A leading Asian Development Bank (ADB) figure has called for more village banks to be set up in China's rural areas to provide farmers with easier access to small loans and the opportunity to deposit savings.
"Only a few of the experimental village banks can meet the financial needs of farmers in remote villages," said Tang Min, deputy China representative of the ADB.
"Each province should have at least one bank to provide access to small loans - just like the function of capillary vessels," Tang said.
The most remote counties should be the primary targets, said Du Xiaoshan, deputy director of the Rural Development Institute of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and an expert on small rural loans.
"The current bottleneck in rural financial services mainly lies in central and west China as well as parts of northeast China, especially in the counties under the national poverty line," Du said.
The experimental rural banks, announced by the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC), the industry watchdog, are located in less developed provinces, including Sichuan, Jilin, Gansu, Qinghai, Hubei and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
The first three village banks were inaugurated on March 1: the Huimin village bank in Yilong county of southwest China's Sichuan province, Chengxin village bank in Dongfeng county and Rongfeng village bank in Panshi city in northeast China's Jilin province.
Another Huimin finance company in Yilong was also opened on the first day of March. Baixin Rural Fund Co-Op in Yanjia county in Jilin and Xingle Rural Fund Co-Op in Yurun county in northwest China's Qinghai province will be open soon.
"No warranty or mortgage is required for the farmers to get a loan," said Li Xinghua, president of Rongfeng village bank.
Li said the interest rate for the loan is slightly higher than the current interest rate in urban markets because of higher costs and more risks, but much lower than unlicensed local lenders.
"The Rongfeng village bank currently has a deposit business only. A loan service will be available at the end of this month," Li said.
The bank, with 20 million yuan (US$2.58 million) of registered capital, was initiated by Jilin City Commercial Bank.
"In Panshi City, the only loans available to farmers were from rural credit cooperatives, which were too few and far between and it took too long for them to approve the loans," Li said.
Huimin village bank located in Sichuan has a registered capital of 2 million yuan (US$256,410), with the state-owned Nanchong Commercial Bank holding 50 percent of the shares and five private companies holding 10 percent each.
The opening of the banks is a result of new regulations publicized by the CBRC in January to facilitate the banks' entry into the rural market and improve their financial services.
The regulations lowered the required registered capital to a minimum of 3 million yuan (US$384,615) for a county bank and 1 million yuan (US$128,205) for a village bank.
Du set a rural cooperative in 1994 and since then has loaned 100 million yuan (US$12.9 million) to 220,000 people without warranties or mortgages.
"Offering loans without warranties or mortgages is the only way the rural financial service can succeed - more than 90 percent of the loans from my co-op have been repaid," said Du, who has been working on small loans with Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2006.
Grass-roots financial institutions that only provide loan services but not deposit services have not received approval by the CBRC under the new regulations, a decision that Du strongly opposes.
He believes that to build up an effective rural banking system, more organizations should be included.
"Actually, these lenders shoulder all the risks themselves as they only lend out their own money. They would not harm the rural financial system, on the contrary, they can solve the problem of the surplus fund," Du said.
"Besides, China has more than 100 non-government organizations working to support the poor with financial donations. It would be better if they were approved under the new system so they could exert their influence," he added.
(Xinhua News Agency March 13, 2007)