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Ant challenged Beijing and prospered. Now it toes the line.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” Jack Ma said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

October 27, 2020 / 06:58 PM IST

As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.