China has imposed a sweeping restructuring on Jack Ma’s Ant Financial Group. The overhaul, in the works for several months, includes Ant turning itself into a financial holding firm, a move expected to curb its profitability and valuation by curtailing some of its freewheeling businesses.
The central bank has asked Ant Financial to break its “monopoly on information and strictly comply with the requirements of credit information business regulation.”
It comes two days after Ma’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd , of which Ant is an affiliate, was hit with a record $2.75 billion antitrust penalty as China tightens controls on the booming “platform economy”.
The overhaul, directed by China’s central bank, subjects Ant to tougher regulatory oversight and capital requirements, and requires it to cut links between its hugely popular payments app Alipay and its other businesses – which had been viewed as a big advantage due to Alipay’s vast trove of customer data.
“This restructure effectively splits Ant into a few independent businesses to stop Alipay from being a super app capable of controlling the day to day lives of the Chinese people,” said Lightstream Research analyst Oshadhi Kumarasiri, who publishes on the Smartkamra platform. “We believe it will limit Ant’s growth prospects and also open up the market for competition.”
Ant, based in the eastern city of Hangzhou, was positioned as a tech firm in 2018 when it raised $14 billion at a valuation of about $150 billion in the world’s largest single fundraising. At its planned IPO pricing, that soared to about $315 billion.
Sources told Reuters last month that some global investors valued Ant at over $200 billion based on its 2020 performance, offering a more sober estimate after the shelving of its IPO and expectations for its forced restructuring.
New York-listed shares of e-commerce giant Alibaba were up 8% after Monday’s announcement, tracking a similar gain for its Hong Kong shares earlier in the day, with investors cheering the end of uncertainty for Alibaba after the antitrust fine.
Alipay has more than 730 million monthly users in China and handles more transactions a year than Mastercard or Visa.
The People’s Bank of China said that under a “comprehensive and feasible restructuring plan,” Ant would cut the “improper” linkage between Alipay, virtual credit card business Jiebei and consumer loan unit Huabei.
Source: Reuters news