Ant Fortune, the investing app of Ant Financial Services Group (Alibaba Group’s finance affiliate), unveiled recently Caifu Hao (财富号 or “Fortune Account” in English) which will allow third-party financial institutions to set up shop inside the app.
The app currently works as a retailer that features and sells selected financial products from its sister companies or third-party financial institutions. With Caifu Hao, third parties will be able to sell their own products to users directly and publish content on the app. The admin dashboard for Caifu Hao owners provides data analysis and customer relation management tools. Ant Fortune will also help push their products to targeted users, according to the company.
The Caifu Hao system is expected to go live in June and the first batch will include several mutual fund companies. It will later open to various financial institutions including banks, insurance companies, and securities firms, according to Ant Financial.
With such a system, Ant Fortune will be able to transform into a business-to-customer marketplace. Currently it’s unclear how Ant Fortune will charge financial institutions. Zhao Cai Bao, another platform of Ant Financial, charges businesses commission fees. Alibaba Group’s e-commerce marketplaces, unlike many others around the world, make the majority of their revenues through advertising offerings instead of commissions or other business-facing fees.
The Ant Fortune app provides so far Yu’e Bao, the money market fund from a mutual fund company majority-owned by Alibaba Group, and Zhao Cai Bao, wholly owned by Ant Financial that offers fixed term deposit products from third-party financial institutions or individuals, mutual funds, and stock market information.
Launched in August 2015, the app has had 35 million customers (excluding Yu’e Bao customers) and has accumulated 180 million visitors. Its offerings are from some 200 financial institutions, with some 100 being mutual fund companies. 86% of its users are post-80’s, who were born after 1980, with 35% born after 1990.
The in-app storefront system, allowing store owners to develop customized features and take payments through major online payment services, has become a must-have for big Chinese mobile apps, no matter how different their core offerings are. Ant Financial’s own Alipay app, which provides a wide variety of payments and other mobile services, also has such a channel for businesses. Since 2014, WeChat, China’s most popular mobile messaging app, has got tens of millions of businesses and other organizations using its Official Account system to publish posts or even sell goods. For both WeChat and Ant Financial, such systems can also boost the usage of their respective mobile payment services.
But operating an online financial products market may be more difficult especially given that China’s financial market is heavily regulated. Shortly after WeChat launched Mini Program, web-based application that runs inside the WeChat system, in early this year, financial institutions were asked to remove the account opening and purchase capabilities of their mini-apps as per request from China Securities Regulatory Commission on security concern (in Chinese). It’s unknown whether Caifu Hao will encounter similar problems.
Ant Financial revamped and relaunched its open platform in August 2016. After Caifu Hao, more open programs will be launched later this year, according to the company.