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Alibaba’s Jack Ma forced to prop up UK payments business

Jack Ma

Jack Ma

Jack Ma has been forced to prop up Alibaba’s UK payments arm after Chinese tourism collapsed in the wake of the Covid crisis.

Alipay UK, which operates a payment app owned by the billionaire entrepreneur’s business Ant Group, revealed in Companies House filings that it had obtained a “letter of support” from its owners to allow it to trade.

This helped to prove that the division had Ant Group’s “ongoing support for the financial and future obligations of the group”, according to the documents. Ant was willing to provide capital, technology and human resources.

The Alipay UK app allows Chinese tourists to pay for goods and services abroad, and is accepted by many British retailers.

Chinese visitors accounted for 150m overseas trips before the pandemic. Tourists from the country spent $130bn (£94bn) abroad in 2018, up 13pc from the previous year.

Jack Ma - AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

Jack Ma – AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

Hotspots such as London have been badly hit as a result. The lack of international travel affected cross border tourism, Alipay UK said.

Nevertheless, the firm was bullish about the longer-term outlook, largely thanks to a dramatic shift online by millions of shoppers after physical stores were closed during lockdown.

The company managed to more than double its revenues to £147m during the year to the end of December after a spike in internet orders.

It added that growth opportunities in the UK and Europe were “significantly heightened given the group is a key part of Ant Group for significant expansion”.

Last week, the Financial Times reported that Beijing wanted to break up Alipay, which has more than 1bn users, and create a separate app for the company’s highly profitable loans business, as it intensifies a crackdown on China’s big tech groups.

Ant’s products include mobile payments apps, back-end payment services and digital wallets. Ma is the founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, which holds a stake in Ant.

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