet app program provider shall strictly implement information security management rules including but not limited to (i) verifying a user’s mobile phone number, (ii) establishing and improving the mechanism for the protection of users’ information, and (iii) protecting users’ right to know and to make choices when users are installing or using such apps. Meanwhile, collecting a user’s geographical location information, accessing user’s contact list and activating the camera or recorder of the user’s mobile smart device are prohibited unless it has clearly indicated to the user and the user’s consent has been obtained.
In addition, the Fintech Guidelines requires internet financial service providers, including online consumer finance service providers, among other things, to improve technology security standards, and safeguard customer and transaction information; it also prohibits online consumer finance service providers from illegally selling or disclosing customers’ personal information. The PBOC and other relevant regulatory authorities will jointly adopt the implementing rules and technology security standards.
Pursuant to the Ninth Amendment to the Criminal Law issued by NPC Standing Committee, effective as of November 2015, any internet service provider that fails to fulfill the obligations related to internet information security administration as required by applicable laws and refuses to rectify upon administrative orders is subject to criminal penalty as a result of (i) any dissemination of illegal information in large scale; (ii) any severe effect due to the leakage of customers’ information; (iii) any serious loss of criminal evidence; or (iv) other severe situation. Moreover. any individual or entity that (i) sells or provides personal information to others in a way that violates applicable law, or (ii) steals or illegally obtain any personal information, is subject to criminal liabilities in severe situations.
The Network Security Law is formulated to maintain the network security, safeguard the cyberspace sovereignty, national security and public interests, protect the lawful rights and interests of citizens, legal persons and other organizations, and requires that a network operator, which includes, among others, Internet information services providers, take technical measures and other necessary measures in accordance with the provisions of applicable laws and regulations as well as the compulsory requirements of the national and industrial standards to safeguard the safe and stable operation of the networks, effectively respond to the network security incidents, prevent illegal and criminal activities, and maintain the integrity, confidentiality and availability of network data. The Network Security Law emphasizes that any individuals and organizations that use networks is required to comply with the PRC Constitution and laws, abide by public order and cannot endanger network security or make use of networks to engage in unlawful activities such as endangering national security, economic order and social order, and infringing the reputation, privacy, intellectual property rights and other lawful rights and interests of other people. The Network Security Law has reaffirmed the basic principles and requirements as specified in other existing laws and regulations on personal information protections, such as the requirements on the collection, use, processing, storage and disclosure of personal information, and internet service providers being required to take technical and other necessary measures to ensure the security of the personal information they have collected and prevent the personal information from being divulged, damaged or lost. Any violation of the provisions and requirements under the Network Security Law may subject the Internet service provider to warnings, fines, confiscation of illegal gains, revocation of licenses, cancellation of filings, closedown of websites or even criminal liabilities.
On January 23, 2019, the Office of the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission, the Ministry of Public Security, the State Administration for Market Regulation and the MIIT jointly issued the Announcement of Launching Special Crackdown Against Illegal Collection and Use of Personal Information by Apps, or the Announcement. According to the Announcement, from January to December 2019, four authorities abovementioned shall organize special crackdown against the illegal collection and use of personal information all over the country. App operators shall strictly fulfill their obligations regulated in the Cybersecurity Law when collecting and using personal information, and they shall be responsible for the security of personal information obtained and take effective measures to strengthen personal information protection. The App operators shall, by following the principles of lawfulness, legitimacy and necessity, not collect personal information that is not related to the services provided; when collecting personal information, they shall display the rules for the collection and use of personal information in an easy-to-understand, simple and clear manner, and personal information subjects shall independently choose consents; they shall not force the users to make authorization in the forms of default, bundling, stopping installation and use, etc., and may not collect personal information in violation of laws and regulations or against the agreements with users. It is advocated for App operators to provide users with the options to refuse to receive targeted pushes when they push news, current affairs and advertisements to targeted users.
On March 13, 2019, the State Administration for Market Regulation and the Office of the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission jointly issued the Announcement on Launching the Security Certification of Apps, which encourages app operators to voluntarily pass the security certification of apps, and encourages search engines and app stores to clearly identify and give priority to recommending those certified Apps. On November 28, 2019, the Cyberspace Administration of PRC and other three authorities jointly issued the Announcement on Identification method of App Collecting and Using Personal Information in Violation of Laws and Regulations, which provides reference for determining the unlawful collection and usage of personal information via Apps.
