CEO of China's Ant Group steps down

Beijing (AFP) –


The chief executive of Chinese fintech giant Ant Group has stepped down for "personal reasons", a spokesperson from the Alibaba-affiliated online payment provider said Friday, amid growing regulatory scrutiny.

Simon Hu has been replaced as CEO by Ant Group executive Eric Jing, according to the company's updated website, just months after Chinese authorities pulled the plug on the company's colossal Hong Kong IPO.

"The Ant Group Board of Directors has accepted Mr. Simon Hu's resignation request, due to personal reasons," a spokesperson said in a statement.

New CEO Jing also previously held the role from 2016 to 2019.

Tech tycoon Jack Ma's Alibaba, China's largest online shopping portal, has been in the crosshairs of authorities in recent months over concerns of its reach into the daily finances of ordinary Chinese people.

Its online payment subsidiary Ant Group made its name via its main product Alipay, the online payments platform and super-app that is now deeply embedded in China's economy.

But the company also expanded into offering loans, credit, investments and insurance to hundreds of millions of consumers and small businesses, spurring fear and jealousy in a wider banking system geared more towards supporting state policy and large corporations.

Ant Group had been set for a record-busting $34 billion IPO in Hong Kong and Shanghai late last year when the double listing was abruptly called off in November by regulators, who told the company it couldn't go ahead until it complied with new capital requirements.

The company's executives were later summoned to a meeting with China's central bank where they were ordered to "strictly rectify" Ant's financial services and return to its roots as a payment services provider.

- Fintech fears -

In recent months, Beijing has looked to rein in its booming financial technology companies to address a worrying debt mountain in the country, while also deflating the ambitions of high-flying business leaders thought to have stepped out of line with the Communist Party.

Chinese policymakers last week released a draft plan for development from 2021-2025 that said China would explore building a "correction and suspension mechanism" for innovative fintech products.

The crackdown on Ant Group, which has more than 700 million monthly active users, was an embarrassing comedown for Ma who was once vaunted as the poster child for Chinese entrepreneurship.

Regulators in December also launched an anti-monopoly investigation into Alibaba, part of a wave of recent anti-monopoly decisions including fines announced Friday against 12 other tech firms for allegedly flouting market regulations.