TPG, Carlyle lead over RM7.6b round in Baidu’s finance arm

BEIJING • Baidu Inc has raised more than US$1.9 billion (RM7.6 billion) for its newly spun-off financial services division from TPG, Carlyle Group and other investors, creating one of China’s best-funded financial technology companies.

Taikang Group and other backers also joined the funding round for the newly formed company, which will be called “Du Xiaoman Financial” and use artificial intelligence (AI) to provide short-term loans and investment services.

Baidu senior VP Zhu Guang will run the business as an independent entity, according to a statement on Saturday. The news comes a day after Baidu said it planned to sell a majority stake in the business, without providing a timetable.

Baidu announced plans to spin off the unit in July, to help it obtain domestic financial services licences and reduce drag on the parent, China’s most popular search engine.

Moody’s Investors Service Inc put the company’s credit rating under review last year over risks related to its loans business. E-commerce giant Inc completed a similar spin-off in 2017.

“I am very pleased to see that the financial unit has graduated,” Baidu CEO Robin Li (picture) said in the statement. “This is another milestone for Baidu’s AI ecosystem after the listing of iQiyi.”

In its earnings release, Baidu said the financial services unit had assets of US$7.5 billion and liabilities of US$6.6 billion, but added that there was no assurance of a sale.

Baidu has spent the past year selling or spinning off a series of costly business units to refocus on its core services. Its loss-making food delivery service Waimai was sold to a rival now controlled by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd called, while the Netflix-like streaming video service iQiyi Inc listed this year.

The moves are designed to help sustain the business until big bets on AI pay off. It’s hoping that AI products like autonomous vehicles and Siri- like personal assistants will be its next big source of revenue and profits.

But, while its open-sourced driverless car platform, named Apollo, now has over 100 partners, fully-autonomous passenger sedans aren’t expected for mass-production until at least 2020. — Bloomberg