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Crown jewel of Jack Ma’s Alibaba empire plans simultaneous IPOs

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Billionaire Jack Ma’s Ant Group is kicking off its much-anticipated initial public offering, with plans to list simultaneously in Hong Kong and on China’s new tech bourse in Shanghai.

The parent of China’s largest mobile payment company is marching toward what could be one of the largest listings seen in years. It was valued at $150 billion in its last funding round. Ant will pursue a dual-listing in Hong Kong and the Shanghai stock exchange’s STAR board, the Hangzhou-based company said in an emailed statement. It’s seeking a valuation of at least $200 billion, people familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified talking about a private deal.

The crown jewel of the sprawling Alibaba empire, Ant has been accelerating its evolution into an online mall for everything from loans and travel services to food delivery, in a bid to claw back shoppers lost to Tencent Holdings Ltd. The company’s Chief Executive Officer Simon Hu wants people to just think of Alipay as more than just a niche provider of financial services and the payments gateway for the world’s biggest e-commerce platform. Alipay now caters to a wide array of consumer needs from groceries to wealth management, and hotel booking to loan applications.

Ant generated $2 billion in profit in the fourth quarter, based on calculations made from Alibaba’s filing. The company’s goal is to derive more than 80% of revenue from local merchants and finance firms in five years via so-called technology services fees, up from about half at the end of 2019. The contribution from proprietary services, such as Ant’s own money market fund and loans, would shrink as a result.

Those technology solutions would include services in cloud computing, artificial intelligence, blockchain and risk control. Ant aims to assist banks to dole out loans to consumers, and partner with brands like KFC Holding Co. and Marriott International Inc. to attract and manage customers.

Hu is betting that those strategies will help Ant defend its dominance of China’s $29 trillion mobile payments space. Alipay’s share of mobile payments has increased for three consecutive quarters, rising to 55.1% in the fourth quarter, according research consultant iResearch. Tencent has 38.9% of the market.

It also diversifies Ant’s business into less-sensitive areas after the firm drew regulatory scrutiny for its blistering expansion in financial services with in-house products.

To mark the transformation, Ant changed its registered name to Ant Group Co. from Ant Financial Services Group at the end of May.

Ant’s origins are not without controversy. In 2010, Ma hived off the six-year-old Alipay from Alibaba over the objections of shareholders including Yahoo! Inc., citing potential regulations that may curb foreign ownership of financial businesses. Alipay then expanded into loans, wealth management and consumer credit under the entity that’s now known as Ant Group. The dispute was eventually settled via an arrangement that granted Alibaba a proportion of Alipay’s income. Alibaba ended up buying a 33% stake in Ant last year.

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