Jack Ma, the Chinese businessman who co-founded the technology major Alibaba, will relinquish control of financial technology company Ant Group as it embarks on a major corporate restructuring.
The move is part of other changes, including the forming of new committees and adjustments to voting rights, in an apparent bid to appease Chinese regulators who have scrutinised and probed the company, Hangzhou-based Ant Group said in a statement on its website on Saturday.
Ant Group has formed six sub-committees, including for risk management, consumer rights protection and sustainable development, as part of its restructuring, according to the statement.
It said that it also plans to add a fifth independent director, after which independent directors will comprise a majority of its board, which, at present, is composed of eight members.
"As a result, there will no longer be a situation where a direct or indirect shareholder will have sole or joint control over Ant Group," according to the company, which said that "several initiatives" have been implemented since 2021 "to optimise our corporate governance and achieve long-term sustainable development".
"Concurrently, to further enhance the transparency and effectiveness of our corporate governance and strengthen our independence from our shareholder, Alibaba Group, certain members of our management have exited the Alibaba partnership."
Alibaba, which is also based in Zhejiang province's capital Hangzhou, owns a third of Ant Group.
The move comes after years of speculation that Mr Ma, the billionaire who founded Ant Group in 2014 as an offshoot to Alibaba, would step down from the company following a failed initial public offering in 2020.
The $37 billion IPO would have been the world's largest — bigger than Alibaba's $25 billion in 2014 — but was scuttled at the last minute by Chinese regulators. That led to rumours of him stepping down from the company.
After the IPO's cancellation, Mr Ma disappeared from the public eye. He re-emerged in January 2021 amid investigations into Alibaba and Ant Group, who at the time were facing anti-trust scrutiny over risks to financial stability.
Mr Ma stepping down could clear the way for the revival of Ant Group's IPO, though China's listing rules may prevent it from doing so anytime soon.
Chinese regulations require companies in its A-share market to wait three years to list after changes are made in its control structure. This is longer compared to the two-year wait required by the Star market in Shanghai and the one year needed in Hong Kong.
In April 2021, Reuters reported that Ant Group was looking at options to help Mr Ma divest his stake in the company and cede control. Previously, he had more than 50 per cent of voting rights at the company but the reforms will pull this down to 6.2 per cent, Reuters calculations showed.
In July, the Mr Ma was said to consider giving up control by transferring some of his voting power to a number of Ant Group's top brass, including chief executive Eric Jing, The Wall Street Journal reported.
This week, Ant Group received a boost after Chinese regulators approved a plan by the company to raise 10.5 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) for its consumer unit.
With input from Reuters