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[HONG KONG] Alibaba Group Holding Ltd's financial affiliate is planning to purchase a 20 per cent stake in Thailand's Ascend Money in a bid to become a key financial services player in Southeast Asia.
Zhejiang Ant Small & Micro Financial Services Group, known as Ant Financial and controlled by Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma, also wants an option to increase its Ascend Money holding to 30 per cent, according to a statement on China's Ministry of Commerce's website. The agency is currently reviewing the plans.
An investment into Ascend Money, parent of True Money and Ascend Nano, would help Ant Financial expand its online payments and small loans business in Southeast Asia.
The company, which is said to be valued at about US$60 billion, is following billionaire Mr Ma's aspirations for global expansion as it ventures into countries including South Korea and India.
Ascend Group Co Ltd was spun off from True Corporation and is a subsidiary of Thailand's Charoen Pokphand Group Co Ltd, which has interests in agriculture, retail businesses and telecommunications.
The Ascend Nano unit is a microfinance and personal loans provider with staff throughout Southeast Asia. The division's goal is to spread e-commerce and electronic payments services to places where many users lack bank accounts such as Myanmar and Indonesia.
True Money provides cash cards and electronic wallets, and holds financial-services licenses in key Southeast Asian markets.
Ascend Group chief executive officer Punnamas Vichitkulwongsa in April told the Bangkok Post the company will spend 6 billion baht (S$229 million) on expansion this year, 83 per cent of which will be spent outside of Thailand.
"The pending investment reflects our commitment to expand internationally, and to bring equal access of financial services to more users around the world," Ant Financial said in an-e- mailed statement.
"The investment is conditional on approval from the Anti-Monopoly Division of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce."
Ant Financial received a payment Indian bank license via Paytm, the country's largest payments provider with about 122 million users, as of January, Sabrina Peng, vice president of international business for the company, said in May. In South Korea, it won preliminary approval of an Internet bank license through SK Telecom Co.
Ant Financial is considering an initial public offering on the Shanghai stock exchange as early as this year, people familiar with the matter have said.