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#How the 'AntChain' blockchain is taking China by Storm
« on: July 26, 2020, 08:08:20 PM »


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Valued at $200 billion, Ant Group, the biggest unicorn in the world, is also the most important player in China's blockchain space. Here's what you need to know about the 'AntChain.'

For many years, ringing that bell on Nasdaq was the American Dream of many Chinese entrepreneurs. Yet recently, with China and the US apparently disagreeing about everything, many companies have considered—or executed—a “homecoming” secondary listing in Hong Kong, in addition to their primary listing in New York. The goal, of course, is to please the side that yields lower risk and matters more to their business.

For the Ant Group, an affiliate of Alibaba Group Holdings, skipping the US debut and choosing a duo listing in Hong Kong and Shanghai is the ultimate snub. After all, why bother to ring that New York bell when you have to “come home” to the motherland at the end of the day?

Valued at $200 billion, Ant Group is the largest unicorn in the world. Its flagship product Alipay, which has a mere 1.2 billion users globally, has provided Fintech solutions to both consumers and businesses, ranging from payments and lending to wealth management and insurance.

But more importantly, Ant Group is also the most active player in China’s blockchain circle. This week’s da bing looks into Ant’s position in shaping China’s blockchain landscape.

The Ant that follows the government’s crumbs

Not only is Ant Group big on blockchain, the whole Alibaba group is bullish, too. Jack Ma, who owns 50% of Ant’s voting power, famously claimed in 2018 that blockchain (together with the Internet) will “reshape the world’s financial system in the upcoming 20 years.” The juxtaposition between blockchain and the Internet was a strong sign of Ma’s faith in the technology, despite his skepticism of Bitcoin.

Perhaps Ma’s confidence got a boost after China made blockchain a national strategy in 2019 and has since crowned it a national infrastructure. To sing along with the government's strategy, Ant Group has positioned its product lines to serve its sugar mommy: government.

For example, Ant signed a deal with the land department of Zhuhai, one of the seven economic zones on the southeast of China. The deal gives Ant an opportunity to provide a blockchain-powered solution that connects government, banks, and end-users to share data such as title deeds, credit history, and mortgage applications. The goal is to digitize the whole home purchasing process and reduce manual labor.

This is, in fact, not the first time Ant approached the land department of a government. Back in the days when your correspondent was making blockchain deals with city governments in China, Ant was a frequent competitor and even signed up agreements with prominent cities such as Xiong An.

The blockchain beauty of government deals
For the Ant Group, following the government’s crumbs isn’t just a matter of burnishing its brand—there’s real RMB in it.

First and foremost, winning governmental deals allow Ant to cross-sell and up-sell. Imagine all the adjacent cloud services Ant can bundle and sell along with its blockchain solutions. Merely gathering data from consumers who use their blockchain applications would indirectly allow Ant to sell more financial services to end-users.

Second, most Chinese cities provide tax benefits to their technology vendors. These local governments that blindly establish “blockchain industrial parks”  are dying to have companies actually move in and contribute to the local economy. It’s a dream come true to win a deal and have a tax cut at the same time.

And finally, talent matters. Access to real use cases allows Ant to hire and nurture blockchain specialists early on. It can hire engineers who might not be blockchain experts immediately, but they will become experienced and grow through these governmental deals. Nothing really trains talent better than working on real use cases.

But Ant Group’s ambition does not stop at simply selling to the government. It wants more.

On July 23rd, in a high-profile product release conference hosted by the Chairman of Ant Group—a big deal, he doesn’t go to every product demo—the company released its latest version of “Ant Blockchain Open Alliance.” The consortium aims to bring small businesses and developers to the nascent industry, and help them build applications on top of Ant’s blockchain at a lower cost.

Ant Group claims that its product is being used in over 50 cases and is powering—and here they have invented their own metric—100 million “on chain data” every day. (No one knows exactly what this weird metric represents, though the general consensus is the number refers to transactions.)

Regardless, many small businesses, especially e-commerce firms, are already using Alicloud, which is the underlying cloud infrastructure of Antchain. But the storyline is familiar. Unlike other blockchain providers that just provide blockchain, Ant is offering a whole suite of use-case focused solutions that will bind their clients to no one but Ant.

“It’s formidable what Ant Group has done in the blockchain industry,” one crypto security expert told me. “They seem to be doing all the boring stuff for the hardcore crypto fans," he said, meaning that its blockchain play is strictly a utility offering, aimed at enterprise business. "I mean, there’s no token economics, no fancy crypto incentive mechanism, no Defi... but guess what? They have made the most noise and struck the most deals so far.”

In the meantime, Ant Group has also been collecting patents on the side. It has topped the blockchain patents chart for the past 4 years. While the adoption questions still remain, Ant has more resources than any other players to either explore new clients or onboard their existing SMEs.

Going global?

Despite being born and raised in China, Ant Group has grown far outside of its motherland. Its consumer-facing business is not only serving Chinese tourists outside of China by providing payment solutions to local businesses, so Chinese tourists can pay directly with their Alipay app while shopping internationally. It also directly participates in getting local banking licenses, such as a virtual one in Singapore.

Its blockchain business is not lagging behind. In 2018, Ant announced a partnership with AlipayHK and GCash, launching an instant cross-border remittance service between Hong Kong and the Philippines. Blockchain is the underlying infrastructure.

Two years ago, that remittance service might look like a simple use case. But China’s DCEP is likely to empower real cross-border remittance. Couple that with the Blockchain-based Service Network (BSN), which can easily integrate Ant’s enterprise blockchain, and China’s blockchain ecosystem suddenly becomes a critical, international powerhouse.

The word “ant” is dear to Ant Group’s journey. The founding team believes that “small is beautiful, small is powerful.” That might be true in the early days. But now the ant is becoming more like the elephant, and every move it makes causes reverberations felt everywhere.


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