Ant Finacial, formerly known as Alipay and an affiliate of Alibaba Group, is slowly but seriously entering the African payments space. This conclusion can be reached by looking at the payments company's actions in the recent past.
Last week [03/08/2018], Ant Financial's CEO, Eric Jing, was in Ethiopia meeting with other executives from IFC as well as the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa - ECA.
Eric met with ECA Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe, who led him and IFC’s VP and Treasurer, Jingdong Hua, to a meeting with President Mulatu Teshome of Ethiopia. The meeting, according to the details from a press release was about using IT for inclusion purposes.
"Addressing a group of journalists right after the meeting, Ms. Songwe said 'Essentially, we were talking (with the president) about IT and the power of IT for financial, social and political inclusion'," the press release noted.
The conversation looks to have surrounded supporting financial SMEs - especially those in payments - considering both IFC and Ant Financial were at the center of the meeting. ECA hopes that forging such partnerships will help SMEs take full benefits of the recently signed AfCTA.
"Agenda 2030 and Agenda 2063 say we should leave no one behind, and many people have been asking what happens to SMEs with the AfCFTA. So we are thinking about what platforms we can put together to ensure that not only big companies take advantage of the AFCTA but also small companies," the Executive Secretary of ECA noted.
Ms. Songwe also added that Africa now has “an opportunity to leapfrog technology for social, financial and political inclusion." Adding that they are "bringing Ant Financial, which has the largest platform for financial inclusion and assists people with very small financial capacity to be involved in the society.”
Before, Ant Financial has flirted with the African continent by launching its services in select parts of the African continent.
Mid last year, the company extended its payments service - Alipay to South Africa making it the first African country it supported. The service was launched in South Africa with the "intention of servicing Chinese tourists" according to CNBC.
Rita Liu, head of Alipay EMEA, told CNBC at that time that they would work with tour bus operator City Sightseeing, to "enable Chinese tourists to purchase tourists more conveniently from City Sightseeing buses." She also added that they saw "big potential in Africa."
On his first visit to Africa, last year, Jack Ma also hinted at the fact that Alipay was going to launch in Kenya. A year later, in June this year, TechWeez reported that "soon Kenyan businesses will be able to accept Alipay and WeChat payments."
That was "thanks to a partnership between Equitel (Finserve Limited) and Red Dot Payment Limited." Again, in all this, the target is the Chinese tourist or expatriate community in the country seeing that Equitel released a "Mandarin version of their EazzyBanking app".
In his speech, in Johannesburg a few days ago, Jack Ma himself pointed out the challenges facing Africans and payments was top of his radar. He put this together with tourism and logistics.
Ma could be looking at Africa as a powerful tourist destination for Chinese and thus wants to position his company to take advantage of that.
Ant Financial recently closed a $14 Billion round of funding valuing the payments giant at $150 Billion. A figure that makes it more valuable than Goldman Sachs, the American multinational investment bank, and financial services company.