Ant disrupts market dominated by banks despite regulatory crackdown

Ant Group disrupt banks
FILE PHOTO: A sign of Ant Group is seen during the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province, China, Nov. 23, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song

SHANGHAI (Reuters) -Alibaba affiliate Ant Group became China’s largest seller of non-money-market mutual funds in the first quarter, industry data showed, disrupting a market dominated by banks despite a regulatory crackdown.

Ant and Alibaba are being targeted by Beijing’s anti-monopoly campaign. Regulators have urged Ant to reduce the size of Yu’ebao, China’s biggest money market fund managed by Ant-controlled mutual fund house Tianhong. 

Outstanding non-money-market mutual funds sold by Ant’s fund sales arm were worth 890.1 billion yuan ($138.23 billion) at the end of the first quarter of 2021, according to data released late Thursday by the Asset Management Association of China (AMAC).

China Merchants Bank took the second spot at 707.9 billion yuan, followed by Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the country’s biggest lender. 

It was the first such ranking released by AMAC, highlighting the rapidly growing clout of independent fund advisers that sell funds via mobile apps and the internet, by-passing bank outlets. 

“It’s.. about the strength of big-tech-company-backed IFAs (independent fund advisers), how far they have reached, how deep their client base is and how adaptive they are to the market trends,” said Ivan Shi, director at Z-Ben Advisors, a consultancy. 

“It also speaks to how much service and tool development different tech companies have put into their IFA platforms.”

Ant (Hangzhou) Funds Sales Co’s main distribution channel is Ant’s ubiquitous payment platform Alipay. 

Shi said Ant’s top rankings could also reflect lower risk appetite as investors shift away from equities funds to fixed-income products, which are popular on Alipay. 

“If you log into the Alipay app, a lot of the products they are promoting are short-term bond funds, fixed income products. That’s a very quick response to market trends, so that’s going to catch a lot of outflows from equity products.”

According to AMAC’s ranking, Shanghai Tiantian Fund Distribution ranked fifth during the first quarter, while other tech-driven sales platforms, including Tencent’s fund sales unit and Baidu’s Du Xiaoman Fund Sales, far lagged Ant. 

Revenues at Ant’s fund sales company more than tripled to 6.01 billion yuan in 2020 from a year earlier, public disclosures showed. 

($1 = 6.4391 Chinese yuan)

(Reporting by Andrew Galbraith and Samuel Shen; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

Related article: What is China’s Ant Group – tech giant or financial colossus?

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