Financing arms will be absent from Alibaba float

Alipay and microfinancing division find favour as fundraising units while running rings around the heavily regulated banking industry

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 July, 2013, 5:05am

The good news for prospective investors in Alibaba's initial public offering is that the firm owns two high-growth financing arms that look set to disrupt mainland banking. The bad news is that neither business will be included in the Hong Kong float, set for the fourth quarter.

Alipay, a Chinese version of PayPal that received its payment licence from the central bank in May, is running rings around the mainland's heavily regulated banking industry.

Last month, the Alibaba unit launched a money market fund managed by Tian Hong Asset Management. More than 2.5 million people transferred 5.7 billion yuan (HK$7.2 billion) into the fund in two weeks.

The marketing was simple. Alipay said it would pay investors annual interest of 3.8 per cent, slightly higher than the government-controlled one-year deposit rate of 3 per cent.

It speaks volumes about the mainland's state-run banks that so many people were willing to put their money into Alipay, which is not licensed as a bank and has no physical presence.

It is a website. But so desperate are mainland consumers for decent investments - and in particular for an alternative to that black hole of mainland banking known as wealth management products - that millions of clients were willing to transfer billions of yuan to the new service.

Meanwhile, Alibaba, headed by Jack Ma Yun, also runs a microfinance arm known as Alibaba Financial. Regulators recently gave approval to the entity to raise money.

The firm makes small loans to start-up and family-run firms in Shanghai, Zhejiang, Suzhou and Guangdong. Lenders submit applications over the internet and, if successful, the firm will transfer the funds through Alipay.

Again Alibaba is sidestepping the traditional banks, which are still under direction from the government to lend to state-owned enterprises. There are hundreds of thousands of smaller enterprises that need attention and capital, and Alibaba's internet-based microfinance unit is nimble enough to perform the feat.

According to Aliresearch, the research arm of Alibaba, the microfinance unit has lent 11 billion yuan to small firms in the first quarter of this year. By the end of last year, the unit had lent to more than 200,000 firms.

Alibaba is expected to put at least 25 business units, including Taobao, Tmall and Alibaba.com into the share offering. Only its financing arm, which includes Alipay and the microfinance unit, will be left out.

Chief executive Jonathan Lu Zhaoxi says the financing assets are "still at the infancy stage", suggesting they need time to mature before inclusion in the listed company.

In the meantime, Alibaba is putting out a lot of information about these businesses, in the form of press releases and official announcements.

The firm seems to see the businesses as a platform for marketing the share offering. This fund seems to have the attention of investors, and it wants to talk about that fact.