蚂蚁最初是阿里巴巴的一项支付服务,它帮助中国晋升为数字交易领域里的全球领导者,让企业家和消费者获得贷款的机会大增,并改变了人们的理财方式。鉴于支付宝和阿里巴巴在很多企业业务中的核心地位,没什么人敢拖欠蚂蚁的贷款,因为担心信用评级被降可能会损害自己的其他业务。

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Queen of the colony 蚁后
2020.10
Does the giant Chinese fintech upstart represent the future of finance?
中国的金融科技巨头新贵是否代表了金融的未来?【深度报道】  
  

经济学人杂志文章

IN THE STAID world of Chinese banking, it is rare for executives to voice public criticism. So Jack Ma, the founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba, made headlines in 2008 when he bemoaned how hard it was for small businesses to get loans: “If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks.” He has not repeated his warning since then. He has not needed to.
在沉闷传统的中国银行业,很少会有高管公开发表批评言论。 因此,电子商务巨头阿里巴巴的创始人马云在2008年抱怨中小企业贷款难时,就登上了新闻头条。他说:“如果银行不改变,我们就改变银行。”从那以后,他没有再发出这样的警示。他不需要了。
Through Ant Group, which began life as a payments service on Alibaba, Mr Ma’s impact on the Chinese financial system has been profound. Ant has helped establish China as the world leader in digital transactions, given entrepreneurs and consumers far greater access to loans, and changed the way that people manage their money. It is now a giant in its own right. Over the past year it counted more than 1bn active users. Last year it handled 110trn yuan ($16trn) in payments, nearly 25 times more than PayPal, the biggest online payments platform outside China (see chart 1).
马云已经通过蚂蚁集团对中国的金融体系产生了深远的影响。蚂蚁最初是阿里巴巴的一项支付服务,它帮助中国晋升为数字交易领域里的全球领导者,让企业家和消费者获得贷款的机会大增,并改变了人们的理财方式。现在它自身已长成一个巨头。在过去一年中,它的活跃用户超过10亿。去年,它处理了110万亿元的支付交易,是中国以外最大的在线支付平台PayPal的近25倍(见图表1)。 
English placeholder caption An initial public offering (IPO) in the coming weeks will bear testimony to Ant’s growth. It is expected to raise more than $30bn, eclipsing Saudi Aramco’s debut last year as the biggest IPO—a symbol of the world’s transition from a century in which oil was the most valuable resource to an era that prizes data. With a forward price-to-earnings multiple of 40, in line with big global payments companies, Ant could fetch a market capitalisation in excess of $300bn, more than any bank in the world.
过几周蚂蚁就要上市,见证它的成长。预计它将融资超过300亿美元,让沙特阿美(Saudi Aramco)去年的史上最大规模IPO相形见绌。这象征着世界从一个以石油为最具价值资源的世纪进入数据至上的时代。蚂蚁的远期市盈率为40倍,与全球大型支付公司相当,因此其市值可能超过3000亿美元,超过世界上任何一家银行。
A four-legged insect 四足昆虫 More important than its size is what Ant represents. It matters globally in a way that no other Chinese financial institution does. China’s banks are huge but inefficient, burdened by state ownership. By contrast foreign financiers look at Ant with curiosity, envy and anxiety. Some hawks in the White House reportedly want to rein in the company or hobble its IPO. Ant is the most integrated fintech platform in the world: think of it as a combination of Apple Pay for offline pay, PayPal for online pay, Venmo for transfers, Mastercard for credit cards, JPMorgan Chase for consumer financing and iShares for investing, with an insurance brokerage thrown in for good measure, all in one mobile app.
