Once China’s biggest peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platform, Ezubao collected 50 billion yuan ($7.6 billion) in less than two years from more than 900,000 investors through savvy marketing and the promise of big returns.
But executives at Ezubao’s parent company, Yucheng Group, now say it was “a complete Ponzi scheme”, which used investor funds to support a lavish lifestyle, the official Xinhua News Agency reported this week.
Among gifts that Yucheng chairman Ding Ning gave his president, Zhang Min, were a $20 million Singapore villa, a $1.8 million pink diamond ring, luxury limousines and watches and more than $83 million in cash, Xinhua stated.
The alleged scam underscores the risks in China’s fast growing and loosely regulated wealth management product industry, with many products peddled through online financial investment platforms and privately run exchanges.
Products promising annual returns of up to 14% have drawn in investors at a time when savings rates are low and property is no longer a guaranteed get-rich-quick bet.
A report on China’s stock market crash authored last year by former senior officials, including former central bank vice governor Wu Xiaoling, said Chinese retail investors are short-sighted, have a weak investment philosophy and a herd mentality.
China’s P2P and the online finance industry also serve as a critical channel for the emerging small business and consumer market, which is often ignored by banks and mainstream financial institutions. iResearch predicts China’s unsecured consumer finance market alone will triple in size by 2019, reaching outstanding loans of over $1.7 trillion.