Business News: China orders technology giants to unbundle financial services.
Chinese regulators imposed wide-ranging restrictions on the fast-growing financial divisions of 13 companies including Tencent Holdings Ltd. and ByteDance Ltd., leveling many of the same curbs employed against Jack Ma’s Ant Group Co. in a crackdown on the tech sector.
On Thursday, China’s central bank and four other regulatory agencies told some of the country’s biggest financial technology firms — including WeChat operator Tencent Holdings Ltd., ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing Technology Co. and e-commerce firm JD.com Inc. —that their apps should no longer provide financial services beyond payments, according to people familiar with the discussions.
During the nearly three-hour-long meeting at the People’s Bank of China’s Financial Market Department, regulators told company representatives that the bundling of several financial services within a single platform obscured how much money was flowing into the various products, creating risks for the broader financial system, these people said.
China has waged a campaign to rein in its internet titans as the government grew increasingly concerned over their growing influence over every aspect of Chinese life as well as the vast amounts of data they’ve amassed through providing services like online shopping, chatting and ride- hailing. The crackdown has already forced Ma’s Ant to scrap its initial public offering while regulators have levied a record fine against affiliate Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.
It’s unclear how long the companies have to enact changes, or how it would affect their core operations. Companies like Meituan, JD and Tencent rely on their payments operations to drive their core operations in e-commerce, gaming and social media. Some, like ByteDance and Didi, are said to be exploring overseas initial public offerings and the new regulations may impose a stricter oversight of the process.
The firms were also ordered to break up their information monopoly and to conduct personal credit reporting services through licensed agencies. They should strengthen their capital structure and compliance, strictly implement regulatory requirements and step up consumer protection mechanisms, according to the statement. Baidu Inc., Trip.com Group Ltd. and Lufax Holding Ltd. were among others summoned to the meeting.
Regulators have pledged to curb the “reckless push” of technology firms into finance and this month outlined an overhaul of Ant, which will drastically revamp its business and be supervised more like a bank. The overhaul meant Ant will have to cut off any improper linking of payments with other financial products including its Jiebei and Huabei lending services.
Earlier this year, China proposed measures to curb market concentration in online payments, which Ant and Tencent have transformed with their ubiquitous mobile apps that are used by a combined 1 billion people. The central bank said in draft rules that any non-bank payment company with half of the market in online transactions or two entities with a combined two-thirds share could be subject to antitrust probes.