On April 10, 2019, the Ministry of Public Security issued the Guide for Internet Personal Information Security Protection, which sets out the management mechanism, security technical measures and business processes for personal information security protection. This Guide is applicable for personal information holders to carry out security protection work during personal information life cycle processing. It is applicable to enterprises that provide services through the Internet, and also to organizations or individuals who use a private or non-networked environment to control and process personal information.
On February 13, 2020, the People’s Bank of China issued the Personal Financial Information Protection Technical Specification, which is an industry standard, to specify the security protection requirements for all aspects of personal financial information life cycle processing, including collection, transmission, storage, use, deletion, and destruction. This standard is applicable for financial industry institutions to provide financial products and services, and also provides a reference for security assessment agencies to conduct security inspections and assessments. According to the potential impact caused by unauthorized viewing or unauthorized change of financial information, this standard classifies personal financial information into three categories of C3, C2, and C1 from high to low sensitivity, and different requirements are put forward for the whole life cycle processing of all kinds of information according to different categories.
In providing our online consumer finance service, we collect certain personal information from our consumers, and also need to share the information with our institutional funding partners for the purpose of facilitating credit to our consumers, as borrowers. We have obtained consent from borrowers for us to collect, use and share their personal information, and have also established information security systems to protect the user information and to abide by other network security requirements under such laws and regulations. However, there is uncertainty as to the interpretation and application of such laws which may be interpreted andapplied in a manner inconsistent with our current policies and practices or require changes to the features of our system. Any non-compliance or perceived non-compliance with these laws, regulations or policies may lead to warnings, fines, investigations, lawsuits, confiscation of illegal gains, revocation of licenses, cancellation of filings, closedown of websites or even criminal liabilities against us by government agencies or other individuals.
While we have taken measures to protect the personal information that we have access to, our security measures could be breached resulting in the leak of such confidential personal information. Security breaches or unauthorized access to confidential information could also expose us to liability related to the loss of the information, time-consuming and expensive litigation and negative publicity. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry— If we are unable to protect the confidential information of our users and adapt to the relevant regulatory framework as to protection of information, our business and operations may be adversely affected.”
Regulations on Foreign Exchange
Pursuant to the Foreign Exchange Administration Regulations, as issued in January 1996 and amended in January 1997 and August 2008, Renminbi is freely convertible for current account items, including the trade and service-related foreign exchange transactions, the distribution of dividends, interest payments but not for capital account items, such as direct investments, loans, repatriation of investments and investments in securities outside of China, unless prior approval from the SAFE is obtained and prior registration with the SAFE is made.
In June 2015, the SAFE promulgated the Notice of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Reforming the Administration of Foreign Exchange Settlement of Capital of Foreign-invested Enterprises, or the SAFE Circular 19. The SAFE further promulgated the Notice of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Reforming and the SAFE Circular 16 on June 9, 2016, which, among other things, amends certain provisions of SAFE Circular 19. Pursuant to SAFE Circular 19 and SAFE Circular 16, the flow and use of the Renminbi capital converted from foreign currency denominated registered capital of a foreign-invested company shall not be used for business beyond its business scope, or to provide loans to persons other than affiliates unless otherwise permitted under its business scope. Violations of SAFE Circular 19 or SAFE Circular 16 could result in administrative penalties.
In February 2015, the SAFE promulgated the Notice on Further Simplifying and Improving the Foreign Exchange Management Policies for Direct Investment, or the SAFE Circular 13, which took effect in June 2015. SAFE Circular 13 delegates the power to enforce the foreign exchange registration in connection with inbound and outbound direct investments under relevant SAFE rules from local branches of the SAFE to banks, thereby further simplifying the foreign exchange registration procedures for inbound and outbound direct investments.
Regulations on dividend distribution
The principal regulations governing distribution of dividends of foreign-invested enterprises include PRC Company Law, PRC Wholly Foreign-owned Enterprise Law, and Implementation Rules of the PRC Wholly Foreign-owned Enterprise Law , of which the Wholly Foreign-invested Enterprise Law together with its implementation regulations will be replaced by 2019 PRC Foreign Investment Law from January 1, 2020. Under these laws and regulations, wholly foreign-owned enterprises in China may pay dividends only out of their accumulated after-tax profits, if any, determined in accordance with PRC accounting standards and regulations. In addition, wholly foreign-owned enterprises in China are required to allocate at least 10% of their respective accumulated profits each year, if any, to fund certain reserve funds until these reserves have reached 50% of the registered capital of the enterprises. Wholly foreign-owned companies may, at their discretion, allocate a portion of their after-tax profits based on PRC accounting standards to staff welfare and bonus funds. These reserves are not distributable as cash dividends.
