As the NY Times reports, the largest IPO in history is on hold as Chinese regulators call Jack Ma to task. It looks like there is sensitivity to China’s credit card and payment system, which Ant could displace.
- In a late-evening announcement that stunned China, the Shanghai Stock Exchange slammed the brakes on Ant’s initial public offering, which was set to be the biggest stock debut in history, with investors on multiple continents and at least $34 billion in proceeds.
- The stock exchange’s notice to Ant said that the company’s proposed offering might no longer meet the requirements for listing after Chinese regulators had summoned company executives, including Jack Ma, the co-founder of the e-commerce titan Alibaba and Ant’s controlling shareholder, for a meeting on Monday.
And, with a user base that any good credit manager would give their right arm for, Jack Ma may be up for unexpected scrutiny.
- Over the past decade, Ant has transformed the way people in China interact with money. The company’s Alipay app has become an essential payment tool for more than 730 million users and a platform for obtaining small loans and buying insurance and investment products.
- In another sign of the continuing scrutiny, the nation’s banking regulator, the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, on Monday issued new draft rules for online microfinance businesses. Among them were higher capital requirements for loans and tighter controls on lending across provincial lines.
The concern is about Huabei, Alipay’s hot lending product. It is something like Buy Now, Pay Later, with a free financing function.
- When the user shops, he can advance the quota of Huabei and repay the payment on the 9th of the next month after confirming the receipt. The interest-free period can be up to 41 days.
In addition to the “buy this month, pay next month, long interest-free period” consumer experience, Ant Huabei also introduced the function of Ant Installment, which consumers can repay in 3, 6, 9, or 12 month installments.
It seems like Chinese regulators are stuck on loan loss reserves to mitigate risk. Ironically, the 11th hour shut down makes the issue all seem new.
- Huabei, a credit function in Alipay, is no different from a credit card issued by a bank, Mr. Guo wrote. And Jiebei, an Alipay loan feature, is no different from a bank loan. Ant has called Huabei and Jiebei the most widely used consumer credit products in China.
- Loose regulation has allowed financial technology companies to charge higher fees than banks, Mr. Guo wrote. This, he said, “has caused some low-income people and young people to fall into debt traps, ultimately harming consumers’ rights and interests and even endangering families and society.”
Chinese regulators have since updated the rules (thank heavens for Google Translate). And, Whoops, there it is, a regulatory flag.
- The Shanghai Exchange’s suspension of the Ant I.P.O. appeared to take note of the draft rules, saying that recent changes in the regulatory environment had affected Ant significantly. Bai Chengyu, an executive at the China Association of Microfinance, said the new rules could cause the entire microfinance industry to shrink.
For Jack Ma, his current net worth of $48 billion will not be much affected, but for Chinese regulators, the big question is how will credit card growth be affected now that we are talking about microloans and credit cards?
Overview provided by Brian Riley, Director, Credit Advisory Service at Mercator Advisory Group