HONG KONG -- By some accounts, it was only when stock exchanges on both sides of the Pacific began sparring to win the mandate for the expected $100 billion flotation of Ant Financial, an arm of Alibaba Group Holding, that regulators in China realized just how big internet finance had become in the country.
Regulators were not alone in their surprise. Banks, too, have only recently woken up to the challenge. Ant Financial and its great rival, Tencent Holdings-invested WeBank, will be three years old in 2018. But in less than two years, they have become the largest providers of online consumer lending. Alipay, part of Ant Financial, alone has 100 million daily active users.