比其规模更重要的是蚂蚁代表什么。它在全球的重要性超过其他任何中国金融机构。中国的银行受国企身份的拖累,规模庞大但效率低下。相比之下,外国的金融家对蚂蚁充满好奇、艳羡和焦虑。据说白宫的一些鹰派人士想约束蚂蚁或阻碍它的IPO。蚂蚁是世界上最全面的金融科技平台:可以把它想象成Apple Pay(离线支付)、PayPal(在线支付)、Venmo(转账)、万事达卡(信用卡)、摩根大通(消费金融)和iShares(投资)的结合体,外加保险经纪业务,全都整合在一款移动应用里。
Given the abundance of consumer data in China and the relatively lax safeguards around its use, Ant has more to work with than fintech peers elsewhere. More than 3,000 variables have gone into its credit-risk models, and its automated systems decide whether to grant loans within three minutes—a claim that may seem far-fetched but for Alibaba’s proven ability to handle 544,000 orders per second. Ant is, in short, the world’s purest example of the tremendous potential of digital finance. But as it advances further, it may also be an early warning of its limitations.
鉴于中国有海量消费者数据,并且对数据使用的管理措施相对宽松,与其他地方的金融科技同行相比,蚂蚁有更多数据资源。它的信用风险模型包含了3000多个变量,其自动化系统可在三分钟内决定是否发放贷款——要不是阿里巴巴已展示出每秒处理54.4万笔订单的能力,这个说法可能让人难以置信。简言之,蚂蚁完完全全就是世界上一个证明数字金融的巨大潜力的例子。但随着它进一步发展,它也可能为数字金融的局限性做出警示。
Start with a deceptively simple question: what is Ant? In its decade as an independent company it has changed names three times—from Alibaba E-Commerce to Ant Small and Micro Financial Services to Ant Group. The company once called itself a fintech leader. Then Mr Ma inverted the term to techfin, in order better to capture its priorities. Such are its efforts to distinguish itself from a purely financial firm that it has asked some brokerages to assign tech analysts to cover it. (Of course, it does not hurt that the valuations for tech stocks are much plumper than for bank stocks.)
从一个看似简单的问题开始:蚂蚁是什么?在作为一家独立公司的十年里,它曾三度更名:先是阿里巴巴电子商务有限公司,然后是蚂蚁小微金融服务集团,再到蚂蚁集团。它曾经自称金融科技领导者。后来,为更能体现它的重点,马云把金融科技这个表述改成了科技金融。蚂蚁极力想让自己区别于纯粹的金融公司,已经让一些经纪公司指派科技板块分析师来研究它。(当然了,科技股的估值要比银行股高很多,这一点也是有利的。)
Yet there is no doubt that Ant, at its heart, is about finance. The clearest way of understanding its business model is to look at the four sections into which it divides its revenues. The first is payments—how it started and still the foundation of the company. Ant began in 2004 as a solution to a problem. Shoppers and merchants were flocking to Alibaba but lacked a trusted payment option. Alipay was created as an escrow account, transferring money to sellers after buyers had received their products. With the launch of a mobile Alipay app, it moved into the offline world, super-charging its growth in 2011 with the introduction of QR codes for payments. A shop owner needed to show only a QR code print-out to accept money, a big advance for a country previously reliant on cash.
但毫无疑问,蚂蚁的核心是金融。最能清楚理解其商业模式的方法是看它的四个收入来源。首先是支付,这是蚂蚁靠之起家的业务,现在仍然是它的根基。2004年创立蚂蚁是为了解决一个问题。当时顾客和商家大量涌向阿里巴巴,但缺乏可信赖的付款方式。支付宝由此诞生,它作为第三方托管帐户,在买家收到商品后再把钱转给卖家。随着移动版支付宝的推出,它进入了线下世界,2011年推出的支付二维码更是加速了它的成长。店铺老板只需要打印二维码摆出来即可收款,这对以前一直依赖现金的中国来说是一大进步。
For China as a whole, digital transactions reached 201trn yuan in 2019, up from less than 1trn in 2010. Alipay’s market share has been whittled down by Tencent, which added a payments function to WeChat, China’s dominant messaging app. Both companies earn as little as 0.1% per transaction, less than banks do from debit-card swipes. Given the sheer volume, this still adds up to a lot. Ant generated nearly 52bn yuan of revenues from its payments business last year. But growth is slowing, dropping from 55% of Ant’s revenue in 2017 to 36% in the first half of this year. Instead, the crucial point is that payments are a gateway: how Ant attracts users, understands them and ultimately monitors them.
