What’s going on with Jack Ma and Ant Group?

9 Jan 2023

Image: © THINK b/Stock.adobe.com

Ant Group’s debut listing to go public was suspended in 2020 by Chinese regulators, who pushed a sweeping set of reforms on the company the following year.

Chinese entrepreneur Jack Ma has ceded his majority control of the fintech Ant Group, as the company adjusts its corporate structure.

The move is part of the company’s attempt to adjust how it does business, in order to appease Chinese regulators that have been targeting tech giants in recent years.

The company said its corporate structure has changed so that “no shareholder, alone or jointly with other parties, will have control over Ant Group”.

Ant Group runs Alipay, an online payment system which has reportedly grown to become the largest payment system in the world, reaching roughly 1.2bn users globally last year.

Who is Jack Ma?

Ma is a Chinese entrepreneur who co-founded the tech giant Alibaba and its fintech affiliate Ant Group.

The former English teacher has reportedly been rarely seen in public since he made critical comments about China’s financial regulators in 2020.

Following these comments, Ma’s empire drew the attention of Chinese authorities. Ant Group’s debut listing on the stock market was suspended in November 2020 due to “major issues”. It was set to become the world’s largest IPO at the time but was put on hold due to changes in the financial technology regulatory environment.

In 2021, Alibaba was hit with a massive $2.8bn anti-monopoly fine, while Ant Group agreed to restructure as a financial holdings company.

How have the shares been restructured?

Prior to the latest changes, Ma directly and indirectly controlled more than 53pc of Ant Group’s shares, making him the “control person” of the company. Ma will now only hold roughly 6.2pc of voting rights, according to a new structure shared by the company.

The structure now means 10 individuals have a roughly equal number of shares and voting rights, while the shares of other shareholders have been unaffected.

“The shareholding structure of Ant Group will be more transparent and diversified, which will facilitate the steady development of the company,” Ant Group said.

“The adjustment is being implemented to further enhance the stability of our corporate structure and sustainability of our long-term development.”

How will this impact Ant Group?

The change appears to have caused a positive reaction for companies linked to Ant Group. Hong Kong-listed shares for Alibaba rose by 7pc, while several companies that Ant Group has a stake in rose in value, Reuters reports.

The change could prolong Ant Group’s attempts to become a publicly listed company. For example, companies are not able to list on China’s A-share market if they have had a control change in the past three years, Bloomberg reports.

In an email statement to Reuters, the company said it has no plans to initiate an IPO and is instead focusing on its “business rectification and optimisation”.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic