Ant Financial agrees to buy UK payments firm WorldFirst

By BLOOMBERG

HONG KONG • Ant Financial Services Group, the Chinese financial services giant controlled by billionaire Jack Ma, bought London-based payments company WorldFirst in its biggest overseas deal since a US expansion was thwarted.

The acquisition marks Ant Financial’s first big move into the UK although its Alipay service is accepted by some merchants there already.

The deal was announced in a memo dispatched by the UK firm to clients. Ant Financial confirmed the letter without disclosing the amount it paid.

Ant Financial, an affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd that’s backed by some of the biggest names in global finance and investment, serves hundreds of millions of customers who tap the platform for everything from micro-transactions to wealth management.

“The products and services of Alipay and WorldFirst are highly complementary,” WorldFirst CEO Jonathan Quin said in the memo. “All your current customer and account information will also remain unchanged.”

WorldFirst will remain independent under the terms, according to the letter. It has about 600 staff globally and has helped more than 160,000 individuals and small businesses transfer £70 billion (RM366.72 billion) since its founding in 2004.

Ant Financial made inroads into Europe last year when it won the rights to become the digital wallet for competitions run by UEFA, Europe’s governing body for soccer.

Formally known as Zhejiang Ant Small & Micro Financial Services Group Co, it has leveraged Alipay’s popularity to expand into everything from asset management to insurance, credit scoring and lending.

It raised roughly US$14 billion (RM57.05 billion) in its last round of funding, to bankroll expansions into South-East Asia and other markets abroad.

Born out of an online payments system for Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms, the business has grown into a financial behemoth with few equals: Its estimated US$150 billion valuation dwarfs those of Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Morgan Stanley.

Alipay and its global affiliates have one billion users as of February.

Ant was forced to abandon a plan last year to merge with MoneyGram International Inc after the companies failed to win approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, a national-security panel that has become more active in blocking Chinese investments in American companies. — Bloomberg