Jack Ma’s Ant Group was all set to launch the world’s largest ever stock market debut after the Hong Kong stock exchange (HKEX) yesterday gave its approval for the $30bn initial public offering (IPO). The group’s call for capital is expected to exceed even the 2019, $25.6bn IPO of Saudi Aramco, with the bankers working on the listing – which will be launched simultaneously in Hong Kong and Shanghai – determined to both establish the price and list the shares before the US presidential elections on November 3.
Set up by the Alibaba founder as a payment service on his giant e-commerce site to extend loans to SMEs, the Ant Group is not just about to make Ma even richer than he is already, but has helped establish China as the world leader in digital transactions. Last year it handled some $16trn in payments, dwarfing Paypal, its closest international rival.
Direct comparisons with this and Western mobile wallets like Apple Play are, however, misleading. Ant Group’s offering reaches much further into its customers’ financial affairs and covers everything from payments to credit to insurance to investments within Alipay, which the company calls a “ubiquitous super app.” Ant also offers investment services through the distribution of money-market funds, as well as wealth-management and insurance options.
Ma may have relinquished control of Alibaba (he dressed up as a rock star at his retirement party), but the company he founded remains one of the Ant Group’s biggest fans; on Wednesday afternoon, it announced it had agreed to subscribe to 730 million A shares in the IPO.