Ant Group is planning to turn itself into a financial holding company overseen by China’s central bank, responding to pressure to fall fully in line with financial regulations, according to people familiar with the matter.
Chinese regulators recently told Ant, which is controlled by billionaire Jack Ma, to become a financial holding company in its entirety, subjecting it to more stringent capital requirements, the people said. Ant, in response, has submitted to authorities an outline of a restructuring plan, they said.
The plan represents a significant turnaround by a digital-payments juggernaut that has in recent years tried to shed its image as a financial-services provider and fashion itself as an internet-technology company, which helped it command lofty valuations. Before its blockbuster initial public offering was called off in November, Ant had been on track to go public at a valuation north of $300 billion, well above the market capitalizations of the world’s biggest banks.
Designating Ant in its entirety as a financial holding company wasn’t something earlier envisioned by the company’s executives and stakeholders. In its listing prospectus last year, Ant said it intended for one of its subsidiaries to become a financial holding company and house its licensed financial businesses such as asset management and consumer lending. Doing this at the group level will subject Ant to a thicket of regulations similar to those that govern banks, and affect its growth and profitability.