Ant Group Faces Potential $1.1 Billion Fine as Chinese Authorities Conclude Regulatory Overhaul
Chinese authorities are set to announce an 8 billion yuan ($1.1 billion) fine on Ant Group, effectively concluding the fintech company's extensive regulatory revamp.
The penalty, expected to be one of the largest fines for an internet company in China, will facilitate Ant's pursuit of a financial holding company license, enabling future growth and reigniting plans for a stock market debut.
Chinese authorities, driving the overhaul since Ant's scrapped $37 billion IPO in 2020, are likely to disclose the fine in the coming days, according to knowledgeable sources. The broad technology sector views this fine as a significant step towards concluding China's crackdown on private enterprises, which began with Ant's IPO cancellation and led to substantial market value losses across multiple companies.
Ant and the People's Bank of China (PBOC) have not responded to requests for comment from Reuters, while the sources spoke on condition of anonymity due to a lack of authorization to speak to the media.
Ant, founded by billionaire Jack Ma, offers payment processing, consumer lending, insurance product distribution and other services. Prior to its aborted IPO, Ant's valuation exceeded $300 billion. Since April 2021, the company has undergone comprehensive business restructuring, transforming into a financial holding company subject to bank-like rules and capital requirements.
The announcement of the fine against Ant follows the appointment of Pan Gongsheng as the Communist Party Secretary for the PBOC, seen as a prelude to his appointment as governor. Pan, a key regulatory official overseeing Ant's revamp, has been involved in multiple meetings with the company regarding the fine and restructuring.
The National Financial Regulatory Administration (NFRA), a new government body, will be the primary regulator responsible for granting Ant the necessary license. However, the NFRA has not responded to Reuters' request for comment. Additionally, the PBOC has not provided any comment on Pan's role.
The fine imposed on Ant has been revised to a minimum of 8 billion yuan, surpassing the initial estimates. In April, reports suggested that Chinese regulators were considering a fine of around 5 billion yuan.
Ant's potential fine would be the largest regulatory penalty imposed on a Chinese internet company since Didi Global, a ride-hailing giant, received a $1.2 billion fine from China's cybersecurity regulator last year. Moreover, Alibaba Group, Ant's affiliate and an e-commerce titan, was fined a record-breaking 18 billion yuan in 2021 for antitrust violations.
Amidst the struggle to revive the $17 trillion economy despite the relaxation of zero-COVID restrictions, Chinese authorities aim to boost private sector confidence. This potential fine on Ant coincides with Jack Ma's return to China earlier this year, following an extended period overseas. In late 2020, Ma vanished from public view after delivering a speech that criticised China's regulatory system, which many believe triggered the industry crackdown. As part of the revamp, Ma relinquished control of Ant, owning no more than 50% of the voting rights.
Chinese authorities are likely to announce an 8 billion yuan ($1.1 billion) fine on Ant Group, marking the end of the fintech company's regulatory overhaul.
The penalty will enable Ant to pursue a financial holding company license and revive its plans for a stock market debut.
This fine represents a crucial step in China's crackdown on private enterprises, which began with Ant's cancelled IPO.