Jack Ma to Cede Control of Digital Payments Giant Ant Group

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Storied fintech tycoon Jack Ma is set to relinquish control of payments giant Ant Group in the wake of sustained pressure from Chinese regulators.

On 7 January, Ant Group announced plans to make adjustments to shareholders’ voting rights in a bid to improve corporate governance.

“Ant Group’s shareholders and relevant beneficiaries plan to make adjustments to the upper-structure of Ant Group’s shareholders,” the company said in the “Ant Group Public Announcement on Sustained Improvements to Corporate Governance” (关于持续完善公司治理的公告). “The core of this adjustment is changes in the voting rights of Ant Group’s key shareholders.”

The adjustment will reduce Jack Ma’s voting rights in Ant Group from 53.46% to just 6.208%, via a shift from “Jack Ma and his synonymous actors jointly exercising share voting rights, to 10 natural persons including Ant Group’s senior management, employee representatives and founders separately and independently exercising voting rights.”

Ant Group said the adjustment will “not lead to changes in the economic interests of Ant Group shareholders and its relevant beneficiaries.”

According to the announcement, Ant Group’s relevant senior executives will also no longer serve as partners in Ma’s e-commerce giant Alibaba, in a bid to “raise the transparency and effectiveness of corporate governance and strengthen separation from shareholder Alibaba.”

The move comes after Chinese regulators applied sustained pressure to Ant Group’s operations, as well as launched a campaign to clean up China’s online finance and fintech sectors.

In November 2020 Chinese regulators scuppered Ant Group’s proposed IPO on the Shanghai and Hong Kong bourses. The dual listing of Ant Group on China’s leading stock exchanges was expected to raise a record-breaking USD$34.4 billion.

Ant Group executives were subsequently summoned by the Chinese securities authority for “regulatory discussions” that are usually considered a sign of disciplinary action.