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Ant Finance in Talks to Acquire UK Fintech Startup

2019-01-07 16:07 Monday

Ant Financial Services Group, Alibaba's Fintech Affiliate as well as China's biggest online payments platform, is in advanced talks to buy WorldFirst, a UK-based international payments startup which was founded in 2004 at about $700m.

Ant Finance

Alibaba owns about 33% of Ant Financial but the payments platform has long been viewed as the backbone of its ecommerce operations. Ant Financial also controls one of the world's largest money market funds, Yu'e Bao.

WorldFirst, which was co-founded by former Citi bankers Jonathan Quin and Nick Robinson in 2004, handles payments and currency transfers for businesses and individuals around the world. It has offices in Africa, Asia, Europe and the US, and employs about 600 people. WorldFirst has been taking steps to become the first foreign firm to be granted a license that would allow it to operate in China's fintech sector.

The deal, if completed, would mark Ant Financial's first big move into the UK market, although its Alipay service is already accepted in some retailers. It's still unclear whether existing investors would retain a stake in WorldFirst.

Ant Financial has already suffered setbacks in its expansion into overseas markets, making the potential WorldFirst deal an important test for the company on the world stage.

In 2017 Ant Financial struck a $1.2bn deal with Texas-based cash-transfer group MoneyGram, a transaction that would have given the Chinese company a strong foothold in US payments. But that acquisition was abandoned by both sides in early 2018 after failing to gain approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US.

To date, Ant Financial and WorldFirst both declined to comment, or reveal any details of the acquisition.

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