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Jack Ma's Ant Financial names new CEO to oversee IPO in 2017

Monday, October 10, 2016 - 07:45
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Ant Financial, the online financial services giant controlled by billionaire Jack Ma, has appointed a new chief executive to steer its next phase of growth and orchestrate an initial public offering that's expected next year.

[HONG KONG] Ant Financial, the online financial services giant controlled by billionaire Jack Ma, has appointed a new chief executive to steer its next phase of growth and orchestrate an initial public offering that's expected next year.

Mr Ma's choice to lead the Alibaba Group Holding affiliate is Eric Jing, a veteran of corporate finance with extensive experience working with multinational companies. He takes the helm from Lucy Peng, a mainstay on Forbes' lists of the world's most powerful women, who will retain the position of executive chair. 

The switch comes as Zhejiang Ant Small & Micro Financial Services Group is said to be preparing a Hong Kong market debut in 2017, in what may be one of the city's largest IPOs since 2010.

That would cap a progression in which Ant has evolved from online payments service Alipay into a Chinese internet finance empire that runs the country's largest money market fund and handles Alibaba's e-commerce transactions.

"Eric continues to prove my previous bias wrong, that a CFO cannot be a good CEO," Alibaba co-founder Ma wrote in a letter to employees. "During Eric's almost ten years at Alibaba, whether he is the CFO, COO or President of Ant Financial, he continues to bring us wonderful surprises."

EARLY DAYS

Mr Jing joined the financial organisation in its early days. Mr Ma hived off the payments service from Alibaba in 2010 over the objections of shareholders including Yahoo! Inc, citing potential regulations that may curb foreign ownership of financial businesses. The dispute was eventually settled via an arrangement that granted Alibaba a proportion of Alipay's income.

In the following years, Ant Financial's scale expanded alongside rapid growth of the Chinese economy and online commerce.

The company now serves some 450 million customers and has expanded into wealth management, credit scoring and peer-to-peer lending. It's worth at least US$75 billion, according to CLSA. The company has said repeatedly it has set neither a timeline nor a location for a listing.

China's largest online financial services company competes with Tencent Holdings in online payments as well as internet services from dining to food delivery.

Its rapid expansion into multiple arenas of internet finance has increased the need for risk management, even as Tencent's own payments service on social media platform WeChat takes market share away from Alipay.

PEPSI COLA

Mr Jing, recently named an Alibaba board member, majored in economics and was formerly chief financial officer of Guangzhou Pepsi Cola Beverage. He joined Alibaba in 2007 in the corporate finance division.

He moved to Alipay in 2009 and drove key Ant Financial products including Yu'E Bao, China's largest money market fund. He also oversaw the development of the company's micro-loans and credit-rating businesses.

Mr Jing received a degree in economics from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in 1994. He also has an MBA from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. A native of eastern Anhui Province, Mr Jing is married with two children, according to the company.

His predecessor Peng, one of the co-founders of Alibaba, had been CEO since March 2013. She was 35th on Forbes' list of the world's 100 most powerful women this year. A graduate of Zhejiang Gongshang University in 1994, she was a university teacher in Hangzhou for five years before joining Alibaba.

'ROCK STEADY'

Ms Peng had in the past six years been "a rock-steady presence in the face of changing times" and would now focus on developing the company's long-term global strategy, Mr Ma wrote in his internal memo. Mr Jing "will lead the Ant Team to new heights, to new surprises." This isn't the first time Alibaba and its affiliates have shuffled top management.

Prior to Alibaba's 2014 IPO, Mr Ma stepped down as CEO to take on a more strategic planning role, to expand the company's business beyond e-commerce into finance, entertainment and health.

His apprentice, Jonathan Lu, took on the role of CEO only to be replaced by Daniel Zhang two years later, as sales growth in e-commerce slumped.

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