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Ant Group IPO put on hold by China’s authorities

The Shanghai Stock Exchange (SSE) has suspended the Ant Group’s $34.5 billion initial public offering (IPO) on Tuesday, after the financial conglomerate was summoned to a meeting with the People’s Bank of China and other regulators on Monday, Bloomberg reported. Soon after the SSE’s move, Ant said that the proposed listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange would also be suspended. The IPO, which was meant to the world’s biggest public offering, was set to take place on November 5.

Two factors have driven the decision to stall the Ant Group’s IPO. The first is that, new draft rules issued by the People’s Bank of China on Monday were proposed for online micro lending, which mandated stricter capital requirements and operational rules. The SSE cited these rules stating that “these issues may result in your company not meeting the conditions for listing or meeting the information disclosure requirements.” The second and perhaps more significant factor is that two weeks ago Jack Ma likened China’s traditional banks to “pawnshops” during a speech at the Bund Summit, a financial forum, in Shanghai.

The Ant Group is a dominant player in China’s burgeoning fintech space offering payments services, wealth management, lending, credit scoring, and insurance. According to Ant’s prospectus, as of June 2020 it had 729 million users on the digital fintech platform and 500 million users on the lending side. On the wealth management platform it had garnered over ¥4.1 trillion in assets under management and ¥51.8 billion annual premium collections on the insurance platform. Alipay has a monthly active user base of 711 million and processed ¥119 trillion transactions in the preceding 12 months.

Ma who is the founder of Ant Group and the Alibaba Group, is not an executive at fintech giant. The Alibaba Group owns a third of Ant Group and had the IPO sailed through Ma would own no more than a 8.8% stake in Ant Group, according to the prospectus.

According to Bloomberg, Ma said that China’s biggest issue was not “systemic risk” but that it “lacks a financial ecosystem.” He said that Chinese banks functioned like “pawn shops”, where collateral and guarantees are the hard currencies, which allowed many to grow so big that they are not allowed to fail. “As the Chinese like to say, if you borrow 100,000 yuan from the bank, you are a bit scared; if you borrow a million yuan, both you and the bank are a little nervous; but if you take a 1 billion yuan loan, you are not scared at all, the bank is,” Ma said.

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He also said that “good innovation is not afraid of regulation, but is afraid of outdated regulation.” “We shouldn’t use the way to manage a train station to regulate an airport, neither should we regulate the future with the method from yesterday,” Ma added.
In September, regulators in China tightened rules on online lenders introducing new measures on capital, licensing requirements, caps on loan rates and limits on the use of asset-backed securities to fund quick consumer loans.

A spokesperson for the group told CNBC on Tuesday,  “We will be proactive in supporting Ant Group to adapt to and embrace the evolving regulatory framework.” “We have full confidence in Ant Group colleagues’ ability to do a good job. Society has high expectations for Alibaba. We will continue to work hard to not only meet but exceed expectations and fulfill our responsibility to society,” they said.

In a statement the company said, “Ant Group sincerely apologizes to you for any inconvenience caused by this development.” “We will properly handle the follow-up matters in accordance with applicable regulations of the two stock exchanges. We will overcome the challenges and live up to the trust on the principles of: stable innovation; embrace of regulation; service to the real economy; and win-win cooperation,” it said.

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