China Central Bank Says Ant Is Working on Timetable for Overhaul

(Bloomberg) --

China’s central bank said Ant Group Co. is working on a timetable to overhaul its business while ensuring operations continue, offering little clue on how far the financial technology giant needs to go to assuage Beijing.

Regulators are in close contact with the special team at Ant that’s drafting plans and a timetable to rectify its operations, People’s Bank of China Deputy Governor Chen Yulu said at a regular briefing on Friday.

The message underscores China’s determination to rein in billionaire Jack Ma’s sprawling business. Global investors have been seeking signs on what the future holds for the world’s largest fintech firm since the government abruptly halted Ant’s $35 billion initial public offering in November.

While regulators stopped short of directly asking for a breakup of the company in December, the central bank stressed that Ant needs to “understand the necessity of overhauling” and come up with a timetable as soon as possible.

Bloomberg News reported last month that Ant is planning to fold its financial operations –- including its consumer credit offerings -- into a holding company that could be regulated more like a bank. That company would also contain insurance, payments and MYbank, an online lender in which Ant is the largest shareholder.

Chinese regulators are studying plans to force Ant to divest its minority investments in some financial companies, a person familiar with the matter has said.

In response to draft rules proposed, Ant is planning to reorganize its consumer credit operations so the company can continue lending nationwide under new regulations that would otherwise threaten to dramatically restrict its most lucrative business, people familiar with the matter have said.