Ant Financial marches on with a new leader

CEO Eric Jing adds executive chairman duties as Lucy Peng moves to Alibaba's Southeast Asia e-commerce play, Lazada.

There's a new man at the helm of Ant Financial.

The financial services affiliate of Jack Ma's Alibaba empire has named CEO Eric Jing as its new executive chairman, replacing Lucy Peng, who takes over as CEO of Lazada, Southeast Asia's biggest e-commerce retailer, which is majority owned by Alibaba.

The moves reflect the challenge Alibaba faces in developing, managing and deploying its top talent as it grows internationally across multiple business lines.

“Ant Financial has done an incredible job of cultivating talent," Ma wrote in an email circular to staff on Monday. "Just as each wave in the Yangtze River pushes the one in front forward, the older generation can go confidently forward only when the new one surpasses them."

Peng – like Ma a former teacher – was one of Alibaba's early hires after its foundation in 1999. She went on to lead Taobao, its eBay-like e-commerce site, and was founding CEO and executive chairman of Ant Financial in 2014. She handed over CEO duties to Jing in 2016.

In 2015, FinanceAsia featured her as one of its 20 leading women in finance, and Forbes named her as one of its 100 most powerful women for three years to 2015.

Jing, left, who will continue as CEO, said Peng had been "instrumental in cultivating a world-class Ant Financial team".

"This group of dynamic, talented people is key to ensuring that Ant Financial stays true to its mission," he added.

Last year, Jing set out a bold vision of Ant Financial – best known as the home of payment service Alipay – as a force for reducing the gap between rich and poor.

Jing is now facing a host of challenges, including expanding internationally at a time when US M&A seems to be off the table; navigating the challenges and opportunities of integrating China's social credit system, and of course going head to head with the icons of the old financial order. And then there's an eventual IPO, though that is unlikely to happen this year.

As for Peng, right, who was previously Singapore-based Lazada's chairman, she is tasked with growing Lazada and further integrating it into Alibaba.

And she'll have plenty of ammunition to do so. Her appointment was announced on March 19 as Alibaba revealed a $2 billion investment in Lazada – on top of the $1 billion it spent to become majority shareholder in 2016, and a further $1 billion investment last year.

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