Ant conducting 'self-review' after collapse of US$35 billion IPO

Ant's current challenges stand out given the amount of global investor attention the company has attracted. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Ant Group chairman Eric Jing has emerged contrite and apologetic from the collapse of the fintech giant's US$35 billion (S$46.6 billion) initial public offering (IPO).

The company is "looking into the mirror, finding out our shortcomings, and conducting a body check-up", Mr Jing said in a speech at the 4th China Internet Finance Forum on Tuesday (Dec 15). Ant is striving to "properly manage" issues related to the suspension of the IPO, he said.

Mr Jing's remarks underscore a drastic shift in attitude from two months ago, when Ant co-founder Jack Ma delivered his now-infamous rebuke against "pawn shop" Chinese lenders and regulators he said don't understand the Internet. In a striking turn of events, the world's largest IPO unravelled following Mr Ma's speech, as regulators issued a slew of rules and proposals to rein in the country's largest fintech company and the sprawling tech industry.

"We are listening carefully to public opinion, including those with suggestions and expectations for Ant, as well as various kinds of criticisms," Mr Jing said. "These are all beneficial to Ant, and we have accordingly been conducting a comprehensive self-review."

Hangzhou-based Ant is sparing no effort in studying China's 14th Five-Year Plan, an important government guidance, and policy insights into financial security and financial stability, Mr Jing added.

China has seen its share of public apologies from fallen billionaires and national champions. Following a smack from commerce regulators in 2015, Mr Ma pledged to improve his fight against counterfeit goods proliferating on Alibaba's platform.

In 2018, TikTok owner Bytedance shuttered one of its breakout hits, a seemingly harmless app that collated jokes, but that were deemed too off-colour. The same year, Tencent Holdings was shamed for its video gaming empire - the world's largest - after President Xi Jinping's government blamed addictive blockbusters like Honor of Kings for myopia among youth.

Ant's current challenges stand out given the amount of global investor attention the company has attracted. The IPO now faces only a slim chance of being revived next year, people familiar with the matter have said. The regulatory challenges facing Ant include capital and licensing requirements, a cap on loan rates and limits on its use of asset-backed securities to fund quick consumer loans.

"Everyone's had a wake up call," said Mr Mark Tanner, managing director of Shanghai-based marketing and research consultancy China Skinny. "Of all the regulatory hurdles, this is the biggest by a long shot."

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