Going Global By Thinking Local — AntKast with Jia Hang

Ant Group
12 min readJun 1, 2022

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKSl3ezF49c

Today, we invite a key leadership member from Ant Group, the regional general manager for Southeast Asia, Mr. Jia Hang, as our guest speaker for this episode.

He’s among the pioneers at Ant Group to expand its international business in the Southeast Asia region. And since joining the company in 2015, Jia Hang has played many roles across different business units, from cross-border tourism, and online payments, to WorldFirst. No one is more qualified than him to talk about the journey of Ant in the region. Prior to joining Ant Group, Jia Hang worked at China UnionPay and UnionPay International from 2006 to 2015 helping build the UnionPay business across the Americas, from Canada to Argentina.

He graduated in 1996, earning both his master’s and bachelor’s degrees in computer science from Tsinghua University. Let’s hear from Jia Hang about his career started as an IT manager to how he became the leader of Ant Group’s international business.

Q:One of the first things of my notes here say that in the company people call you Panda, can you tell us how the name came about?

A: I know that this is a very interesting name. Actually, it’s my daughter who gave me this name when she was only two years and a half. At that moment I was working in New York for China UnionPay. I was trying to develop UnionPay acceptance in North America and South America. My daughter was in Shanghai, we were doing the video conference and because the clothes I wore were black and white clothes. So my daughter started to call me Panda since then. By now, that’s become my nickname. Even before I joined Ant.

Q: You’ve been appointed as Ant Group’s General Manager for Southeast Asia in March. I just wanted to say congratulations. Is this a new chapter for Ant Group globally?

A: I will say, yes. Because when we try to build up our global business, at the early period, everything has been managed from our headquarter which is located in China. But when we grow the business bigger and bigger, we realize that actually, each market, each the region has its very unique situation. So we need the people who are willing to deep dive into that region or that market and to really collect it the partnership locally and even build a local workforce. Like, for example, we invested 2C2P. 2C2P is a Southeast-Asia-based local acquirer. That’s the value for Ant because Ant ourselves cannot simply build up such kind of big local team and local capabilities.

We realize that when you’re trying to make the business grow bigger, you have to go localized. So my new role actually is another type of example for Ant to go localized. I can coordinate and lead different work forces, even our local partners to work together to build up more Southeast-Asia-based products or Southeast-Asia-based services to better serve our Southeast Asian people.

Q: Was that something that influence your leadership style?

A: It’s very hard to say what is my leadership style. I think that at least I don’t have the right to speak it out, right? But for me, I think there are very simple points I think that I should keep.

Number one is that since I was working in Canada, I started from IT engineering, and finally became the IT manager, I was leading a team over there. The team members actually came from different countries. I realized that actually, people coming from different countries have a different cultural background, and also probably have different languages. They had a lot of valuable points. You cannot simply use one standard or one framework to measure or evaluate each of your colleagues. You have to learn that each of them has their advantages. Each of them probably may have some kind of weakness, but everyone is trying to improve themselves a lot and grow quickly.

The first thing, I think, to be a global business leader is actually diversity. So we need to make ourselves humble and open to all the different cultures, different solutions, different working styles, and different ideas. And you’re going to prepare for leading a multinational team. But you also gain a huge benefit from such kind of multinational team, because different people from a different country, they have their own skills and values. And when you put them together, if you can organize them well, then it’s going to be a dramatic working force.

And the second point I would like to point out is actually kind of learning from my past experience. When we say leadership, it is not the management. When we say leading the team, it’s more about motivating people. And find out their inner energy, bring their inner energy together, find out their passion, bring their passion together. So all these kinds of stress actually come from each of the team members. You need to find them and bring them together to become a united force. Then you can guide this force to achieve a lot of things.

I myself actually is in the same situation. My job, for me, is a career. It’s not just a job you work for how many hours you get the payment based on the hours.

What we are doing is kind of an innovative business, and we try to create something new, something valuable for society. So by that, we need to have passion inside. We are not just a machine. We are people. And we have a lot of creative ideas. So as a manager, try to figure that out, to find out your team’s skills, their ideas and try to bring them out. That is the secret to becoming a successful globalized leader.

Q: I understand that Ant Group has a history of investing in Southeast Asian companies, such as e-wallets. And one of the latest developments we’ve seen, that Ant Group has done was an investment in 2C2P, a Singapore-based FinTech company. So can you share with us why it makes sense to adopt such a strategy instead of building your own capabilities?