Under our current corporate structure, our Cayman Islands holding company may rely on dividend payments from Shanghai Qiyue Information Technology Co., Ltd., which is a wholly foreign-owned enterprise incorporated in China, to fund any cash and financing requirements we may have. Limitation on the ability of our VIEs to make remittance to our wholly-foreign owned enterprise and on the ability of our wholly-foreign owned enterprise to pay dividends to us could limit our ability to access cash generated by the operations of those entities. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—We rely on dividends and other distributions on equity paid by our PRC subsidiary to fund any cash and financing requirements we may have, and any limitation on the ability of our PRC subsidiary to make payments to us could have a material adverse effect on our ability to conduct our business.”
Regulations on foreign exchange registration of overseas investment by PRC residents
In July 2014, the SAFE promulgated the SAFE Circular 37 in the replacement of Notice on Issues relating to Foreign Exchange Administration for Financing and Roundtrip Investments by Domestic Residents through Overseas Special-purpose Companies in October 2005, requiring PRC residents or entities to register with the SAFE or its local branch in connection with their establishment or control of an offshore entity established for the purpose of overseas investment or financing. In addition, such PRC residents or entities must update their SAFE registrations when the offshore special purpose vehicle undergoes material events relating to any change of basic information (including change of such PRC citizens or residents, name and operation term), increases or decreases in investment amount, transfers or exchanges of shares, or mergers or divisions.
The SAFE further enacted SAFE Circular 13, which allows PRC residents or entities to register with qualified banks in connection with their establishment or control of an offshore entity established for the purpose of overseas investment or financing. In the event that a PRC shareholder holding interests in a special purpose vehicle fails to fulfill the required SAFE registration, the PRC subsidiaries of that special purpose vehicle may be prohibited from distributing profits to the offshore parent and from carrying out subsequent cross-border foreign exchange activities. In addition, the special purpose vehicle may be restricted in its ability to contribute additional capital into its PRC subsidiary. Moreover, failure to comply with the various SAFE registration requirements described above could result in liability under PRC law for evasion of foreign exchange controls.
These aforementioned regulations apply to our direct and indirect shareholders who are PRC residents and may apply to any offshore acquisitions and share transfer that we make in the future if our shares are issued to PRC residents. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—PRC regulations relating to offshore investment activities by PRC residents may limit our PRC subsidiary’s ability to increase their registered capital or distribute profits to us or otherwise expose us or our PRC resident beneficial owners to liability and penalties under PRC law.”
Regulations on stock incentive plans
In February 2012, the SAFE promulgated the Notice on Foreign Exchange Administration of PRC Residents Participating in Share Incentive Plans of Offshore Listed Companies, replacing the previous rules issued by the SAFE in March 2007 and in January 2008. Under such stock option rules and other relevant rules and regulations, PRC residents who participate in a stock incentive plan in an overseas publicly-listed company are required to register with the SAFE or its local branches and complete certain other procedures. Participants of a stock incentive plan who are PRC residents must retain a qualified PRC agent, which could be a PRC subsidiary of the overseas publicly-listed company or another qualified institution selected by the PRC subsidiary, to conduct the SAFE registration and other procedures with respect to the stock incentive plan on behalf of its participants. The participants must also retain an overseas entrusted institution to handle matters in connection with their exercise of stock options, the purchase and sale of corresponding stocks or interests and fund transfers. In addition, the PRC agent is required to amend the SAFE registration with respect to the stock incentive plan if there is any material change to the stock incentive plan, the PRC agent or the overseas entrusted institution or other material changes. The PRC agents must, on behalf of the PRC residents who have the right to exercise the employee share options, apply to the SAFE or its local branches for an annual quota for the payment of foreign currencies in connection with the PRC residents’ exercise of the employee share options. The foreign exchange proceeds received by the PRC residents from the sale of shares under the stock incentive plans granted and dividends distributed by the overseas listed companies must be remitted into the bank accounts in the PRC opened by the PRC agents before distribution to such PRC residents.
