Following Chinese government’s intervention, the Shanghai stock exchange has announced the postponement of Ant’s record-breaking initial public offering.
The development came after Chinese regulators weighed in on the Ant’s Group’s move to go public, using a slew of new fintech regulations.
The stunning development started when Ant’s boss, Jack Ma was pulled in by the authorities in what appears to be an orientation chat on the new regulatory rules. On Monday, Chinese authorities said in a statement that the central bank and three financial regulators had held a rare joint meeting with Ma and two Ant’s executives.
The meeting came just a few days to Ant’s $34 billion IPO in Honk Kong and Shanghai.
Ma has been critical of many regulatory measures in China, especially the Basel Accord, a series of international regulations that require banks to hold a certain amount of capital, as outmoded for the modern era. Part of his complaints is about the inadequacies of the Chinese lending institutions.
Ma accused the institutions of having a “pawnship” mentality of using collateral instead of advanced credit ratings and watchdogs of not knowing the difference between regulation and supervision.
His outburst appears to have attracted the attention of the authorities and the Ant Group will be paying for it.
“We are sincerely sorry for any inconvenience brought to investors. We will properly handle follow-up matters following compliance regulations of the two exchanges,” statement from Ant said after the initial public offering was put on hold.
A new wave of regulatory rules was released on Monday that affected micro-lenders, including caps on leverage. The draft now poses a big problem to Ant and its shareholders. It may disqualify the firm from listing on November 5, according to a statement from the bourse.
The draft rules include a ban on interprovincial online loans unless otherwise approved by authorities, a maximum online loan amount of 300,000 yuan ($45,000) for each individual, and a 1 billion yuan registered capital threshold for online microloan lenders.
The new rules will likely stand against the fast growing lending business of Ant’s Group, that has contributed 41.9 billion (34.7%) to its annual revenue, according to Ant’s IPO prospectus.
Ant has partnered with about 100 banks to give out 1.7 trillion yuan ($250 billion) of consumer loans and 400 billion yuan ($58 billion) of small business loans, in the year ended June.
Recently, the Chinese government has shown more interest in the financial sector, as more companies embrace fintech. China’s central bank has announced a plan to develop a national digital currency to serve as online alternative yuan. Part of the plan is to make rules that will regulate all digital transactions in the country.
Ant has devised many means to keep the eyes of the authorities away from its booming financial base. In June, the company renamed itself from Ant Financial to Ant Technology. The move was seen as a ploy to shed the company’s image as an ‘intimidating financial giant’ and stress the one of ‘benevolent technology provider.’
Ant was also noted for changing fintech to techfin, an awkward coinage designed to portray itself more like a tech firm than a fintech. In June last year, the firm announced that it’s not challenging traditional financial institutions, as its growth was making banks and insurance groups wary.
So rather than be seen as a competitor, Ant wants to position itself as a technology partner of the traditional financial sector.
But its growing influence in the financial industry was ostensibly overwhelming for the authorities to overlook. Alipay has over 700 million monthly users, more than twice the population of the United States, banking, buying insurance and making millions of transactions in one platform.
Ant has grown into an online marketplace matching hundreds of millions of customers with financial products offered by traditional financial institutions.
Banks and insurance companies are jittery, and the Chinese authorities are concerned that if new regulations are not made to limit power the digital and online finance operators wield, they will run traditional players out of business.
“Views regarding the health and stability of the financial sector were exchanged. Ant Group is committed to implementing the meeting opinions in depth and continuing our course based on the principles of stable innovation; embrace of regulation; service to the real economy; and win-win cooperation,” Ant spokesman told TechCrunch.
Ant has made it clear it will abide by the regulations of Beijing, and work with the authorities for the economic development of the country.
“We will continue to improve our capabilities to provide inclusive services and promote economic development to improve the lives of ordinary citizens,” Ant said.
It is not clear what this development will mean to Ant’s $34.5 billion intended IPO.