Wang Yulan, wife of Chen Ping, a restaurant owner in Chongqing, makes wontons on March 28. China rolls out favorable policies to assist market entities. [Photo/Xinhua]

CHONGQING-As small enterprises in China grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, inclusive finance is running full steam to provide a cushion for cash-strapped companies to help tide them over during trying times.

Chen Ping, who owns a wonton restaurant in Chongqing, feared that his business could no longer survive and that his restaurant would be shuttered if he could not weather the COVID-19 storm.

“Before the pandemic, cash flow on average would come in at 3,000 yuan ($454) per day, but now we have seen a decrease of more than 1,000 yuan on average every day,” said Chen, who is also beset by rising costs of labor and auxiliary materials.

Chen ran from pillar to post in search of funding, but his business is too small to be collateral for securing a sufficient loan amount. Amid the gloomy days, he saw some rays of hope when one day he came across a credit product that does not require collateral.

At his wits” end, Chen decided to give it a try. He submitted his personal information via mobile phone, and because his credit record was good, he got a credit line of 100,000 yuan that was able to be used within minutes. “It was a timely help,” Chen said.

In light of the uncertainties and challenges posed by the complex global situation and the sporadic resurgence of COVID-19 on the domestic front, China intends to assist market entities, particularly those with smaller scales, by rolling out favorable policies.

Inclusive finance is being vigorously developed across the nation, especially in light of the pandemic. Official data showed that the balance of inclusive loans to small and micro enterprises was 19.1 trillion yuan by the end of 2021, with a growth pace quicker than that of other loans.

The year-on-year growth rates of inclusive loans offered to small and micro businesses by China’s Big Five State-owned commercial banks all remained above 30 percent last year.

Inclusive finance aims to meet the financial needs of all social strata and groups with a focus on smaller enterprises, people with low incomes and those in rural areas in China.

Chongqing Fumin Bank, which helped Chen ride out his obstacles, is a trailblazer in the sector and has extended its service scope to small and micro businesses such as restaurants, convenience stores and laundromats.

Thanks to the innovative financial model, financial institutions can provide large-scale, low-cost and efficient services through digital technologies, including big data and artificial intelligence.

“Financial products are embedded in the procurement and payment platforms commonly used by small and micro enterprises,” said Yan Dong, executive vice-president of Chongqing Fumin Bank.

By leveraging big data technologies, the bank could draw precise customer profiles and provide loans based on their personal credit, tax payment and procurement data, Yan said.

The intelligent audit system, which also relies on digital technologies, sets more than 100 preconditions such as identification and overdue records, automatically checks whether an applicant meets the loan conditions, and evaluates the business status of customers to prevent and reduce risks to the greatest extent.

Similar to Chen’s wonton business, a pastry shop run by Ye Cai in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, has also been affected by the pandemic.

Thanks to inclusive finance, Ye is now accustomed to applying for loans on a mobile phone to solve the problem of capital turnover. “When the business is really bad, or I need to replace big equipment, I apply for a small volume of loans for timely help just by my fingertips,” Ye said.

While small and micro enterprises in China are seeing an improving financing environment, there are still structural problems obstructing them, including difficulties in applying for unsecured loans and medium and long-term loans.

The country will continue to promote the high-quality development of inclusive finance. In this year’s Government Work Report, China has proposed to further improve the transmission mechanisms of the monetary policy, channel more funds into key areas and weak links in the economy and expand coverage of inclusive finance.

In February, the meeting of the Central Committee for Deepening Overall Reform reviewed and adopted guidelines on advancing high-quality development of inclusive finance, and setting clear directions and targets in the next phase.