Ant Group applies to China’s central bank to set up personal-credit scoring joint venture with state-backed partners
China’s central bank said it has received an application for a personal-credit scoring joint venture between Ant Group, state-backed Zhejiang Tourism Investment Group and four other investors, allowing the fintech giant to move ahead with its business overhaul.
Qiantang Credit, which will have 1 billion yuan (US$157 million) in registered capital, will be 35 per cent each owned by a unit of Ant Group and Zhejiang Tourism, according to a notice published by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) on its website on Friday.
The rest will be held by Zhejiang-based conglomerate Transfar Group, state-owned Hangzhou Financial Investment Group, trade information portal operator Zhejiang Electronic Port and Hangzhou Xishu.
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The PBOC said it will accept public feedback on the joint venture’s application for a business licence until December 2, following which it will give its decision.
Ant Group declined to comment.
If approved, the credit-scoring agency will be the third private company in mainland China to provide such data that underpin lenders’ credit decisions. The last licence was granted in December 2020 to Pudao Credit Rating, which is backed by e-commerce major JD.com, smartphone giant Xiaomi and artificial intelligence giant Megvii.
More importantly, an approval will put Ant Group, an affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding and owner of this newspaper, on track for a drastic revamp of its business that would see the collection of sensitive personal data be handled separately from its ubiquitous mobile payment platform, Alipay.
Over the past year, Beijing has made it a top priority to rein in the country’s tech giants’ influence on the use, storage and management of personal data collected on their platforms. The tech firms are hiving off their consumer-credit data units in joint ventures, with state-backed entities holding stakes in these businesses.
Such a move could ally regulators’ concerns over personal data protection.
PBOC Governor Yi Gang has emphasised that the central bank would take the lead to curb the unauthorised and excessive collection of personal data by technology companies that provide financial services in China, the world’s largest fintech market.
“Some [companies] collect data without permission, [and are] leaking customer data, so the strengthening of personal data protection is an urgent matter,” Yi said. “We are cracking down on excessive collection of consumer data, and unfair practices that require customers to hand over data in exchange for financial services.”
Ant Group’s proposed joint venture follows a separate approval by the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission in June to Chongqing Ant Consumer Finance, which is 50 per cent owned by Ant.
A key plank of Ant’s restructuring plan has seen the Alipay operator moving its Jiebei and Huabei lending services, with the latter akin to buy-now-pay-later loans, to Chongqing Ant Consumer Finance, according to a source familiar with the situation. The new company will also offer consumer loans jointly funded by itself and other banks.
Since Ant’s US$34.5 billion initial public offering plan was shelved at the last minute in November last year, the fintech giant controlled by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma has been ordered to overhaul its business.
Earlier in April, the PBOC and other financial regulators directed Ant to correct “improper competitive behaviour” surrounding Alipay, break an “information monopoly” over data collection and end “inappropriate” links between Alipay and its consumer-lending operations.
This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2021 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
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