The rise of Jack Ma's Ant Group

China’s Ant Group was set to make the world’s largest ever stock market debut.

Backed by billionaire Jack Ma, its $37 billion listing would have surpassed Saudi Aramco’s record float of $29.4 billion last year.

But the IPO has been suspended in a dramatic move, following a recent interview Chinese regulators held with Ma and top executives.

Let’s take a step back and look at how Ant grew into the world's largest unicorn, which powers China's biggest online payments platform.

The Hangzhou-based company is a spinoff from Ma’s Alibaba Group.

After launching in 2004 as a payments processor, its core Alipay app has grown to accumulate more than 730 million monthly users in China.

Ant has built an empire connecting borrowers and lenders, securing short-term loans within minutes.

AI powers its range of products - from insurance, to wealth management, to its cash cow consumer lending business.

Ant benefits from the far richer valuations typically afforded to tech firms than to financial institutions.

And there lies a core conundrum for investors and regulators: what exactly is Ant?

Financial colossus … or tech giant?

Ma is certainly pushing for the latter.

He’s keen to tout it as a tech vendor for financial firms, labelling it a “techfin” rather than a “fintech” outfit.

Ant’s fin-to-tech shift began two or three years ago, as Chinese regulators heightened scrutiny to control financial risks.

Sceptics say regulators are unlikely to turn down the heat on a company that only this year changed its name from Ant Financial.

They consider Ant’s business model of matching borrowers and lenders a financial service.

On Monday, Ma and two top executives were called into a rare meeting with China’s top regulators - namely, for a bit of a dressing down.

It seems Ant’s march to its blockbuster IPO could be the tipping point, as the company faces tighter government scrutiny.

Video Transcript

JACK MA: There will be no trade deficit--

- China's Ant Group was set to make the world's largest ever stock market debut. Backed by billionaire Jack Ma, its $37 billion listing would have surpassed Saudi Aramco's record float of $29.4 billion last year. But the IPO has been suspended in a dramatic move, following a recent interview Chinese regulators held with Ma and top executives. Let's take a step back and look at how Ant grew into the world's largest unicorn, which powers China's biggest online payments platform.

The Hangzhou-based company is a spinoff from Ma's Alibaba Group. After launching in 2004 as a payments processor, its core Alipay app has grown to accumulate more than 730 million monthly users in China. Ant has built an empire connecting borrowers and lenders, securing short-term loans within minutes.

AI powers its range of products, from insurance to wealth management to its cash cow consumer lending business. Ant benefits from the far richer valuations typically afforded to tech firms than to financial institutions. And there lies a core conundrum for investors and regulators-- what exactly is Ant, financial colossus or tech giant?

Ma is certainly pushing for the latter. He's keen to tout it as a tech vendor for financial firms, labeling it as a "techfin" rather than a "fintech" outfit. Ant's fin-to-tech shift began two or three years ago, as Chinese regulators heightened scrutiny to control financial risks. Skeptics say regulators are unlikely to turn down the heat on a company that only this year changed its name from Ant Financial. They consider Ant's business model of matching borrowers and lenders a financial service.

On Monday, Ma and two top executives were called into a rare meeting with China's top regulators-- namely, for a bit of a dressing down. It seems Ant's march to its blockbuster IPO could be the tipping point as the company faces tighter government scrutiny.