A: In 2015, I joined Ant International. My first question from our senior management is to figure out what is the strategy for us to develop our international business.

We know that before there were many other Chinese companies, and they are developing their international business. There are basically two types of ways. The first way is that they’d try to set up their own subsidiary or branches outside of China, and basically do exactly the same business. And use a similar product and technical solutions by themselves to develop the business in oversea countries. However, you can see that it’s maybe easy to implement, but it’s very difficult to expand the scope. Each country has a different culture, different environment, different government, and different regulations.

The second one is doing investments outside of China. They are not going to be running their business by themselves. More like a financial investment.

When we discussed the situation in 2015, we didn’t like either of these two solutions.

The first one is very heavy. And also we don’t think that we can really develop a successful business outside of China only by ourselves because we recognize that there’s a cultural gap, there’s an environmental gap and many things.

I still remember that in 2015, I was leading a team. We visited many countries. In each country, we’d also meet with more than ten potential partners. And when you know more about that country and market, actually you know more about your shortfall. We are successful in China, but you cannot simply copy your experience or all your product to another country. That’s what we learned in 2015.

On the other side, to do some kind of financial investment is also not our purpose. As you may know, Ant is not a company just for making money. We want to be a company for 102 years. We want to do our contribution to this world and to society.

Finally, we designed our own strategy to develop our international business starting in Southeast Asia. The purpose is that we tried to do some kind of strategic investment with our selected local partners. We let local partners own the majority of the shares in that JV, because we believe that actually, the JV (Joint Venture)’s success will more rely on our partners’ contribution, our partners’ resources, and their capabilities.

Yes, from Ant’s side, we own a minority of the share. We can contribute our experience, our know-how, our product, and technology to our partners. However, when you go to that country and go to the market, the key is to provide customer value. If you don’t know your customer deeply, how can you make such kind of business successful? We leave this most important responsibility to our partner. So that has become our major strategy in the later years until today, as a result, when our local partner succeeds, Ant, our business, is also going to benefit and become successful in Southeast Asia.

Q: While working with local partners, do you have any specific use cases in specific countries in Asia that you can share with us?

A: When we had the cooperation with Kakao to set up a local mobile wallet solution, called Kakao Pay. Today, they’ve become the largest mobile wallet in Korea.

We do have the situation. We introduced Korean colleagues to say that in China how to quickly make your wallet become popular and to be used by a massive customer, In China, we were using the “red envelope.” But our Korean colleague told us that in Korea, there is no such kind of culture, so red envelope or such kind of existing experience from China or product from China is not going to work in Korea. But finally, our Korean colleagues figured out their own solutions.

Korean people like to drink coffee a lot, so they always invite their colleagues or their family members or their friends go downstairs to have a cup of coffee together. But if you want to have a cup of coffee together, you got to be physically together. However, when Kakao Pay was introduced to Korean customers, our local partner, our Korean Colleagues, very smartly embedded a function, so you can easily buy the coffee coupon from some kind of like integrated coffee stores or coffee chains, then you can send the coffee coupon to your friend, colleagues or family members, to say that I would like to invite you for a cup of coffee, even if you are not together, you are remote to each other or you are in another city. And that coupon can be easily redeemed for a cup of coffee downstairs, close to the receiver’s location.

Our Korean colleagues built up the technology to help such kinds of coffee coupons, and coffee store locations integrate together. So that made it become true that you can really invite people in another city, in another street, in another region to have a coffee together with you remotely.

That’s very interesting. That made it become a social tool in Korea, and the Korean customers liked this function a lot, they could very easily use this function to build up their own social network and enjoy their social connections. So according to our experience, yes, we can introduce the experience and successful case in China to our partners. We enjoy sharing such kind of information. However, we always wait for our partners to make the decision if they going to take it or not. And if they decided to take it, I will know that they still need to do a lot of changes to fit into the local environment and local culture. So that’s why we have the local partners.

And we believe that without our local partners, we cannot make that business successful. That’s why we learned that. And today we are successful in Southeast Asia because we have a bunch of partners around there. That’s our ecosystem.

Q: Alipay+ was one of the projects that was launched, right? I’m curious, why did Ant Group launch Alipay+?

