An employee of Ant Financial Services Group shows visitors a payment service based on face recognition in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, on Friday. ( Photo: China Daily/Gao Erqiang)
Online payment firm's president is hoping to boost user base to 2 billion within 10 years
Ant Financial Services Group, a leading Chinese internet payment platform, has attracted 450 million customers, about one-third of the country's population, by offering a range of convenient digital services, from paying for purchases online to providing small loans to investing idle money that can earn yields higher than those offered by traditional banks.
Now, the company hopes to replicate its success in China in the wider world, especially in developing countries, and has a goal of boosting user numbers to 2 billion within 10 years, said Eric Jing, Ant Financial's president.
"China has world-leading internet technologies. With our experience of using internet technologies to provide inclusive finance, we can help more countries, especially developing countries, to lower the threshold and enable more disadvantaged groups to enjoy financial services," Jing told China Daily in an exclusive interview.
In 2004, Ant Financial, which is backed by Alibaba Group, was established as Alipay, a PayPal-like online payments processor for e-commerce sites. Since then, it has expanded into an internet finance empire that offers a range of services, from internet banking to providing credit ratings.
In 2011, the company was spun off under Jack Ma, Alibaba's executive chairman, and earlier this year it raised $4.5 billion at a reported $60 billion valuation, making it China's most valuable financial technology company.
Jing sees great opportunities in the company's globalization plan, because digital technology-powered inclusive finance is able to "cover more users at a reasonable cost and in a sustainable way".
About 2 billion people around the world don't have bank accounts. That means they lack the basic credit record to obtain financial services, either for personal shopping or to set up their own businesses, from traditional banks.
While in Hangzhou, the capital city of East China's Zhejiang province, where the B20 Summit began on Saturday afternoon, Alipay users are allowed to borrow umbrellas and portable batteries at various locations without paying or leaving a deposit, if their online shopping records and other online footprints suggest a good credit background.
Jing said he is a firm believer that with the mobile internet, big data and cloud computing, digital technology-driven inclusive finance can help people to live happier lives.
About 60 percent of the 2 billion customers Ant Financial is hoping to attract in the next 10 years are expected to come from outside China.
"We want to serve those regions that are underserved by traditional services, and also those people who find it difficult to obtain financial services from traditional channels," Jing said, adding that his targets include small and microenterprises, young people and startup entrepreneurs.
Although Jing didn't specify which countries or regions are the top priorities in Ant Financial's globalization plan, he said developing countries, which are relatively weak in finance infrastructure, have more potential than developed regions.
Early last year, Ant Financial invested in Paytm, one of India's largest digital transaction platforms, and since then the Indian company has seen customer numbers grow by 22 million to more than 130 million.
Jing is pinning his hopes on convincing businesses in developed countries to allow Chinese travelers to select Alipay as their first-choice payment platform: "By changing the habits of businesses, we hope we can also change consumers' habits one day."
Many media reports have said Ant Financial is eyeing an initial public offering by the end of the year, but Jing said the company hasn't yet formulated a timetable for an IPO.
"We will go public someday because as a finance company we want to be more transparent to our investors and users. In addition, we hope people who enjoy using our services will become our shareholders via an IPO," he said.
"And, of course, the globalization plan would need money from an IPO," Jing said.