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Here’s Why China’s Ant Financial Wants MoneyGram so Badly

April 17, 2017, 6:44 PM UTC

As big as PayPal is in the U.S., Ant Financial wants to have an even bigger footprint on e-commerce around the world.

The Chinese money-transfer company, which is the payment affiliate of Alibaba and is expected to go public later this year at an estimated value between $60 to $75 billion, is in the midst of an expansion to push its reach far beyond China as the cross-border remittance industry becomes woven deeper into the fabric of global commerce.

Ultimately, Ant intends to provide financial services for 2 billion within the next decade. The company’s recent move toward that end, its aggressive pursuit of MoneyGram, would open up avenues to 350,000 locations around the world.

Ant’s Monday offer of $1.2 billion for MoneyGram is the latest salvo in a bidding war for the money-transfer company. An $880 million deal in January looked like it was good to go, but then U.S.-based Euronet Worldwide swooped in with an unsolicited $1 billion offer for MoneyGram in March.

Ant’s newest bid follows a series of moves to expand its reach in Asia, as well as some fundraising to finance the strategy. The company has recently made a series of agreements with companies in South Korea, the Philippines, India, and Thailand that should greatly bump up its 600-million-person user base in Asia. By comparison, PayPal has 197 million total users. Ant already beats that by a factor of three and hasn’t even begun to crack open the market outside of Asia.

The remittance market, which is expected to bring in around $600 billion globally this year, is especially important in developing regions where residents don’t have a lot of money or access to traditional banking systems. Ant’s digital payment platform, Alipay, is already the primary player for making payments in China, but a bigger foothold in Asia would expand the company’s reach in two ways. Not only would its user base grow, but customers would also employ the service more frequently since it would be easier for travelers to use it wherever they visit.

MoneyGram, whose network includes 2.4 million bank and mobile accounts, would serve both of those two goals well, which is likely why Ant felt it necessary to bump up its initial offer to acquire the company by 36%.

A sweetened Euronet bid is unlikely, but a successful merger still faces two hurdles: MoneyGram’s shareholders still have to approve the deal, and President Donald Trump, who likes to talk tough when it comes to China, has veto power over such a deal via the Committee on Foreign Investments in the U.S.