In addition, SAFE Circular 37 provides that PRC residents who participate in a share incentive plan of an overseas unlisted special purpose company may register with the SAFE or its local branches before exercising rights. If the PRC optionees fail to comply with the Individual Foreign Exchange Rule and the Stock Option Rules, we and our PRC optionees may be subject to fines and other legal sanctions. In May 2018 and November 2019, we adopted the 2018 Share Incentive Plan and the 2019 Share Incentive Plan, respectively, to attract and retain the best available personnel, provide additional incentives to employees, directors and consultants and promote the success of our business. See “Item 6. Directors, Senior Management and Employees—B. Compensation of Directors and Executive Officers—2018 Share Incentive Plan and 2019 Share Incentive Plan.” We will also advise the recipients of awards under our 2018 Share Incentive Plan to handle relevant foreign exchange matters in accordance with the 2012 SAFE Notices. However, we cannot guarantee that all employee awarded equity-based incentives can successfully register with SAFE in full compliance with the 2012 SAFE Notices. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—Any failure to comply with PRC regulations regarding the registration requirements for employee stock incentive plans may subject the PRC plan participants or us to fines and other legal or administrative sanctions” and “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—PRC regulations relating to offshore investment activities by PRC residents may
limit our PRC subsidiary’s ability to increase their registered capital or distribute profits to us or otherwise expose us or our PRC resident beneficial owners to liability and penalties under PRC law.”
Laws and Regulations relating to Intellectual Property
Copyright and software products
The NPC Standing Committee adopted PRC Copyright Law in 1990 and most recently amended in 2010, with its implementing rules adopted in 1991 and most recently amended in 2013 by PRC State Council, and the Regulations for the Protection of Computer Software promulgated by the PRC State Council in 2001 and most recently amended in 2013. These rules and regulations extend copyright protection to internet activities, products disseminated over the internet and software products. In addition, there is a voluntary registration system administered by the China Copyright Protection Center. According to the aforementioned laws and regulation, the term of protection for copyrighted software is fifty years.
PRC Trademark Law was promulgated by the NPC Standing Committee in August 1982 and most recently amended in April 2019, and the Implementation Regulations on the PRC Trademark Law was promulgated by PRC State Council in August 2002 and amended in April 2014. These laws and regulations provide the basic legal framework for the regulations of trademarks in the PRC. In the PRC, registered trademarks include commodity trademarks, service trademarks, collective trademarks and certificate trademarks. The Intellectual Property Office under the State Administration for Market Regulation is responsible for the registration and administration of trademarks throughout the country. Trademarks are granted on a term of ten years. Applicants may apply for an extension 12 months prior to the expiration of the 10 year term.
Internet domain name registration and related matters are primarily regulated by the Measures on Administration of Internet Domain Names, which replaced the Measures on Administration of Domain Names for the Chinese Internet in November 2004, issued by MIIT and effective as of November 1, 2017, and the Implementing Rules on Registration of Domain Names issued by China Internet Network Information Center in May 2012. Domain name registrations are handled through domain name service agencies established under the relevant regulations, and the applicants become domain name holders upon successful registration.
We have adopted necessary mechanisms to register, maintain and enforce intellectual property rights in China. However, we cannot assure you that we can prevent our intellectual property from all the unauthorized use by any third party, neither can we promise that none of our intellectual property rights would be challenged by any third party. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—We may not be able to prevent others from unauthorized use of our intellectual property, which could harm our business and competitive position” and “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—We may be subject to intellectual property infringement claims, which may be expensive to defend and may disrupt our business and operations.”
In August 2006, six PRC governmental agencies jointly promulgated the Regulations on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors, or the M&A Rule, as most recently amended in 2009. The M&A Rules establish procedures and requirements that could make certain acquisitions of PRC companies by foreign investors more time-consuming and complex, including requirements in some instances that MOFCOM be notified in advance of any change-of-control transaction in which a foreign investor takes control of a PRC domestic enterprise.
According to the Provisional Measures on Administration of Filing for Establishment and Change of Foreign Investment Enterprises, the merger and acquisition of domestic non-foreign-invested enterprises by foreign investors shall, if not involving special access administrative measures and affiliated mergers and acquisitions, be subject to the record filing measures.
Furthermore, the MOFCOM and the State Administration of Market Regulation issued the Measures for the Reporting of Foreign Investment Information on December 30, 2019, which came into effect on January 1, 2020 and replaced Provisional Measures on Administration of Filing for Establishment and Change of Foreign Investment Enterprises. Since January 1, 2020, for foreign investors carrying out investment activities directly or indirectly in China, the foreign investors or foreign-invested enterprises shall submit investment information to the commerce authorities pursuant to such measures.
