China’s Ant explores ways for Jack Ma to exit
HONG KONG: Ant Group is exploring options for founder Jack Ma to divest his stake in the financial technology giant and give up control, as meetings with Chinese regulators signaled to the company that the move could help draw a line under Beijing’s scrutiny of its business, according to a source familiar with regulators’ thinking and two people with close ties to the company.
Reuters is for the first time reporting details of the latest round of meetings and the discussions about the future of Ma’s control of Ant, exercised through a complicated structure of investment vehicles. The Wall Street Journal previously reported that Ma had offered in a November meeting with regulators to hand over parts of Ant to the Chinese government.
Officials from the central bank, People’s Bank of China (PBOC), and financial regulator China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) held talks between January and March with Ma and Ant separately, where the possibility of the tycoon’s exit from the company was discussed, according to accounts provided by the source familiar with the regulators’ thinking and one of the sources with close ties to the company. Ant denied that a divestment of Ma’sstakewaseverunderconsideration.“divestment of Mr. Ma’s stake in Ant Group has never been the subject of discussions with anyone,” an Ant spokesman said in a statement.
Reuterscouldnotdeterminewhetherantandma would proceed with a divestment option, and if so, which one. The company hoped Ma’s stake, which is worth billions of dollars, could be sold to existing investors in Ant or its e-commerce affiliate Alibaba Group Holding Ltd without involving any external entity, one of the sources with company ties said.