Alibaba’s Ant Financial fintech affiliate raises $14 billion to continue its global expansion

Ant Financial, the financial services affiliate connected to Alibaba which operates the Alipay mobile payment service, has confirmed that it has closed a Series C funding round that totals an enormous $14 billion.

The rumors have been flying about this huge financing deal for the past month or so, with multiple publications reporting that Ant — which has been strongly linked with an IPO — was in the market to raise at least $9 billion at a valuation of upwards of $100 billion. That turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg here.

The money comes via a tranche of U.S. dollar financing and Chinese RMB from local investors. Those names include Singapore-based sovereign funds GIC and Temasek, Malaysian sovereign fund Khazanah Nasional Berhad, Warburg Pincus, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Silver Lake and General Atlantic.

Ant said that the money will go towards extending its global expansion (and deepening its presence in non-China markets it has already entered), developing technology and hiring.

“We are pleased to welcome these investors as partners, who share our vision and mission, to embark on our journey to further promote inclusive finance globally and bring equal opportunities to the world. We are proud of, and inspired by, the transformation we have affected in the lives of ordinary people and small businesses over the past 14 years,” Ant Financial CEO and executive chairman Eric Jing said in a statement.

Alibaba itself doesn’t invest in Ant, which it span off shortly before its mega-IPO in the U.S. in 2014, but the company did recently take up an option to own 33 percent of Ant’s shares.

Ant has long been tipped to go public. Back in 2016 when it raised a then blockbuster $4.5 billionlittle did we know it would pull in many multiples more — the company has been reportedly considering a public listing, but it instead opted to raise new capital at a valuation of $60 billion.

It looks like the same again, but with higher stakes. This new Series C round pushes that valuation up to $100 billion, according to Bloomberg. (Ant didn’t comment on its valuation.) So what has Ant done over the past two years to justify that jump?

It has long been a key fintech company in China, where it claims to serve offer 500 million consumers and offers Alipay, digital banking and investment services, but it has begun to replicate that business overseas in recent years. In particular, it has made investments and set up joint-ventures and new businesses in a slew of Asian countries that include India, Thailand, Korea, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The company was, however, unsuccessful in its effort to buy MoneyGram after the U.S. government blocked the $1.2 billion deal.

On the business-side, Ant is said to have posted a $1.4 billion profit over the last year, suggesting it is more than ready to make the leap to being a public firm.

Despite that U.S. deal setback, Ant said today that its global footprint extends to 870 million consumers. I’d take that with a pinch of salt at this point since its business outside of China is in its early stages, but there seems little doubt that it is on the road to replicating its scale in its homeland in many parts of Asia. Raising this huge round only solidifies those plans by providing the kind of capital infusion that tops most of the world’s IPOs in one fell swoop.

China’s SenseTime, the world’s highest-valued AI startup, closes $620M follow-on round

SenseTime, the world’s highest-valued AI company with a valuation of over $4.5 billion, is back in the money again.

The company raised $600 million in an Alibaba-led financing round announced last month, and now it has added a further $620 million to that with a “Series C+” round announced today.

Alibaba led the previous deal, and this time around the investors include more traditional names such as Fidelity International, Hopu Capital, Silver Lake and Tiger Global. Qualcomm, which previously backed the firm, was also in this round, SenseTime confirmed.

The new money takes SenseTime to $1.6 billion from investors to date. The valuation has remained “over” $4.5 billion across both of these recent rounds, according to the company. It was previously valued at $1.5 billion when it raised a $410 million Series B last year.

Alibaba said at the time of its investment last month that it had become the largest-single investor in SenseTime. Given this fresh injection, it isn’t clear whether that has changed. A SenseTime spokesperson told TechCrunch that “Alibaba and other lead investors have similar status.”

SenseTime said it has more than 700 customers across a range of verticals including fintech, automotive, fintech, smartphones, smart city development and more that include Honda, Nvidia, China’s UnionPay, Weibo, China Merchants Bank, Huawei, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi.

Perhaps its most visible partner is the Chinese government, which uses its systems for its national surveillance system. SenseTime process data captured by China’s 170 million CCTV cameras and newer systems which include smart glasses worn by police offers on the street.

China has placed vast emphasis on tech development, with AI one of its key flagposts.

A government program aims to make the country the world leader in AI technology by 2030, the New York Times reported, by which time it is estimated that the industry could be worth some $150 billion per year. SenseTime’s continued development fees directly into that ambition.

SenseTime has been busy extending its presence lately. It became the first company to join the MIT Intelligence Quest and, alongside Alibaba, it is launching an AI lab in Hong Kong. The firm said, too, it has formulated an AI textbook for secondary students in China which will make its way to 40 schools soon.

Asia-based recruitment app GetLinks nabs investment led by Alibaba’s Hong Kong fund

GetLinks, a Thailand-based startup that offers a job finder app in six countries Southeast Asia and neighboring regions, has closed new funding led by Australia’s Seek group and Alibaba’s Hong Kong Entrepreneur fund.

The size of the investment was not disclosed. GetLinks previously raised $500,000 in 2016, and it later added $150,000 more to that round. GetLinks said Thailand’s SCG and a number of existing investors also took part in the round,

The deal seems highly strategic for the young company given those two lead investors. Publicly listed in Australia, Seek operates employment services in 19 countries, including popular Southeast Asia portals JobStreet and JobsDB. Its interest is centered around GetLink’s digital focus, which includes community events and a mobile app for job-seekers.

Alibaba started its Hong Kong fund, which has a total budget $130 million, in 2015. Its mandate is to support Hong Kong-based companies or ventures led by Hong Kong Chinese founders.

GetLinks doesn’t immediately seem spring to mind — its founder Djoann Fal is French and it was started in Thailand — but the company has an office (and entity) in Hong Kong, while co-founder and chairman Keenan Kwok is from Hong Kong.

The Alibaba fund — which is distinct from Alibaba Group and its e-commerce business — has typically invested in companies that can leverage its massive online retail footprint, but in GetLinks case the two companies are looking to pool their resources around the use of AI and machine learning in education.

GetLinks is planning to expand from recruitment into offering skills and talent training. That, plus is core business, are areas where Alibaba may help with its AI might. The Chinese firm launched a $15 billion initiative into emerging technology, including AI, last year and GetLinks could be one partner to help train its core AI tech and systems.

More generally, Alibaba is also working to build a footprint in Southeast Asia, and GetLinks fits into that focus. Alibaba owns e-commerce firm Lazada, has invested in Indonesia’s Tokopedia and — as we reported earlier this month — it is in talks to invest in Grab. In addition, its fintech affiliate Ant Financial has been busy striking deals across the region.

GetLinks claims to have 500,000 registered job seekers, with 3,000 companies on its platform.