Ma to Relinquish Control of Chinese Fintech Company Ant Group

Chinese fintech giant Ant Group’s founder Ma is set to cede his control of the company as it prepares for a regulatory driven restructuring. Beijing’s regulatory crackdown was triggered soon after its $37 billion initial public offering (IPO) was scratched two years ago. Ant’s IPO, which would have been the world’s largest, was cancelled at the last minute in November 2020, leading to a forced restructuring of the financial technology firm and speculation the Chinese billionaire would have to relinquish control.

It was previously speculated that Ma’s ceding of control in the company could pave the way for a revival of its IPO, but the changes announced on Saturday signal a further delay due to listing regulations. China’s domestic A-share market requires companies to wait three years after a change in control to list. The wait is two years on Shanghai’s STAR market, and one year in Hong Kong.

Ma previously possessed more than 50% of voting rights at Ant but the changes will mean that his share falls to 6.2%.

Ma only owns a 10% stake in Ant, an affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, but has exercised control over the company through related entities.

Ma’s giving up of control comes as Ant Group is nearing the completion of its two-year regulatory-driven restructuring. Beijing is expected to impose a fine of more than $1 billion on the company.

The expected penalty is part of Beijing’s regulatory crackdown on the technology giants over the past two years that has sliced hundreds of billions of dollars off their values and shrunk revenues and profits.

Chinese authorities have softened their tone in recent months regarding the tech crackdown, as the government scrambles to bolster the $17 trillion economy that has been hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic and Beijing’s strict pandemic policy.

Ant operates mobile payment app Alipay, the world’s largest, which has more than 1 billion users. The company’s businesses also span consumer lending and insurance products distribution.

Ant also said it would add a fifth independent director to its board so that independent directors will comprise a majority of the company’s board. It currently has eight board directors.

Ant’s market listing in Hong Kong and Shanghai was canceled days after Ma publicly criticized Chinese regulators in a speech in October 2020. Since then, his businesses have been under regulatory scrutiny. Ma has largely remained out of public view since the regulatory crackdown that has reined in the country’s technology giants.

As Chinese regulators try to control what they call monopolies and unfair competition, Ant and Alibaba have been untangling their operations from each other and independently seeking new business.

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