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China’s Ant Financial Acquires WorldFirst

Chinese fintech giant Ant Financial has acquired British payments specialist WorldFirst for an undisclosed amount.

Posted Feb 14, 2019

Ant Financial Services Group of China has agreed to buy British international payments specialist WorldFirst, it was announced on Thursday.

The agreement will make WorldFirst a wholly owned division of Ant Financial—a member of the Alibaba Group and currently the highest valued fintech company in the world. Financial terms for the deal have not been disclosed but some have suggested a figure near £550 million (US$715 million).

WorldFirst CEO Jonathan Quin has announced that he will continue as CEO even after the takeover has been completed and that WorldFirst will “continue to operate as a UK-headquartered and regulated business with global operations.”

Ant Financial has turned to WorldFirst after a failed bid for US-based MoneyGram International. The bid was blocked by Washington on national security grounds. Thursday’s acquisition means that US-based readers will no longer be able to open WorldFirst accounts, and that existing US accounts will be transferred to Omega Money Transfer, a separate company that will operate independently of the World First Group.

It is likely that Ant Financial was attracted to WorldFirst due to the success of the company’s “World Accounts”—a product that enables online sellers and small businesses to receive payments in major currencies (GBP, EUR, CAD, USD, AUD, NZD, JPY and CNY) in personal “local” accounts, thereby avoiding costly foreign exchange conversions. It is expected that World Account functionality will soon be incorporated into the Ant Financial platform.

Founded in 2004, WorldFirst employs around 600 people worldwide and has processed payments worth £70 billion (US$90 billion) since it began trading.

Update March 8, 2018: WorldFirst has announced the acquisition of Australia’s CurrencyVue. The takeover will expand WorldFirst’s cross-border trade and payments solution for online sellers and businesses. CurrencyVue offers a foreign exchange risk management platform that integrates with popular accounting systems including Xero, QuickBooks and Netsuite.

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