Jack Ma plans to cede control of his fintech giant Ant Group, according to a Wall Street Journal report, as the company seeks to ameliorate concerns raised by regulators that derailed its massive $37 billion initial public offering plan almost two years ago.
Ma, a 57-year-old former English teacher who is also the cofounder of e-commerce behemoth Alibaba, has intended give up control of Ant for quite some time, according to a person familiar with the matter. The move makes sense from a corporate governance perspective, the person said, because the tycoon no longer holds an executive role at Ant nor does he sit on its board of directors, although he does control more than 50% of the firm through related investment holding entities.
But it isn’t entirely clear how he intends to relinquish control. The WSJ’s report said the billionaire may transfer some voting power to Ant executives including Chief Executive Eric Jing, and he may only be able to do so after the fintech giant completes its restructuring plan.
Ant is required to become a financial holding company by the country’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China, and rein in the once aggressively expanding microlending service as authorities remain intent on curbing risks and reducing leverage in the economy. The company might need to wait longer before it can seek a public listing as firms recently experiencing an ownership change are required to have a time-out period under Chinese rules.
Ma’s move, if completed, would also mark the former high-flying billionaire’s further retreat from the business empire he started more than 20 years ago. The tycoon had stepped down as Alibaba chief executive in 2013 and given up the chairman’s seat in 2019. He has largely stayed out of public view after delivering a speech in 2020 critical of financial regulators and state-owned banks that drew the ire of Beijing.
Alibaba, for its part, is also moving to distance itself from Ant. According to the e-commerce giant’s annual report published earlier this week, several Ant executives have stepped down from the Alibaba Partnership, which was formed in 2010 and allows top management to nominate the majority of the company’s board. Alibaba, in the meantime, continues to own about one-third of Ant, whose Alipay e-wallet is the primary payment option on the e-commerce platform.