A: Basically, the journey is like this, when we tried to build up our international business, there were basically four periods. The first period is from 2009 to 2013. At that moment, we were just doing some simple cross-border payments online. And from 2013 to today, we started the second business line, which is supporting the China Alipay users to travel outside of China and make the payment by QR code offline. So that we called it a cross-border traveling business.

On the other side, at Ant, of course, we want to grow up and become a real global company, which means that we need to develop business outside of China. I mean not directly relying on China. So that’s why I started from 2015, we started to do strategic investments. Those investments and cooperation happened, starting from 2015, and gradually we helped our partners to grow and build up their capabilities, develop their local market, and integrate more and more use cases into their mobile payment apps. Starting from 2020, we moved our strategy from supporting that kind of wallet locally to how to support those wallets to become global wallets.

The reason we think about that is because, as I said, in the early period we were trying to make Alipay be used outside of China online or offline. The same thing will happen to the other wallets. The wallet is not going to be just a local payment tool. It should be used widely outside of their country and global wide, but to help a wallet to develop its international business and international acceptance is a heavy and time-consuming project. You can see that Alipay tried to enable its global acceptance since 2013, today, almost 10 years have passed. We enabled about a million merchants outside of China to accept Alipay online and offline.

And it’s very costly from the time side, from the money side, and from the workforce side. We are thinking that why not support those wallets to easily gain global acceptance instead of developing those acceptance by themselves.

On the other side, when approaching merchants, for example, Apple or Google Play, Airbnb or Uber, or many of the other online or offline merchants. There’s a strong requirement from the merchant side to see that they already accept bank cards where it’s a different branding, but they want to accept mobile payments, because they can see that in the near future, there are more and more people starting to use mobile payment solutions.

Besides that, Alipay+ also provides marketing solutions for the merchant. So this one-stop gateway or platform is not just about having a mobile payment solution for the merchants, but it also has a cross-border marketing solution for the merchants. By that, we are capable to provide merchants with a much better solution and helping the merchants to connect and also market to the mobile users from different countries. You can see that this is going to be a win-win solution.

On the merchant side, they can connect with multiple mobile wallets in different countries, and from the mobile wallet side, this is a simple and easy solution to gain global acceptance outside their home country. So that has become our 4th-period strategy, and today’s major strategy. We call it Alipay+.

Q: Are there any new projects or products that we should be expecting to see in the region that you can share about?

A: Yes, there are two kinds of very new and innovative projects. Right now ongoing, you might have heard that we basically applied for the digital banking license from the Singapore government. Digital bank is a very new concept. We are also learners on how to make a digital bank successful, but the key concept is that it’s not location-based, it’s not going to be built up from a lot of branch or ATMs. It’s going to be internet-based remote access and can expand its service to much wider customers. But with a lot of online services. That’s one thing we are doing here in Singapore.

Q: If I were to ask you to picture the future of FinTech, where do you see mobile payments in 10 years?

A: Honestly, that’s a very big question. And also is a very key question in front of every people in our industry. Of course, we believe digital payment or mobile payment will be the future. We believe that cash will gradually disappear from the street. We believe that the future belongs to mobile payments and belong to digital services, but how it will become, it’s hard to say.

Number one is that we believe that especially in the developing countries because they have much larger populations that are still not covered by bank card service. Then on the other side, we can see that our people, our customers, especially the younger generations, they are very open-minded to digitalized services and mobile payments.

And we can see that when the technology keeps going on, it’s becoming easier to connect the customers and the service providers. And a lot of information exchange will happen on your phone will happen remotely. People get used to using such kinds of digital services, they also start to trust such kinds of online services or remote services. Merchants have to become more digitalized.

So what will happen in the next 10 years? I cannot give you a very accurate image or picture of that. But I’m very excited I know that it’s going to be good, it’s going to be beautiful. Again, the reason I don’t want to give you a more accurate picture is that as I said, we have to recognize that we don’t know a lot of things. So let’s respect and let’s just be, on our part, an honest player in this trade. Try our best to make it happen and make it better.

Brought to you by Ant Group, AntKast is a podcast that presents unique perspectives and intriguing stories from global entrepreneurs, innovators, and thinkers about modern technologies and how they’re shaping our lives. We hope these dialogues can inspire a deeper understanding of technology and how it can better coexist with humanity.

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Ant Group

Ant Group is a tech company dedicated to bringing inclusive finance to the world, through Alipay and its global partners.