Ant Financial invests in Thailand's Ascend Money as part of global expansion play

Ant Financial makes its move in SEA with Ascend Group

Ant Financial, the company behind China's digital payment giant Alipay, has ramped up its global expansion with an investment in Thailand's Ascend Money.

The companies said in a Tuesday statement that the deal would help Ascend Money grow its digital and offline payments and financial services business in Thailand, while opening doors for Ant Financial to expand into the broader Southeast Asian market.

Details on the investment were not disclosed but a June statement on China's Ministry of Commerce website indicated Ant Financial planned to take a 20 percent stake, with an option to buy a further 10 percent.

Bangkok-based Ascend also operates in Indonesia, The Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia. The company, which is a subsidiary of Thai conglomerate Charoen Pokphand, offers e-payment services and micro-loans targeted at customers who are under-served by big financial services players.

Ascend CEO Punnamas Vichitkulwongsa told CNBC's "Street Signs" in an interview that Ant Financial had a successful history of catering to the under-banked population in China.

Vichitkulwongsa reckoned Ascend could use its strong knowledge of the Southeast Asian market to modify Ant Financial's model in order improve the livelihoods of people in the region by providing them better access to financial services.

Ant Financial chief Eric Jing said in a statement his company aimed to provide financial services to more than two billion users within the next ten years by building a network of global partners.

Alipay, operated by Ant Financial, is China's largest online payments and money transfer system, with more than 450 million active users.

Last year, Ant Financial and its affiliate Alibaba poured about $1 billion into technology firm One97 Communications, which runs Paytm, India's largest mobile payment and commerce platform.

Data compiled by Dealogic showed the two companies took a 25 percent stake in February 2015, worth $500 million, then a further 15 percent in September 2015, also worth $500 million.

Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The unlisted Chinese financial services powerhouse, valued at $60 billion as of April, already has partnerships with companies including Concardis, Ingenico, Wirecard and Zapper in Europe, First Data and Verifone in North America, and Paysbuy and Counter Services in Southeast Asia.

Ascend's Vichitkulwongsa said a key driver for Ant Financial's push to build a broad partner network was to provide Chinese tourists with a familiar payment option when they traveled abroad, since penetration of credit cards in the mainland was still relatively low but Alipay was widely used.

"It makes a lot of sense for the likes of Alipay and [Tencent-owned rival] WeChat Pay to penetrate key countries that the Chinese travel to," he said.

Ant Financial said more than 80,000 retailers in 70 countries accepted Alipay payments, as of September-end.

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