Out with the credit regulator

July 26th, 2017 by Brian Kantor

I have a very radical policy proposal, which is to repeal the National Credit Act. Repeal would allow lenders and borrowers complete freedom to contract with each other for credit on any terms they found agreeable. It would help transform the economic prospects of many South Africans who do not benefit from regular incomes and so do not qualify for credit under current regulations.

Freer access to credit would be particularly helpful to informal traders and aspirant farmers and entrepreneurs. By saving the significant costs of complying with current regulations, a repeal might well lead to less expensive borrowing terms for the many who currently receive credit. Strong competition for potential credit business would convert lower compliance costs of providing credit into lower charges for all borrowers. The reputation of the lenders for fair treatment of its customers would become even more critical in attracting new and repeat credit business. A lender would not have to proclaim it is an authorised financial service provider as if this were some kind of guarantee that absolves borrowers or lenders of the need to undertake proper diligence.

The importance of maintaining reputation – brand value – in which so much is invested, including training employees to deliver their services better than their rivals, is what keeps profit-seeking businesses honest and efficient. It attracts the most valuable type of business, repeat business.

Perhaps, given their knowledge and experience, the regulators and compliance officers that would be rendered unemployed should my proposal come to pass, could be converted into useful predictors of the ability of potential borrowers to deserve the credit on offer. Identifying much more accurately and easily the credit rating of any potential borrower would allow for well-targeted, attractive offers of credit – perhaps initiated at very low cost over the internet. Credit markets are particularly well-placed to apply the new science of big data management that is revolutionising all business.

There is a long history of limiting (defined as usurious) interest rates that may be charged to borrowers, which has disturbed and complicated the contracts borrowers and lenders agree to – and in turn has encouraged regulation of these complicated terms. If lenders were free to declare all revenues they expect to receive from a borrower as simply interest or capital repayment, at whatever rate agreed to, borrowers could easily make comparisons of the costs or benefits on offer. This is the case when a motor car is leased for a monthly payment. How much of this payment pays for the car and how much for the motor plan is irrelevant to the driver. It is simply a question of how much car the monthly payment buys. The benefits of the transaction to the motor dealer, the lessee and the lessor are bundled into one convenient monthly payment. We do not pay a hotel separately for towels, linen, or air conditioning – ‘free’ breakfast may even be included in the daily rate. And no regulator (yet) tells the hotel to itemise its menu or what services they are allowed to charge for and how much they can charge

The National Credit Regulator however allows the lender only clearly defined fees and payments that include the repayment of the principal debt; an initiation fee, a service fee, interest, the cost of any credit insurance, default administration charges and collection costs. It has argued that a fee charged to retail customers to join a club of customers cannot be levied. The jury or, rather, the judges are out on this one.

Club fees, delivery, insurance or other charges are all contributions to the lender’s revenue, in addition to interest payments that are controlled. Reducing the lender’s ability to raise revenues from explicit interest charges or to protect themselves with capital repayments leads inevitably to a complicated array of fees to supplement interest received. Restricting the flow of revenues therefore means less credit supplied to well- qualified borrowers. This is an unsatisfactory outcome that an unregulated credit market would overcome. 7 July 2017