One of China's hottest companies rebuffs criticism about transparency

Key Points
  • Ant Financial is sufficiently transparent about the information it shares with investors regarding asset-backed securities, according to a senior executive
  • Douglas Feagin, SVP and head of global business at the company, said the healthy demand for those securities was proof disclosures have the right information for investors
  • Feagin also said Ant Financial makes credit decisions about borrowers, who are mostly Alipay users, based on all the information it has on them
Ant Financial will use local partners in Southeast Asia: executive
Ant Financial will use local partners in Southeast Asia: executive

Despite public criticism about a lack of transparency in some practices, Ant Financial is doing things the right way, a senior executive at the company said Wednesday.

The company — which spun off from Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba to run the massive Alipay digital payments platform — has seen healthy demand for its asset-backed securities, and that's proof enough that it's providing sufficient transparency to investors, the executive said.

Asset-backed securities are financial instruments that are backed by underlying loans and other receivables. In this case, Ant Financial lends money to Alipay users and then packages those debts into asset-backed securities for sale to investors.

"The demand for these securities is very healthy and continuing to expand," Douglas Feagin, senior vice president and head of global business at Ant Financial, told CNBC's "Street Signs." "That, at the end of the day, is the ultimate barometer of whether you're giving enough information to investors to invest."

"I think seeing that demand is evidence that we're sharing the right kind of information with them," Feagin added.

According to news reports, Moody's Investors Service previously said that companies like Ant Financial needed to be more transparent about how such asset-backed securities are created — including their criteria for lending to underlying borrowers.

Douglas Feagin, senior vice president and head of global business at Ant Financial
Anthony Kwan | Bloomberg | Getty Images

"The borrowers that borrow on our platforms are our consumers, which we know very well," Feagin said. "We serve them based on the needs that we see for them in the financial services market place."

The executive added that Ant Financial makes credit decisions based on its own information about the borrowers' "repayment capability and the needs that they have." He said, "We tailor products appropriately to those consumers and it's all those loans that are then embedded into asset-backed securities that are then offered into the market."

In September, Chinese media outlet Caixin reported that after regulators relaxed rules around China's asset-backed securities market in 2014, more companies became active issuers. Asset-backed securities help companies raise money for both investment and other business areas.

Caixin reported that there are 779 corporate asset-backed securities listed on Chinese stock exchanges, with the biggest group being structured notes backed by micro consumer loans. The largest issuers are Huabei and Jiebei, which are online small-loan services of Ant Financial, that have a combined assets worth $14.7 billion, according to Caixin.

The reason why some market watchers are concerned about the rise in asset-backed securities is because sometimes the risks associated with the underlying loans are unclear.

For example, during the global financial crisis, banks sold subprime mortgage-backed securities where, due to poor lending quality, there were a high number of defaults on the underlying housing loans. As a result, the value of those securities fell and, in turn, roiled the global financial system.

Ant Financial's asset-backed securities are currently only available in China. Feagin said that the market there will continue to evolve and that the company is working "closely with the regulators and market participants to offer those securities."

Meanwhile, Feagin also said Ant Financial has set its sights on the massive Southeast Asian market for future growth opportunities by teaming up with local partners in countries like Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia and soon in Indonesia.

"When you look at this market, there are over 600 million people. [Gross domestic product] is growing at one of the fastest rates in the world and there's a huge demand, frankly, for inclusive financial services," Feagin said. He added that there are plenty of people in the region that are currently "either unserved or underserved" by the current financial services system.

"And we're here to serve them," he added.