One of China's most influential tech companies, Internet Finance Titan Ant Group, is poised to raise a shipload of cash by selling shares.
The sale re-shapes China's importance as a digital powerhouse. But it also shows how the tech world is breaking.
The company could be worth more than many global banks after the share sale, but its business is heavily focused in one country: China. Rather than being listed in New York like many other Chinese internet companies, Ant is listed in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Here's what you should know about the company and its IPO.
Ant is Jack Ma & # 39; s second tech giant.
At the turn of the millennium, the Internet was a lawless frontier, not least in China. Online shopping was a gamble. Most buying and selling took place between strangers. Nobody could be sure that they were not being betrayed.
Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce group, came up with an idea to cultivate trust. In 2003, a service called Alipay was set up that kept payments on hold until shoppers confirmed they were happy with their purchases. If the items were counterfeit or never arrived, the money was refunded.
Alipay helped launch Alibaba's bazaars. Jack Ma, the co-founder of Alibaba, spun the service off as a standalone company in 2011 and started a dispute with Yahoo, which was a major investor in Alibaba at the time.
Today, Alibaba has a one-third stake in Ant. Mr. Ma is Ant's majority shareholder, even though he's not part of management.
Ant's chairman, Eric Jing, and chairman of the board, Simon Hu, both worked in Alibaba's orbit for years. Ant has 16,660 employees.
Life is different at Alipay.
When people across China want to pay for something, they don't reach for their wallets. They pick up their cell phones.
With Alipay and another smartphone app, the WeChat social platform, you have to scan a QR code when exchanging money – at a personal checkout, when checking out in an online shop or in person with a friend. Shops and restaurants still accept cash, albeit often reluctantly.
Over time, Alipay has hosted other services as well. People in China use it to shop on credit – no plastic card required. They take out small loans, invest their savings, and buy health and life insurance. These companies' fees accounted for more than half of Ant's revenue last year.
The app is a big thing in China.
Alipay has more than 730 million monthly users, more than double the number in the US. For comparison, PayPal has 346 million active accounts.
Ant processed more than $ 17 trillion in digital payments in mainland China in the twelve months ended June. According to PayPal, the total payment volume in 2019 was $ 712 billion. Ant provided approximately $ 300 billion in credit for consumers and small businesses.
If the company goes public, it could be worth around $ 310 billion. That would be worth about as much as JPMorgan Chase and a lot more than Citigroup and Goldman Sachs.
Alipay is also not a problem technologically. Ant said his systems processed 459,000 payments per second at the height of a Chinese shopping vacation last year. In contrast, Visa can process 65,000 transactions per second.
Ant is huge, and not just because China's population is huge. The growth was also helped by the fact that China had previously lagged so far in digital finance. Few people had credit cards. The large government-run banks were slow to modernize.
But how much bigger can it get?
Around 95 percent of Ant's sales came from mainland China last year. The company has invested in Paytm, an Indian payment app, and acquired EyeVerify, a Kansas City, Missouri, startup that makes biometric authentication technology. But for now, at least, it seems unlikely that Alipay would fit so deeply into any other country's financial system.
Even in China, the government is concerned about rapidly growing financial products. The Communist Party has contained loan fraud and questionable investment plans. Regulators have also criticized Ant for failing to adequately protect users' personal information.
The fact that Ant survived so long in China under regulatory pressure means it will likely keep working on whatever the authorities throw at it, said Kevin Kwek, an analyst at research firm Bernstein.
"If you want to sell something to consumers who are financial services, regulators need to review," he said. "I don't think they're trying to find ways to kill Ant."