Ant’s IPO to make group of elite insiders very rich

Many tech start-ups lure employees with stock incentives that become lucrative when the company successfully completes an IPO

HONG KONG • It’s the hottest financial technology in the world and it is poised to go public in the coming months, unlocking vast riches for early investors and employees.

Ant Financial Services Group, the online payment provider backed by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd filed the prospectus for its IPO on Tuesday, unveiling some of the people who stand to win big from the listing.

The obvious one is Jack Ma, whose stake in Ant will be worth US$25 billion (RM105 billion) if it achieves the US$225 billion valuation people familiar with the matter have said it’s targeting. That could catapult him to among the world’s 10 richest people.

Ant chairman Eric Jing’s fortune will swell to US$2.9 billion, and another 17 current and former Alibaba and Ant executives will join the ranks of billionaires, based on the ownership structure described in the prospectus.

An Ant representative declined to comment on the calculations.

Most of the billionaires, whose combined stake is valued at US$57.9 billion, are part of the Alibaba Partnership, an elite 36-person group set up a decade ago to encourage collaboration within the e-commerce giant, override bureaucracy and, crucially, determine the annual cash bonuses for all members of management. It now comprises Alibaba and Ant management members, including Ma, Alibaba chairman Daniel Zhang and Lucy Peng Lei, a director at Ant.

The 19 winners own their stake through entities known as Hang- zhou Junao Equity Investment Partnership and Hangzhou Junhan Equity Investment Partnership, two limited partnerships registered in Hangzhou that together hold about half of Ant.

Alibaba itself is the largest holder of the financial-services firm, with a 33% stake. The remaining portion belongs to 29 other shareholders, including those that have invested in Ant over the years. Ma is the ultimate controller of the group, according to the prospectus.

With a 30% holding in Ant, Junhan’s stake is valued at US$67.2 billion, while Junao’s 21% ownership is worth US$46.5 billion. Ma, Jing, Ant CEO Simon Hu and non-ED Jiang Fang own shares in the two entities through a general partnership vehicle called Hangzhou Yunbo Investment Consultancy Co Ltd.

The limited partnership structure allows the general partner — in this case, Yunbo, which Ma controls — to exercise the entire voting power, regardless of the number of limited partners, according to Stephen Chan, a partner at Dechert LLP, an international law firm in Hong Kong that specialises in corporate finance.

Ma, however, has pledged to donate the economic interests of 611 million underlying Ant shares to charitable organisations and will lower his ownership to no more than 8.8%, as per the IPO prospectus and previous Alibaba filings.

Many tech start-ups lure employees with stock incentives that become lucrative when the company successfully completes an IPO. The Ant prospectus showed Junhan has granted share-based awards tied to Ant’s valuation to employees since March 2014, including to some new recruits and to reward performance of top performers.

“Share-based incentives are fairly common for tech companies,” Dechert’s Chan said. “Equity could be used instead of cash to incentivise and attract the necessary talent.”

Back in 2015, at least 12 Junao shareholders became billionaires, including former Alibaba CEO Jonathan Lu and former chief risk officer Shao Xiaofeng, now the company’s secretary-general. The entity’s ownership structure has since changed amid various Ant funding rounds.

While some questions remain around Ant’s ownership, one thing’s for sure: More Alibaba and Ant employees will become what could be characterised as “financially free”. — Bloomberg