Ant Financial looks to acquire UK’s World First for $700m

Ant Financial plans to further its international expansion plan via the takeover of World First.

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Ant Financial, the operator behind mobile payment tool Alipay, is in talks to acquire the London-based currency exchange World First for US$700 million, according to a Sky News report.

This could be a vital turning point for Ant Financial amidst setbacks in its expansion plans beyond the shores of China. It will also become the most significant takeover of a UK-based fintech firm by a Chinese financial service giant.

An earlier attempt by the fintech giant to take over the US remittance company MoneyGram was blocked by the US governmental panel due to ongoing concerns over the safety of data that can be used to identify American citizens at the beginning of 2018.

Incepted in 2004 in South London, World First has grown exponentially and is today’s one of UK’s fastest growing fintech companies. Offering foreign exchange and hedging services for both individuals and businesses, World First has transferred close to US$14 billion to date. This cross-border payment startup told KrASIA in an interview that Southeast Asia has been identified as a key growth area going forward. The firm believes that adding the human touch will build trust that’s necessary to spur greater adoption of mobile payments in the region. One way is by adding communication and tracking device on its platform for greater transparency in the money transfer process.

World First who has been making inroads into China’s market, might see this acquisition as a further route into the Middle Kingdom. At the moment, World First is only serving a very niche market – those e-commerce merchants who use eBay and Amazon in China.

Its phenomenal high-speed proliferation across the globe despite an ever-growing competitive landscape makes World First an attractive choice for the US$150 billion valuation financial services unicorn Ant Financial. One possible explanation for Ant Financial’s persistent push to go beyond the shores of China might lie with the intense competition with archrival Tencent’s WeChat payment platform. This could be the next big break for Ant Financial going into 2019.

Editor: Ben Jiang