By Elzio Barreto
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Chinese peer-to-peer lending platform Dianrong has raised $220 million from Singapore sovereign fund GIC Pte Ltd [GIC.UL] and other investors to fund R&D in China and potential ventures elsewhere in Asia.
Other investors in the funding round included CMIG Leasing, a unit of China's biggest private investment conglomerate China Minsheng Investment Group (CMIG), and South Korean fund manager Simone Investment Managers, Dianrong said on Wednesday.
The Shanghai-based firm will use the funds to automate some of its new branches across China, for research and development and potential acquisitions, Dianrong's co-Chief Executive Soul Htite told Reuters.
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"Now we've graduated to another level, so people that know finance are also seeing us as someone that is really going to be part of the finance industry," Htite said in an interview.
Hong Kong boutique investment bank AMTD Group acted as financial adviser to Dianrong.
The company, co-founded by Htite, who was also behind U.S. online lender LendingClub Corp <LC.N>, already has big backers including the private equity arm of Standard Chartered <STAN.L> and technology-focused investment firm Tiger Global Management. It raised $207 million in a previous fundraising round in 2015.
After launching its platform in 2012, Dianrong expanded into services such as supply-chain financing using blockchain technology, as it looks to grow beyond the crowded market in China that has thousands of P2P players. In 2015 the company unveiled a joint venture with Seoul-based conglomerate Hanwha Group to offer marketplace lending and other financial technology services in South Korea.
It recently launched a partnership in Hong Kong to offer a marketplace for Asian investors to buy into U.S. consumer loans, and in July Dianrong bought the asset origination business of Shanghai-based Quark Finance to increase the volume of loans in its platform.
The acquisition added 71 branches in 47 cities that will need to be automated and upgraded with Dianrong's technology.
"We're going to increase our risk management capabilities and continue to automate. We're also going to speed up some of the R&D projects," Htite said.
"We also want to keep capital on the side just in case another M&A opportunity appears."
Dianrong was looking at Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia for potential ventures, Htite said.
"There are places that we definitely are going to go to, we just need to make sure that we stay on our core strategy, which is China," Htite added. "We're in talks with partners in these countries already."
Dianrong has not decided on an initial public offering yet, but says Chinese people should be able to benefit from its growth whether it goes public overseas or lists A-shares in domestic markets.
"No decision has been made on the market, but Dianrong is a company that started in Shanghai, so why should it do an IPO in the U.S.?" Htite said.
"That decision is not dependent on Dianrong only. That decision is dependent on, if you're talking about the Hong Kong exchange or New York exchange or A-shares, whoever makes it easier for us to list, we're going to go with that."
(Reporting by Elzio Barreto; Editing by Stephen Coates and Susan Fenton)