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Alibaba's Jack Ma out as boss of fintech Ant Group

'Corporate governance optimization' sees founder's role reduced, but not in pursuit of a listing

Ant Group, the financial services biz spun out of Chinese tech giant Alibaba, said on Saturday that its founder Jack Ma would give up control of the org.

Ant Group's announcement pitched the changes as part of a "corporate governance optimization" ongoing since 2021, a year in which Beijing started bossing Big Tech with new rules that, among other things, made it harder for Ant to offer certain types of loan.

Those loans so worried Beijing that it called off Ant's planned IPO, which was slated to be one of the largest ever with an expected valuation of around $34 billion.

Ma was not happy about that decision. He criticized the regime, and disappeared from public view for several months.

Under the optimization plan, Ma, who effectively controls more than half of Ant Group, sees his role shrink as he becomes one of ten major shareholders and sees his holding reduced to around six percent. Ant Group said shareholders, including Ma, are also terminating the practice of "acting in concert" to force outcomes and will now vote and act independently.

The fintech explained that one reason for adjusting the upper-tier shareholding structure – besides optimizing corporate governance – is to "align the voting interests of shareholders with their economic interests."

Ant Group made it clear that shareholders' interests will not change. It did not, however, give a timeline for the outlined changes. Although the restructuring at Ant Group could be interpreted as a signal that the org is seeking to list, reps have denied such intentions.

"Ant Group has been focusing on its business rectification and optimization, and does not have a plan for an IPO," the fintech told Reuters.

Even if the biz wanted to debut on a stock exchange, it would be required to wait between one and three years after such a shareholder control change to list in China or Hong Kong. Beijing is not keen on allowing local companies to list outside China, and foreign governments are far from happy when their investors nourish Chinese ventures. ®

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