Ant Financial, the payments affiliate of Alibaba Group, today confirmed that it plans to acquire British money transfer company WorldFirst. The move would allow the subsidiary of China’s biggest e-commerce company to tap into a big player in Europe’s Fintech and payments sectors.
Sources close to the deal said WorldFirst closed its US operation in an attempt to avoid American regulatory hurdles to its takeover by Ant Financial.
Earlier in 2018, Ant Financial lost its battle to acquire US money-transfer company MoneyGram though it raised the value of its bid to $1.2 billion, up 36 percent of its original $880 million offer.
According to media reports, its rival Euronet openly lobbied US lawmakers, saying that Ant’s proposal created a national security risk although MoneyGram would remain headquartered in Dallas and continue to operate under its existing brand. Several congressmen criticized the deal with the affiliate of Alibaba, saying that the Chinese government has nearly 15 percent stake in Ant.
While the exact purchase price is unclear, the deal is expected to be at a significant premium to previous valuations as WorldFirst investors are reportedly seeking $700 million to approve the acquisition deal.
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WorldFirst makes inroads into Asia
A takeover by Ant Financial, which has a valuation estimated at over $150 billion, would underline the fast-changing nature of the world’s digital payments sector. Ant Financial currently houses the Alipay payment processing system and provides its financial services to over 450 million users in China and beyond.
In turn, WorldFirst, founded in 2004, is a specialist in international payments and currency exchange to help businesses and individuals manage their cross-border transactions as an alternative to traditional banks. The company claims to have exchanged more than $67 billion for its 130,000 clients since its inception.
WorldFirst has a presence in London, Sydney, Austin, and Amsterdam, as well as across Asia – with its brand currently employing more than 600 people across seven international offices.
Most recently, WorldFirst received a license to operate in Shanghai, making it the first foreign company to be allowed into China’s payments business as the country pushes ahead with the opening of its financial sector.
China has repeatedly pledged to open its financial markets, including allowing foreign firms to own as much as 51 percent of their securities ventures, up from the current 49 percent ceiling. It is also pushing ahead with plans to allow access to the booming payment services industry.