NCA cleans up lending industry

By Staff Writer

by Andile Ntingi, City Press.

Johannesburg

Players in the sector say the NCA has intensified competition,
resulting in some small loan lenders merging with or acquiring
competitors to put more muscle on their loan books.

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The act was introduced to stamp out reckless lending and unfair
pricing in the country's credit industry, which is said to be
worth R850bn. The act also put limits on the interest charged
by micro-lenders.

Micro-loans - defined by the NCA as loans of no more than R8 000
- account for about R30bn of the entire credit industry, which
also includes home loans and vehicle finance.

It appears the act has succeeded in driving loan sharks or
mashonisas out of the market. These informal lenders earned the
micro-finance sector a bad name because of their unfair lending
practices, which inflicted financial misery on consumers who
could not access credit from commercial banks.

Under the new legislation, unregistered lenders are not allowed
to extend credit. And while small informal lenders are said to
be disappearing, big listed micro-lenders like African Bank,
Capitec Bank, and Blue Financial Services are thriving.

Changing model

Because they have greater access to cheap capital than other
players, they are able to offer loans at lower interest rates.
On the other hand, small informal lenders have for years built
their businesses on charging super-high interest rates.

But the interest-high margins business model is no longer viable
because of the NCA's interest charge limits and aggressive price
undercutting by larger competitors.

Before the arrival of the NCA, micro-lenders could charge
whatever interest amount they wanted. But interest rate limits
have reduced their margins. For instance, on an R8 000 six-month
loan, they are allowed to charge an interest rate of 5% per month,
over and above a 15% initiation fee and a R50 service fee.

"The NCA has levelled the playing field. We are seeing informal
lenders disappearing from the market. They are unable to cope with
the act and competition in the market," says Riaan Stassen, chief
executive of Capitec Bank.

Wessel Smit, head of the legal department at Blue Financial
Services, says some small lenders have left the industry because
of a lack of access to affordable capital.

"Bigger players have more access to capital at a lower cost and
therefore are able to charge their customers lower interest rates.
But if you are a one-man company it is difficult to grow your
business because you don't have the same access to capital as a
bigger player," says Smit.

However, Gabriel Davel, chief executive of the National Credit
Regulator (NCR), says there is no clear evidence that the number
of micro-lenders in the market has shrunk due to heightened
competition.

"There are people that have closed down, and others have come from
underground to register with us. New players have also come to the
market.

"But some players may exit in future because of strong competition.
There are cheaper options of finance than was the case. So one would
expect that customers will go for those cheaper options," predicts
Davel.

Consolidation

Official figures show that there are 2 100 micro-lenders currently
registered with the NCR, compared with the 2 000 lenders that were
registered with the NCR's predecessor, the Micro Finance Regulatory
Council.

Thami Sokutu, an executive director at African Bank, says the NCA
has consolidated the micro-lending market, which has resulted in a
reduction of credit extension.

"Before it came into being, there was a lot of credit flooding the
market. But since its introduction there has been a cutback in credit
extension. In our case, we have been able to grow our loan book while
at the same time reducing prices on our loans," he says.

As part of the consolidation process, African Bank acquired furniture
retailer and credit provider Ellerines for R10bn.

Blue Financial Services, which has extensive operations across the
African continent, acquired rival micro-lender, Future Finance,
thereby boosting its earnings from South Africa.

While big players are extending the repayment periods on their loans
to reduce interest costs for customers, small lenders prefer short-
term cash loans as they yield higher interest charges than longer-term loans.

Cash loans which range between R100 and R500 are expensive one-
instalment loans. Long-term loans tend to be cheaper as instalments
are reduced to allow customers to pay over a longer period.

"There is a big demand for cash loans. I think there is a need to
move the industry away from this anomaly created by the interest rate
limits," says Garth Whitford, MD of MicroFinance South Africa, which
represents 1 500 micro-lenders.

- City Press

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