China Tells Ant to Return to Payments Services Origins
Ant Group Co. and Chinese regulators have agreed on a restructuring plan that will turn Jack Ma’s fintech giant into a financial holding company, making it subject to capital requirements similar to those for banks.
The plan calls for putting all of Ant’s businesses into the holding company, including its technology offerings in areas like blockchain and food delivery, people familiar with the matter said. One of Ant’s early proposals to regulators had envisioned putting only financial operations into the new structure.
An official announcement on the overhaul could come before the start of China’s Lunar New Year holiday next week, the people said, asking not to be identified discussing private information. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., which owns about a third of Ant, erased losses in Hong Kong trading on Wednesday after Bloomberg reported the agreement. The stock closed with a 0.4 per cent gain.
Ant’s restructuring plan marks the first big step in what’s expected to be a lengthy overhaul process, as regulators draw up detailed capital requirements and other guidelines for companies that span multiple financial business lines.
China only introduced its framework for financial holding companies in September and many of the specifics are still being ironed out. While the rules will eventually provide more regulatory clarity for Ant, they’ll almost certainly force the company to slow the torrid pace of expansion that has made it China’s dominant fintech player and one of the world’s most valuable startups.
Ant is still exploring possibilities to revive its initial public offering, which was abruptly halted by regulators in November, one person familiar with the matter said. But given the financial holding company framework is so new, it’s unclear how long it might take for authorities to sign off a listing.
Ant declined to comment. The People’s Bank of China, which oversees financial holding companies, didn’t immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
Ant’s restructuring is part of a broader government campaign to increase supervision of the financial and technology sectors. Regulators have in recent months targeted everything from health-care crowdfunding to consumer lending. In January, they proposed measures to curb market concentration in online payments, where Ant and Tencent Holdings Ltd. are the biggest players.
The clampdown has fueled intense speculation over the status of Ma, who co-founded both Ant and Alibaba. The e-commerce giant has also faced increased government scrutiny in recent months, becoming the target of an antitrust investigation in December.
Ma’s appearance in a live-streamed video conference in January -- after several months out of public view -- has helped quell talk of worst-case scenarios for his business empire. Still, plenty of uncertainty remains: even after Wednesday’s gain, Alibaba’s Hong Kong shares are trading about 15 per cent below their record high in October.