China's commercial banks have begun asking clients to submit "proof of use" for consumer loans, as the government tightens regulations on concern that such loans are being used to buy property and are helping to fuelling a property bubble.
Customers of China Merchants Bank with loans upwards of 10,000 yuan ($2,115) are being requested by text messages to submit proof of use, according to messages seen by the South China Morning Post.
Media reports said customers of some banks are required to prove that loans were not being used inappropriately.
Household short-term loans soared in the third quarter by 1.53 trillion yuan ($323 billion), almost three times more than a year ago, according to data released by the People's Bank of China on Saturday.
"I am afraid a considerable part of consumer loans has flown into the property market," said Iris Pang, an economist with the Dutch bank ING.
"If you look at the structure of the consumer loans on the mainland, you will find it strange because a lot of them have extremely long loan tenures, like 10 to 20 years. What makes you need 20 years to pay back a consumer loan that enables you to buy a television? It is very likely that the money is spent on houses," she said.
The fast build up of loans in the household sector has caught the attention of regulators, and the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) announced it would investigate and said last month that China should "learn from the subprime mortgage crisis in the US", and prevent consumer loans from being used to "fuel property bubbles".
Since September, several banks in southeast China's Guangdong province have suspended consumer loans with tenures longer than 10 years, sources said.
"That also partly explains why short-term loans spiked in the past few months. Because the CBRC knows the risk and is tightening screws," ING's Pang said.
The competition offered by online payment and credit businesses developed by fintech companies has forced mainland commercial banks to come up with easy and convenient products for customers.
By filling in an online form, choosing the purpose of the loan and providing basic information such as age and income, users could get loans worth up to 300,000 yuan ($63,000) from banks.
Aaron Lei, a senior director with structured finance at S&P Global Ratings, said: "It is true that debts are building up quickly among Chinese households. But we should not ignore that income levels are also improving quickly, providing a natural hedge to the risks."
"It is crucial they have a sufficient database that helps to know each client's total debts to total income, otherwise what happened in Hong Kong's property market crash in 1997 could be repeated," ING's Pang said.