China's Ant seeks to ease staff concerns about selling company's shares

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A thermal imaging camera is seen in front of a logo of Ant Group at the headquarters of Ant Group, an affiliate of Alibaba, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China October 29, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

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BEIJING/HONG KONG, March 2 (Reuters) - China's Ant Group is working on measures to help staff with "short-term liquidity problems", its executive chairman said in internal messages, after the halting of the fintech giant's $37 billion IPO dashed employees' hopes of cashing in their shares.

The listing of the affiliate of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding last November would have made some of the company's employees millionaires or billionaires.

Eric Jing told Ant employees last week that the company would review its staff incentive programmes and roll out some measures starting from April to help solve their financial problems, according to two people who have seen the messages.

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Some Ant employees recently expressed frustration on social media for not being able to sell the company shares they own after Chinese regulators abruptly halted Ant's dual-listing, which was set to be the world's largest, in November.

Jing made the comments in response to employee questions about Ant's future on the company's internal website, said the people, who declined to be named as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The company's share buyback programme for employees has been halted since July last year due to the planned initial public offering, one of the people said, which would have given them an opportunity to monetize their holdings.

Ant declined to comment.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the news.

"Our company will certainly become a public company and I'm very confident about it all along," Jing was cited by the people as saying in the internal messages. "Our preparation work won't stop."

Ant is currently working on plans to shift to a financial holding company structure following intense regulatory pressure and to rein in some of its operations and subject them to rules and capital requirements similar to those for banks. read more

A group business structure overall, however, means that the company could proceed with the IPO within two years, Reuters has reported. read more

"This rectification won't make Ant weak, but will make us healthier, with a greater stage for growth," Jing said, without disclosing the details of the restructuring plan.

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Reporting by Yingzhi Yang in Beijing and Sumeet Chatterjee in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Susan Fenton

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