Ant Financial seeks licences in Asia as global push accelerates

Zhejiang Ant Small & Micro Financial Services Group, an affiliate of Alibaba Group, is targeting operating licences in Asia-Pacific markets.
Zhejiang Ant Small & Micro Financial Services Group, an affiliate of Alibaba Group, is targeting operating licences in Asia-Pacific markets.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.'s finance affiliate is targeting operating licences in Hong Kong, South Korea, India and other Asia-Pacific markets as it prioritizes international expansion.

Zhejiang Ant Small & Micro Financial Services Group is seeking a licence from the Hong Kong Monetary Authority for users to store prepaid cash or link their bank cards to accounts, said Sabrina Peng, vice-president of international business for the company known as Ant Financial. The HKMA last month said it has received more than 20 applications for such facilities and plans to start granting licences this year.

Ant Financial, which is said to be valued at around US$60 billion (S$82.87 billion) after raising US$4.5 billion last month, has increased bets beyond its home market with acquisitions from India to Korea. The owner of Alipay has tied up on global payments with firms such as Uber Technologies Inc. and hired former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. senior partner Douglas Feagin in its push for international business.

"We accelerated international expansion last year," Ms Peng by phone from the company's headquarters in Hangzhou. "Our tactic is to look for partners in all countries to help us achieve the goal of offering inclusive financing globally. In terms of allocating capital and human resources, the international push is top priority of our strategy."

The firm has received a payment bank licence via Paytm, India's largest payments provider with about 122 million users as of January, Ms Peng said. In South Korea, it won preliminary approval of an Internet bank license through SK Telecom Co., she added.

Ant Financial is considering an initial public offering on the Shanghai stock exchange as early as this year, people familiar with the matter said last month.  Controlled by billionaire Alibaba founder Jack Ma, Ant Financial has evolved from an outsider in a tightly controlled industry to an online giant now working with the largest state players, including China's sovereign wealth fund and the nation's second-largest bank.

The firm now runs China's biggest online payment service, Alipay, with 450 million users, and controls the company that manages Yu'E Bao, the nation's largest money-market fund.