Caixin
Feb 15, 2019 01:04 AM
FINANCE

Ant Financial Buys British Payments Firm WorldFirst

Ant Financial takes control of London-based WorldFirst in latest global expansion. Photo: VCG
Ant Financial takes control of London-based WorldFirst in latest global expansion. Photo: VCG

Ant Financial Services Group, an affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, agreed to take over London-based payment company WorldFirst as the Chinese financial service behemoth expands its global footprint.

The deal marks a major foray of Ant Financial, which operates China’s largest payment service Alipay, into the European market, following a setback in trying to enter the U.S. market. The companies didn’t disclose the terms of the deal, but The Financial Times reported earlier this month that a potential deal would be valued at $700 million.

WorldFirst co-founder and CEO Jonathan Quin announced the deal in a letter to clients Thursday. According to Quin, WorldFirst will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Ant Financial but “will continue to operate as a U.K.-headquartered and regulated business with global operations.”

“Alipay and WorldFirst’s capabilities and international footprints are highly complementary, and the tie-up will allow the companies to better serve small and micro businesses and promote inclusive financial services globally,” Ant Financial said in a statement.

Ant Financial, started as an online payments company, has expanded into a wide range of financial services including lending, wealth management and insurance. The company has actively grown overseas in recent years, primarily in South Asia, with investments in India’s Paytm, Pakistan’s Easypaisa and the Philippines’ GCash.

Ant Financial’s online wallet service Alipay has amassed more than 1 billion users globally. The company was valued at $150 billion in mid-2018 after raising about $14 billion in the biggest-ever single fundraising round globally, as investors expect Ant Financial to move toward an initial public offering.

Ant Financial dropped a plan last year to buy U.S.-based money remittance provider MoneyGram after American regulators rejected the deal on national security grounds.

Established in 2004, WorldFirst offers international payments and foreign exchange services, mainly for small enterprises. The company has more than 80,000 active users and handled more than 10 billion pounds ($12.9 billion) of transactions annually.

News has surfaced since December that Ant Financial held talks with WorldFirst on a potential takeover. The announcement means the transaction has cleared required regulatory approvals, a person close to the matter said.

WorldFirst has partnered with Ant Financial to offer cross-border payment services for merchants in countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. In May 2018, WorldFirst became the first foreign company to apply for a business license to tap China’s $27 trillion payments market as Beijing steps up opening of the financial sector. However, WorldFirst said in January that it asked the Chinese central bank to retract its application for the license “out of commercial concerns.”

Sources close to the matter told Caixin that the retraction was because of the deal with Ant Financial.

Contact reporter Han Wei (weihan@caixin.com)

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