Jack Ma's Ant Group said to be building government relations team for Asia push

Ant's international push comes as the fintech giant faces increased scrutiny and slowing growth at home. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Facing scrutiny at home, billionaire Jack Ma's Ant Group is building a team to burnish its reputation with policymakers in the Asian markets on which its international ambitions hinge.

The fintech firm has set up a division with just under 10 staff to handle international government and policy matters, according to sources with knowledge of the matter.

Senior vice-president Chen Leiming is heading the division and is in the process of hiring, the sources said, asking not to be identified because the matter is private.

Central to Ant's overseas ambitions are digital wallets and payments, data-heavy businesses that require a good rapport with the local authorities, the sources said.

The team, known as International Public Policy and Government Affairs, will prioritise markets including South-east Asia, Hong Kong and Macau, though Europe will also be a target, they said.

Ant's international push comes as the fintech giant faces increased scrutiny and slowing growth at home. The affiliate of Mr Ma's Alibaba Group is overhauling its business and engaging with regulators as it seeks to revive its stalled initial public offering, which was torpedoed by the Chinese authorities, who accused it of being "defiant of regulatory demands".

Communications and engagement with government and regulatory bodies overseas are important in promoting transparency and mutual understanding, Ant said in an e-mailed statement, without elaborating.

Although Ant has made significant headway in Singapore where it secured a digital banking license, progress in other bigger Asian markets has been slow.

In Indonesia, the world's fourth most-populous country and a popular tourist destination for the Chinese, regulators said in December that they approved Ant's Alipay partnership with a local bank, almost a year after rival Tencent.

As part of the regional expansion, Ant will help its overseas partners, including digital wallets, payment institutions and banks, to handle cross-border remittances and plans to share its tech solutions with them, the sources said.

To do so, Ant will need to explain the value the company can bring to local communities and hold discussions on how to handle data, they said.

Mr Chen joined Ant in Hong Kong in 2016 from New York-based law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. He reports to chairman Eric Jing and Ms Angel Zhao, president of Ant's international business group.

Ms Carrie Suen, who moved from Ant's legal division as a senior adviser, will also be a key member of Mr Chen's team, the people said.

Ms Suen spent more than a year as a legal counsel at affiliate Alibaba Group's merger and acquisition team before joining Ant in October 2014, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Ant has also been expanding its global legal team to more than 300 people, with about 30 staff in Hong Kong and 30 employees in Singapore, the sources said.

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