2 July, 2018
Ant Financial, an affiliate company of Chinese e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba, announced earlier this month that it had successfully raised $14 billion in a Series C Round funding to use toward the development of new technologies—specifically blockchain, AI, and the Internet of Things.
Originally started as Ali Pay in 2004 and rebranded as Ant Financial in 2014, the company’s stated goal is to offer financial services to “serve the underbanked.” It operates the largest online and mobile payment network in China with approximately 870 million active global users on its AliPay platform, and a net worth of $150 billion. The company estimates it will nearly double the percentage of its revenue to 65 percent in five years, shifting away from financial services as the Central Bank of China tightens regulations on third-party payment firms.
Shifting to blockchain
Ant Financial hasn’t yet detailed how it plans to spend on blockchain development. However, last October, Vice President and Head of Ant Technologies Lab George Jiang spoke at the Alibaba Computing Conference in Hangzhou about plans to utilize smart contracts and biometric facial recognition software for apartment rentals. Parent company Alibaba boasts 49 blockchain patents—the most filed by any company, outranking all U.S. competitors.
Some of these patents have already resulted in real-world applications; for instance, Alibaba uses blockchain to record and track import products and allows customers to scan items so they can see its history on the supply chain and inspection information. They also currently use blockchain in a charity donations platform.
Bracing for IPOs
Ant Financial is shifting its focus as it prepares for initial public offerings in Mainland China and Hong Kong next year. Since the online financial firm isn’t bank- or state-owned, it became subject to a trial program of heightened regulations for fear it would grow too large to manage. China regulates conglomerates to prevent economic dependence should they fail.
This year, global spending on blockchain is expected to double. The Central Bank of China is looking to the technology in fund management while its applications in supply chain management and payment automation are making it a hot topic in e-commerce as well.
Image: Alibaba headquarters in Hangzhou, by Danielinblue via Wikimedia Commons.