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Ant by Name, Whale by Nature: Chinese Behemoth Absorbs UK Currency Exchange, WorldFirst

Written by Matthew Dove (Digital Editor)

As some of the sector’s windier players get cold feet in the build up to Brexit, shuffling nervously towards the exit, Ant Financial has made a decisive stride boldly in the opposite direction. The affiliate of Alibaba has acquired UK-based currency exchange, WorldFirst, in a deal reportedly worth 700 million USD.

Arriving with little fanfare (not even a press release at time of going to print) the acquisition offers a tantalising glimpse of potential Sino-British relations post-Brexit. And the fact that Ant Financial can execute such a substantial deal without breaking stride is perhaps a decent indication of the Chinese economy’s general momentum.

The remittance service and currency exchange being acquired is no slouch either.

From its creation in 2004 by two bankers in a South London basement, WorldFirst has positioned itself as a vital alternative to legacy providers and boasts of offering its customers market-beating rates. It presently has more than 600 staff worldwide, facilitating 1 million transfers per year worth somewhere in the region of 90 million USD. Exact figures for WorldFirst are hard to gauge as the platform is financed privately and keeps its books firmly closed. However, you can bet that Ant Financial haven’t just just crash landed in London for the weather and a trip to Selfridges. 

Clearly seeking to expand their global reach, the company behind Alipay – China’s freakishly popular (550 million registered users and counting!) mobile payment app – will make WorldFirst a wholly owned subsidiary under the terms of the deal. However, its thought that WorldFirst will retain its current branding as, according to WorldFirst co-founder and CEO Jonathan Quin (as quoted by TechCrunch);

“Alipay and WorldFirst’s capabilities and international footprints are highly complementary” 

As TFT found at last week’s London Blockchain conference, the Chinese bull is in buoyant mood. A presentation by Assistant Dean of the CKGSB Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, Dr. Bo Ji, was so chocked full of jingoist swagger and braggadocio that reference to blockchain technology was almost entirely omitted.

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