Ant Group (a subdivision of Alibaba, the owner of the Alipay payment platform) is exploring options for founder Jack Ma to divest his stake in the financial technology giant and give up control, Report informs referring to Reuters.
Officials from the central bank, People's Bank of China (PBOC), and financial regulator China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) held talks between January and March with Ma and Ant separately, where the possibility of the tycoon's exit from the company was discussed.
The company hoped Ma's stake, worth billions of dollars, could be sold to existing investors in Ant or its e-commerce affiliate Alibaba Group Holding Ltd without involving any external entity, one of the sources with company ties said.
But the second source also with company connections said that during discussions with regulators, Ma was told that he would not be allowed to sell his stake to any entity or individual close to him, and would instead have to exit completely. Another option would be to transfer his stake to a Chinese investor affiliated with the state, the source said.
Any move would need Beijing's approval, both sources with knowledge of the company's thinking said.
Ma's exit could help clear the way for Ant to revive plans to go public, which stalled after the tycoon's speech, both sources proximate to the company said.
Ant was expected to raise about $37 billion in what would have been the world's largest IPO, but the plans were scuppered the day after Ma's Nov. 2 meeting with regulators.
Ant Group, headquartered in Hangzhou, China, is 33 percent owned by the Alibaba Group and controlled by Alibaba founder Ma. The company has a leading position in China in terms of mobile payments, it also offers credit, insurance and asset management services through mobile applications.