China’s Ant Group CEO Simon Hu resigns as regulators push for revamp

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China’s Ant Group Chief Executive Officer Simon Hu has resigned from his role, the company said on Friday, as the financial technology giant is being pushed by regulators to overhaul its business after its failed $37 billion initial public offering.

Hu, who was named chief executive of the Alibaba Group Holding affiliate in 2019, will be replaced by company veteran and Executive Chairman Eric Jing, Ant said.

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US-listed shares in billionaire Jack Ma’s Alibaba were down 2.6 percent in premarket trade on Friday.

Jing will continue in his current role as chairman, he said in an internal memo seen by Reuters.

Hu has resigned due to personal reasons, Ant said in a statement, without elaborating.

Hu’s exit from the company comes as Ant is working on plans to shift to a financial holding company structure following intense regulatory pressure to subject them to rules and capital requirements similar to those for banks.

That pressure scuppered Ant’s IPO last year, which would have been the world’s largest, and has seen it formulate plans to shift to a financial holding company structure.

A logo of Ant Group is pictured at the headquarters of the company, an affiliate of Alibaba, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China. (Reuters)
A logo of Ant Group is pictured at the headquarters of the company, an affiliate of Alibaba, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China. (Reuters)

The change in management also comes days after some Ant staff expressed frustration on social media for not being able to sell the company shares they own after Chinese regulators abruptly halted the company’s market debut.

Jing told Ant employees that the company would review its staff incentive programs and roll out some measures starting from April to help solve their financial problems, according to two people who have seen the messages.

The listing of Ant last November would have made some of the company’s employees millionaires or billionaires.

The CEO exit is the first major management change since the halting of the IPO. Hu was one of the key executives responsible for managing the company’s mega dual-listing in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Ma’s business empire has been at the centre of a crackdown following an October 24 speech in which he blasted China’s regulatory system.

Regulators have since, besides moving to rein in Ant, tightened anti-trust scrutiny on the country’s technology sector, with Alibaba taking much of the heat. The market regulator launched an official anti-trust probe into Alibaba in December.

Ma, who is not known for shying away from the limelight, disappeared from the public eye for about three months, prompting frenzied speculation about his whereabouts. He re-emerged in January in a 50-second video appearance.

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