Ant Financial has finally managed to make its mark in a significant European first. The Chinese financial services giant has agreed to buy UK payments group WorldFirst in a deal worth around $700 million, and after WorldFirst was forced into a rapid fire sale of its US assets.
The acquisition — which is Ant Financial’s first major deal in the UK — comes after an aborted attempt in 2018 to take over MoneyGram, the cross border payments group, which was blocked over security concerns by Washington.
Ant Financial said the move would allow the two companies “to reach a greater number of customers, especially in the fast-growing area of cross border e-commerce”.
In a letter sent to customers, Jonathan Quin, CEO, WorldFirst said: “We believe that becoming a part of the Ant Financial group and of the wider Alibaba ecosystem will create opportunities for us to grow our existing relationship with you, and in time we will be able to offer even better products and services to you as we maximise the benefits that will come from being a part of a larger group.”
Ant Financial, the FinTech affiliate of internet giant Alibaba, is the world’s most valuable technology start-up, and was valued at $150 billion in its last funding round in 2018.
Alipay, its mobile payments platform, is already available in a limited number of areas in Europe, but the WorldFirst acquisition will bring a major step-up in the breadth of its operations outside of Asia. The company’s last attempt to expand in the west failed to win support from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (Cfius) after politicians raised concerns about handing over US citizens’ financial data to a company partly owned by the Chinese government.
However, two people close to the Worldfirst deal said both sides were “confident” that it would not run into any similar regulatory difficulties. WorldFirst provides international money transfers and currency exchange services for both individuals and businesses, but has been particularly targeting small and medium-sized e-commerce businesses over the past year by offering free accounts in multiple currencies.
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