Ant to be financial holding firm in overhaul forced by China

Jack Ma’s Ant Group Co. will drastically revamp its business, bowing to demands from Chinese authorities that want to rein in the country’s fast-growing Internet giants.

Photo by Bloomberg Mercury

Ant will now effectively be supervised more like a bank, a move with far-reaching implications for its growth and ability to press ahead with a landmark initial public offering that the government abruptly delayed late last year.

The overhaul announced by regulators and the company on Monday will see Ant transform itself into a financial holding company, with authorities also directing the firm to eliminate unfair competition in payments, increase oversight of how that business fuels it crucial consumer lending operations, and ramp up data protections. The firm will also need to cut the outstanding value of its money-market fund Yu’ebao.

The directives come as China’s regulators pledge to curb the “reckless” push of technology firms into finance and crack down on monopolies online. The twin pillars of Ma’s empire — Ant and e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. — have been at the center of the increased scrutiny, sending a clear message to the country’s largest corporations and their leaders to fall in line with Beijing’s priorities.

Several government agencies, including the People’s Bank of China, and regulators overseeing the banking and securities sectors met with Ant to dictate the changes.