- Ant Financial Services Group, a unit of Alibaba Holding group Ltd. which contains the company's payments operations, is planning to buy a 20% stake in Ascend Money, an online payment provider based in Thailand.
- Ant and its Alipay payments unit, run by Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma, also want an option to eventually increase that stake to 30% as Ascend builds a stronger presence as a payments provider throughout Southeast Asia.
- Ant also received approvals for operating licenses in India and South Korea earlier this year, and reportedly has been considering an IPO.
When Alibaba sold its U.S.-based e-commerce venture 11 Main almost exactly a year ago, it may have looked a little bit like the Chinese online juggernaut was lifting its foot from the gas pedal amid broader economic sluggishness in its home country. In the months that followed, the company fell under harsher scrutiny for its financial moves, and one had to wonder if all the hype about Alibaba being the next Amazon was just in fact hype.
Well, this summer finds Alibaba pressing forth again, now in the payments sector, an area in which it has demonstrated some cutting-edge technology in the past. This move to expand into Thailand and continue a broader strategy of expansion throughout Asia shows that Alibaba's Jack Ma is still intent on leading the charge into emerging technology sectors, and maybe even still intent on going toe-to-toe with Amazon, which itself has become interested in new payments technology of late.
It may be true that in the U.S. market, Amazon can't be beat at its own game, but as Alibaba (via Ant) continues to expand Alipay throughout Asia, this potential move in Thailand is a subtle reminder of who holds the keys to China and other major markets in Asia. Many U.S. retailers wanting to sell into China should be snuggling up with Alibaba, just as major smartphone makers have seen the huge potential of partnering with Alipay. Maybe Alibaba ain't Amazon, but Amazon ain't Alibaba, either.