Myra Leung investigates the past, the present, and the possible future of the FinTech giant Ant Group.
In 2020, Ant Group has drawn global attention due to its potential record-breaking IPO (Initial Public Offering). The IPO at more than US$35 billion (£27bn)could become the world largest IPO ever. Although it was dramatically suspended by China 2 days before the listing, the size of this IPO indicated the huge potential and influence of FinTech in future financial markets. And yet a lot of us have never come across Ant Group before.
At a glance
Ant Group, formerly known as Ant Financial, is by far the highest valued FinTech company in the world at US$313 Billion. It was founded in 2014 as the financial arm of Alibaba Group, the Chinese e-commerce giant.
It was initiated from Alipay, an integrated service for users when they make purchases at Taobao. In Alibaba’s initial days, China was still a cash economy. Not many people owned a credit card let alone be familiar with online payments. Cash payment culture, technical difficulties and low trust levels between buyers and sellers were key barriers in the setting up of e-commerce systems in China.
To resolve this, Alibaba created Alipay, an accessible service that acts as a digital wallet and helps build trust between customers and sellers. Alipay enables customers to directly draw money from their bank account for online payment without the need of using a credit card. In addition, Alipay would hold the money from buyers and only release the payment to sellers after the goods are delivered for each transaction. This ensures the safety of each purchase and builds trust between customers and sellers. This helped Alipay build the foundation of modern-day Ant Group’s wide spectrum of FinTech services.
Ant Group today
Ant Group has more than 700 million monthly active users and 1000 million annual active users across 200+ countries. It has handled more than USD$17 trillion of transactions last year alone. This is approximately USD$6.5 trillion more than Mastercard.
Ant Group has developed many products over the years. Alongside Alipay, it provides CreditTech, InvestmentTech, and InsureTech services, like micro-lending, market funds, and insurances.
In addition to a variety of online financial services, Ant Group’s payment service is involved in every aspect of a user’s daily life. It contains mobility services such as providing travel route information and enabling payment for bus tickets, local services like sport and entertainment bookings, municipal services for bill payment, covid-19 services and more.
Much like Amazon, Alipay focuses on the seller just as much as the consumer. More than 1 million restaurants, 40,000 supermarkets, 1 million taxis and 300 hospitals are connected to Alipay. It has been constantly updating to to make payments fast and secure with incorporating features like QR codes and facial recognition.
Through being an essential part of users life, the all-in-one platform provides extensive convenience to customers. This convenience has created a massive change in customer behaviour and revolutionized the payment landscape of China where more than a third of the payments are now cashless.
Ant Group has grown rapidly over the years as a market leader that controls more than half of the mobile payments in China. Its integrated customer experience, multiple functionality and cross-industry reach is unique to any other FinTech service in the world, let alone China.
Future of Ant Group
Ant Group’s accessible services have allowed individual users and small businesses to experience investing and gain funds easily through their mobile app. However, the rapid growth of Ant Group has caused concerns among banks and regulators about the reduction in cash usage, the loss of bank deposits, unregulated flow of capital, and potential liquidity risks. Alipay is gathering a lot of funds under this single funding platform and if all investors were to ever to draw money from the fund at the same time, it may crash and cause damages that endanger the stability of China’s entire financial system.
To avoid this ‘financial disruptor’ image, Ant Group has rebranded themselves as “Ant Technology Group” instead of “Ant Financial” in an attempt to position itself as more of a technology company. It has also partnered with banks to fund the loans it makes and is imposing caps for investments.
However, the Chinese regulators have decided to suspend its IPO regardless. Now, Ant Group may need to rephrase its listing segments and reassure its compliance with both, the existing and to be proposed, rules in various fields such as consumer lending. This spells a lot of work for Ant Group, making it seem unlikely that Ant Group will have their IPO anytime before 2022. This means that they will potentially need to be re-valued and undergo the entire process again in the future.
IPO or no IPO, Ant Group has undoubtedly changed China’s payment market landscape and established itself in a significant position in the FinTech industry in China and the world.
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