Ant Group likely move to restructure businesses right step, IDC says

A logo of Ant Group is pictured at the headquarters of the company, an affiliate of Alibaba, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China October 29, 2020.

Aly Song | Reuters

Ant Group’s reported move to restructure its business and turn the fintech giant into a financial holding company is a “step in the right direction,” according to an analyst at independent research provider IDC Financial Insights.

Ant has yet to comment on the matter but media reports said the proposed restructuring is expected to be announced before the Chinese New Year holiday, which kicks off later this week, on Feb. 11.

“There are three things that we need to be watching out for,” said Michael Araneta, associate vice-president for IDC Financial Insights. 

“First is: what will be the set of subsidiaries that will comprise this financial holding company,” he told CNBC on Monday.

“Secondly, what are the activities that they will be doing? And most important , there would be questions around what exactly can Ant do moving forward,” he added, noting it will be “a long path to the ideal” but it will be a “step in the right direction.”

Ant Group — an affiliate of China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba and was founded by Jack Ma — runs the popular mobile payments app Alipay in the country.

Over the years, Ant has expanded into areas such as lending and wealth management. Regulators are concerned the company poses a systemic risk to the economy, and halted its $35 billion initial public offering last year — which would have been the world’s largest.

The reported overhaul is expected to subject Ant Group to stricter capital requirements, making it more like a bank than a technology company.  

The move comes as the Chinese government intensifies efforts to increase supervision of China’s fast evolving fintech sector amid growing concerns over the pricing power that these large tech giants have over consumers.

If you look at the one billion customers that they do have a lot of data on, what can they do with that kind of data? That is going to be a question moving forward…

Michael Araneta

associate vice-president, IDC Financial Insights

“It is a concern also acknowledged by Ant Group as well,” noted Araneta. “And there will be expectations and more clarity coming from the regulator about what can or cannot be done by these powerhouses in the platform world of technology.”

He said another critical factor surrounding regulation in China is over how much power these big tech firms would have on the market with regards to data privacy.

“If you look at the one billion customers that they do have a lot of data on, what can they do with that kind of data? That is going to be a question moving forward, especially around data privacy,” he said. “And that’s something that Ant Group will be well-prepared to resolve as well.”   

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