Alibaba funds arm encourages 450m savers with tree planting, ties with UN for individual carbon market research

Ant Financial makes green play as it expands internationally.

Ant Financial Services Group, the rapidly expanding investment affiliate of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, which has some 450 million people investing in its funds, has started a novel tree planting competition for savers as it uses green themes to encourage people to save more.
Ant is also partnering with United Nations Environment (formerly UNEP) to examine the potential for translating financial transaction data into carbon data and creating an individual savers carbon market, according to Sun Tao, Senior Director at Ant’s Strategy and Research Department, speaking at last week’s UNEPFI Global Round Table in Dubai.
Earlier this year, Ant, which is independent to Alibaba, closed the world’s largest private fundraising round for an internet company at $4.5bn, giving it a roughly $60bn valuation. Tao said the firm was now looking to expand its funds offering internationally.
He said the ‘Ant Forest’ scheme aimed to encourage individuals to save, be healthy and at the same time reduce carbon emissions.
As savers put more money into funds they win tree points, which they can add to with fitness ‘steps’ via measurement technology. When certain levels oftree points are reached a foundation will plant a real tree in a desert region.
Tao said that Alibaba founder, Jack Ma, was keen on promoting “inclusive finance” and that political backing in China to combat air and water pollution meant the initiative had government support. Alibaba allocates 0.3% of its annual revenue to an environment protection fund. In the latest financial year, that contribution was US$47.1m on a yearly turnover of US$15.7bn.
Ant has more than 300 million investors – many under 30 years of age – in just one huge money market fund, Yu’e Bao – the market’s largest – running $100bn in assets. Yu’e Bao translates as “leftover treasure” and is the world’s fastest growing mutual fund. It was set up in 2013 as a joint venture between Tianhong Asset Management and Alibaba. Many customers use Alibaba’s online and mobile payment app, Alipay, to convert idle cash they have in their accounts into units of Ant funds, with a miniumum transfer of just one yuan. Its is understood that the fund range includes more than 80 funds labelled as sustainable, including the possibility to buy into green bonds.