Alibaba's finance arm Ant says expansion plans to focus on Asia, for now

November 1, 2016 12:44 AM EDT

Punnamas Vichitkulwongsa, chief executive of Ascend Group, speaks during the Ant Financial event in Hong Kong, China November 1, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip


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By Sijia Jiang and Elzio Barreto

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Ant Financial Services Group, the world's biggest financial technology company, plans to focus its expansion plans in Asia before looking to go more global, a senior official said on Tuesday.

Ant, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd's online finance arm, will offer its insurance and investment management products outside of China, senior vice president Douglas Feagin said at an event to mark a tie-up with Thai payment firm Ascend.

The Thailand deal marks Ant's first significant expansion effort into foreign payments in Asia since last year's partnership with India's PayTM, which raised over $500 million in a round led by Alibaba in September.

Ant's payment platform Alipay has been tussling with major local rival Tencent Holdings Ltd, whose Tenpay has also been making an overseas push by targeting thousands of retailers particularly around Asia.

Ant plans to replicate the Alipay model in Thailand, with a goal of reaching more than half of the country's internet users in five years, it said.

"We are leading first with payments and related services but we may very well offer other products and services market by market," Feagin said.

The move extends a global push that has seen the firm move into the United States and Europe. Last month Ant expanded its mobile payment app service into the U.S. market in a bid to reach Chinese consumers traveling abroad.

Ant said in a statement that it has 450 million users, of which 40 million are outside China. It also has another 150 million when users of its PayTM tie-up are included.

In August both Alipay and Tenpay secured licenses to operate their mobile payments services in Hong Kong.

Ascend, which allows users to deposit their cash into a digital wallet, and Ant Financial are counting on the huge number of people without bank accounts in Southeast Asia to turn to their payments, lending and other services.

The region has nearly 370 million people without bank accounts and who use cash on a day-to-day basis, Ascend Group CEO Punnamas Vichitkulwongsa said.

Feagin, a former Goldman Sachs banker who leads Ant's international business, added there were no set plans currently for the timing or venue of a potential initial public offering, though there were benefits to going public.

Ant Financial raised $4.5 billion in a record funding round in April, valuing the company at about $60 billion, the same as American Express Co or insurer Chubb Ltd and more than any other privately held fintech company.

(Reporting by Sijia Jiang and Elzio Barreto; Writing by Cate Cadell; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Edwina Gibbs)



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