Alibaba Group, founded by internet entrepreneur Jack Ma Yun, has been granted a licence to provide small business loans to companies on the mainland. 'We are the first e-commerce enterprise in China with a licence to provide microfinance loans to small business,' said group vice-president John Spelich. Hangzhou-based Alibaba yesterday also announced it was investing five billion yuan (HK$28.41 billion) over the next five years to upgrade and expand the operations overseas of Alipay, the country's largest online payments service. The group, whose flagship companies are business-to-business e-commerce giant Alibaba.com and leading mainland shopping portal Taobao, has been inching closer to becoming a fully fledged player in the country's financial services industry. Through Alibaba.com, it has facilitated loans of more than six billion yuan from mainland banks to its member small enterprises. In September last year, Ma and Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus teamed up to launch micro-credit financial services to borrowers in Sichuan province and Inner Mongolia. Spelich declined further comment on the new lending licence, saying more details will be provided later this week. Alibaba's new investment in Alipay, meanwhile, will enhance the service's security and ease of use and help the company retain and attract top-tier talent from the payments industry. 'With the investment, we aim to continue playing a fundamental role in the ongoing development of e-commerce in China and around the world,' Lucy Peng, the chief executive at Alipay, said. 'Consumers expect a safe, convenient, affordable and global payment platform.' Alipay, which had more than 300 million registered users as of last month, is the domestic market leader for third-party online payments with a 49.8 per cent market share last year, according to internet analyst firm iResearch Consulting Group. The mainland's third-party online payments transaction market almost doubled last year to 576.6 billion yuan, from 274.3 billion yuan in 2008.