ON NOVEMBER 11th, Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce giant, posted nearly $18bn in sales for the day. This broke last year’s record for Singles’ Day, an anti-Valentine’s Day that has become a love affair with spending. The popularity of the company’s virtual credit-card, Huabei (roughly translating as “Just spend”), may have helped. Consumers who spend less than 1,000 yuan ($146) online a month spend 50% more once they get one, according to Ant Financial Services, an Alibaba affiliate. To older generations, taught to save, borrowing is shameful. But financial habits are changing: Chinese consumers are being encouraged to develop credit histories.
Last year, the government awarded eight companies consumer credit-rating licences. Their pilot programmes are an attempt to flesh out thin financial records and get people thinking about their credit scores. This is new for most Chinese, who do not use credit cards and have never had credit scores. As of 2014, the People’s Bank of China maintained credit histories for around 350m citizens—less than one-third of the adult population. In America 89% of adults have credit scores. Without a credit history, consumers struggle to obtain loans. They tend to save rather than borrow or spend, stifling consumption.