Renren-fenqi

Following a steady fall from grace, Renren’s CEO Joseph Chen announced yesterday that the Chinese social networking platform would transform into a social finance company, following the release of their first quarter results.

The shift is less than surprising, as the troubled “Facebook of China” has been struggling to find new momentum recently through their myriad of operations, including gaming, video streaming and group-buying. The college-focused social networking site has been unable to lift its profile or revenue despite a string of re-direct strategies.

According to the most recent earnings report, Renren’s total net revenue slumped 41.1% YOY to US$13.7 million, while net loss attributable to the company was US$27.6 million as compared with a net income of US$32.3 million in the same period in 2014.

“The first quarter results reflected a bottoming-out of our legacy business in online advertising and gaming. With a leaner cost structure and a topline that is expected to improve going forward, we are on the road to recovery from our recent business transition,” said Joseph Chen.

Renren successfully sold the idea of “Facebook of China” to western investors back in 2011, raising US$743 million in an IPO and hitting a market cap of US$5.5 billion. But the company’s stock price has dropped considerably to about one fifth of its IPO level.

The newest transition to fintech appears to be an urgent transformation into an industry that is fast becoming overcrowded. Since 2012, Renren has invested in a number of fintech startups, such as real estate crowdfunding site Fundrise, student loan consolidation and refinancing platform Social Finance, big data startup FiscalNote, mortgage marketplace Sindeo, online broker Motif Investing, real estate loan service LendingHome and China-based financial social media service Snowball. Chen has said in the past to local media that Renren plans to invest overall US$500 million in fintech companies.

In addition to external investments, Renren rolled out homegrown platform Renren Fenqi (Renren Installment), an installment billing shopping site for college students, in October 2014. Chen claimed that the service now registered more than 270,000 users with a turnover of more than 330 million yuan (US$53 million), mainly generating revenue from commission fees. Renren is rolling its Renren Licai (Renren Personal Finance), a peer-to-peer lending site, out of internal testing later this year to provide loan and data-driven analytics to users.

With investment in second-hand car trading platform Cheyipai and home decoration service Nest, Renren is set to expand to more verticals, offering loans for second-hand car trading and home decoration.

The rise of student spending power in China has given Renren a good breakthrough point to commercialize its large college user base. However, there are still several obstacles for the company.

Renren has launched its own installment billing marketplace, but it is much less sophisticated than mainstream e-commerce platforms like Tmall and JD, which also launched their own installment billing products. In March this year, JD has injected strategic investment in Chinese student micro-credit site Fenqile.

Despite tapping the potential market of growing middle class college students, youth spending behavior is still erratic and unpredictable. The company’s focus will now be how to avoid a situation of high default risk.