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Alibaba’s Ant Financial may have won the bidding war for MoneyGram after upping its offer to $1.2B

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Ant Financial, the Alibaba affiliate company focused on financial services, appears to have finally won its battle with Euronet to acquire MoneyGram, the U.S.-based cross-border payments service, after it increased its bid to $1.2 billion.

The firm initially bid $880 million for MoneyGram back in January, but now it has increased its offer from $13.25 per share for NASDAQ-listed MoneyGram to $18.00 following a counter bid from Euronet lodged in March. Euronet, which is also based in the U.S., offered $1 billion and played up concerns around the potential for MoneyGram to be acquired by a Chinese company — Ant Financial, which operates Alipay, China’s largest online payment provider.

Ant Financial’s new offer — which represents a 64 percent premium to MoneyGram’s average share price prior to the announcement of the first offer — has been unanimously approved by MoneyGram’s board, while a collection of shareholders who own 46 percent of voting rights have also given it the nod.

On its side, Ant Financial said it has “already made significant progress towards obtaining the regulatory approvals necessary to complete the transaction.” That apparently includes anti-trust clearance in the U.S. and some state-level approvals, too. One major hurdle remaining is approval from the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment. That’s an area where Euronet will hope the deal trips up. However, Jack Ma has already put in work meeting U.S. President Donal Trump — who would have final say over the deal — and pledging to create jobs in the U.S., a claim that Ant Financial repeated.

“Over the past few months, we have enjoyed working closely with the MoneyGram team and remain committed to our plans to invest further in the MoneyGram business. We plan to grow the U.S.-based team and create even greater opportunities for the MoneyGram community as we pursue our shared vision of global inclusive finance in an increasingly digital era,” Ant Financial International President Doug Feagin said in a statement.

Both parties anticipate the deal will be completed in the second half of this year, after which, they said, MoneyGram will operate as an independent subsidiary that retains its brand, management, infrastructure and headquarters in Texas.

The reason for Euronet’s interest in MoneyGram is clear. Founded in Hungary in 1994, the company has expanded internationally by making a series of acquisitions, including other money transfer providers. The offer by Ant Financial is more surprising, however, because MoneyGram deals mainly in offline service (customers go to agents at brick-and-mortar locations to send or receive money). Most of Ant Financial’s most notable acquisitions and investments so far have been in companies that have similar online services to Alipay, including Kakao Pay in Korea and Paytm in India.

Building an offline financial services network makes sense, however, because it allow Ant Financial to serve more users outside of China. In a January interview, Ant Financial CEO Eric Jing said MoneyGram would let the company offer more money transfers in U.S., China, India, Mexico and the Philippines. The company is reportedly intensifying its growth plans in preparation for an IPO later this year.

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