Alibaba buys World First, eyes Metro China investment

Alibaba subsidiary Ant Financial says it plans to buy UK-headquartered money-transfer company WorldFirst.

And in separate news, the Chinese e-commerce behemoth is in discussions over investing in the Metro China wholesale retail business.

The WorldFirst deal will allow Ant Financial to gain market share in Europe’s fintech and payments industries and will give it an established retail network of currency-exchange stores covering cities including Sydney, Australia; London and Amsterdam, as well as throughout Asia. It has 600 employees in seven international offices and claims to have exchanged more than US$67 billion for 130,000 customers since its launch in 2004.

The company also had outlets in the US but has reportedly closed these to avoid potential regulatory hurdles with the sale to a Chinese-owned business.

Ant Financial last year unsuccessfully tried to acquire US-based money-transfer company MoneyGram, largely due to opposition from US lawmakers.

Metro move

Meanwhile, Alibaba is in talks to buy a share of German wholesaler Metro AG’s Chinese business, according to several sources in contact with Reuters.

Neither company has confirmed or denied the talks are underway and Reuters stressed they are at an early stage and may break down.

Metro China operates 95 stores and struggled to achieve profitability in the market until recently. Metro sales in Asia rose 7 per cent to US$1.17 billion in the December quarter.  Most of the Metro China stores are in tier 1 cities, including Beijing and Shanghai.

Reuters says Metro is holding talks with other parties as well ahead of an official sale process.

Olaf Koch, Metro’s CEO, confirmed this week that the company was considering potential partnerships with Chinese companies. Metro and Alibaba have already cooperated online.  

“We are growing continually and we are profitable [in China],” Koch said at the time Metro released its first-quarter results.

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