For detailed analysis, see “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—The M&A Rules and certain other PRC regulations establish complex procedures for some acquisitions of Chinese companies by foreign investors, which could make it more difficult for us to pursue growth through acquisitions in China.”
Laws and Regulations Relating to Labor
Pursuant to PRC Labor Law, promulgated by the NPC Standing Committee in July 1994 and revised in August 2009 and December 2018, and the Labor Contract Law of PRC, promulgated by NPC Standing Committee in June 2007 and amended in December 2012, and the Implementing Regulations of the Labor Contract Law, employers must execute written employment contracts with full-time employees. All employers must compensate their employees with wages equal to at least the local minimum wage. Violations of the Labor Law and the Labor Contract Law may result in fines and other administrative sanctions, and serious violations may result in criminal liabilities.
Under PRC laws, rules and regulations, including the PRC Social Insurance Law promulgated by the NPC Standing Committee in October 2010, which became effective in July 2011 and amended in December 2018, the Interim Measures on the Collection and Payment of Social Security Funds in January 1999 and amended in March 2019, the Regulations on Work Injury Insurance issued by PRC State Council in April 2003, and amended in December 2010, the Regulations on Unemployment Insurance promulgated by PRC State Council in January 1999 and the Regulations on the Administration of Housing Accumulation Funds, or the Regulations on Housing Fund released by PRC State Council in April 1999 and last amended in March 2019, employers are required to contribute, on behalf of their employees, to a number of social security funds and implement certain employee benefit plans, including funds for basic pension insurance, unemployment insurance, basic medical insurance, occupational injury insurance, maternity leave insurance and housing accumulation funds. These payments are made to local administrative authorities and any employer who fails to contribute may be fined and ordered to pay the deficit amount. According to the PRC Social Insurance Law, an employer that fails to make social insurance contributions may be ordered to rectify the non-compliance and pay the required contributions within a stipulated deadline and be subject to a late fee of 0.05% per day, as the case may be. If the employer still fails to rectify the failure to make social insurance contributions within the deadline, it may be subject to a fine ranging from one to three times the amount overdue. According to the Regulations on Housing Fund, an enterprise that fails to make housing fund contributions may be ordered to rectify the noncompliance and pay the required contributions within a stipulated deadline; otherwise, an application may be made to a local court for compulsory enforcement.
We have caused all of our full-time employees to enter into written employment contracts with us and have provided and currently provide our employees with proper welfare and employee benefits as required by the PRC laws and regulations.
Regulations related to Tax
Enterprise income tax
Under the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law, or the EIT Law, effective in January 2008 and amended in February 2017 and December 2018, and its implementing rules, enterprises are classified as resident enterprises and non-resident enterprises. PRC resident enterprises typically pay an enterprise income tax at the rate of 25% while non-PRC resident enterprises without any branches in the PRC should pay an enterprise income tax in connection with their income from the PRC at the tax rate of 10%. An enterprise established outside of the PRC with its “de facto management bodies” located within the PRC is considered a “resident enterprise,” which means that it can be treated in a manner similar to a PRC domestic enterprise for enterprise income tax purposes. The implementing rules of the EIT Law define a de facto management body as a managing body that in practice exercises “substantial and overall management and control over the production and operations, personnel, accounting, and properties” of the enterprise.
The EIT Law and the implementation rules provide that an income tax rate of 10% will normally be applicable to dividends payable to investors that are “non-resident enterprises,” and gains derived by such investors, which (i) do not have an establishment or place of business in the PRC or (ii) have an establishment or place of business in the PRC, but the relevant income is not effectively connected with the establishment or place of business to the extent such dividends and gains are derived from sources within the PRC. Such income tax on the dividends may be reduced pursuant to a tax treaty between China and other jurisdictions. Pursuant to the Double Tax Avoidance Arrangement and other applicable PRC laws, if a Hong Kong resident enterprise is determined by the competent PRC tax authority to have satisfied the relevant conditions and requirements under such Double Tax Avoidance Arrangement and other applicable laws, the 10% withholding tax on the dividends the Hong Kong resident enterprise receives from a PRC resident enterprise may be reduced to 5% upon receiving approval from in-charge tax authority.