在整个中国,数字交易额从2010年的不到一万亿元增长到2019年的201万亿元。支付宝的市场份额被腾讯削弱,后者在微信这款中国的主导即时通信应用中添加了支付功能。两家公司在每笔交易上赚取0.1%,低于银行通过借记卡刷卡的收费。但由于交易数量庞大,这笔收入加起来依然可观。去年蚂蚁的支付业务创造了近520亿元的收入。但这一块的增速正在放缓,占蚂蚁总收入的比重从2017年的55%下降到今年上半年的36%。其实,关键在于支付是一个入口,蚂蚁通过它来吸引、了解用户,并最终监控他们。
The biggest beneficiary of all this data is Ant’s lending arm, the second part of the company (which Ant, never one to shy away from jargon, calls CreditTech). Ant began consumer lending as recently as 2014, with the launch of Huabei, a revolving unsecured credit line for purchases—basically a virtual credit card. Alipay users can tap into Huabei to defer payments by a month or to break them into instalments. Credit cards had never taken off in China, so Huabei was lapped up. That led to Jiebei, an Alipay feature which allows users to borrow larger sums. Ant also offers loans, with a focus on very small businesses. Annualised interest rates hover between 7% and 14%, lower than the alternatives from small-loan companies.
从所有这些数据中收益最大的是蚂蚁的贷款部门,这是该公司第二个收入来源(从来不吝于使用术语的蚂蚁称之为信贷科技)。蚂蚁从2014年开始提供消费信贷,推出了花呗,为网购提供循环无担保信用额度,基本上就是一种虚拟信用卡。支付宝用户可以接入花呗,延迟一个月付款或分期付款。信用卡在中国从未普及,因此花呗很受欢迎。在此基础上支付宝又推出了借呗,允许用户借更多的钱。蚂蚁还提供贷款,主要面向小微企业。年化利率徘徊在7%至14%之间,低于小额贷款公司的利率。
Like many Ant clients, Zhu Yifan, owner of Rabbits Go Home, a convenience store in Dongyang, an eastern city, started small. Four years ago she and her husband wanted to open their store. With no property as collateral, they could not get a bank loan. Instead, they pulled together money from friends and relatives, and, on a whim, borrowed 10,000 yuan from Ant, the most they could obtain then. By repaying that initial loan and getting customers to use Alipay—giving Ant a look at her cash flow—Ms Zhu’s credit score improved. Now, she has a 100,000 yuan credit line from Ant, which lets her stock up before busy holidays.
和蚂蚁的许多客户一样,东部城市东阳的朱一凡从小本生意做起,开了一家兔兔到家便利店。四年前,她和丈夫想自己开家店。因为没什么财产可用作抵押,他们没法从银行贷到款,只能从亲戚朋友那里七拼八凑地借钱。期间他们很偶然地从蚂蚁借了一万块,这是当时他们能借到的最高额度。后来他们还了这第一笔贷款,并在店里让顾客用支付宝付款(让蚂蚁得以了解其现金流状况),朱一帆的信用评分上升了。现在,她在蚂蚁有10万元信用额度,让她可以在客流量大的节假日来临前多上些货。
In barely half a decade Ant has reached 1.7trn yuan in outstanding consumer loans, or roughly a 15% share of China’s consumer-lending market. Its loans to small businesses total about 400bn yuan, about 5% of the micro-enterprise loan market. From a financial perspective, Ant’s biggest innovation is the way that it funds the credit. Initially, it made the loans and then packaged them as securities, sold to other financial institutions. But regulators feared parallels with the securitisation boom that preceded the financial crisis of 2007-09. They required that the originators of securities hold capital much like any bank—a rule that cut into Ant’s margins.
在不到五年的时间里,蚂蚁的未偿消费贷款就达到了1.7万亿元,约占中国消费贷款市场的15%。蚂蚁对小微企业的贷款总额约达4000亿元,占整个小微企业贷款市场的5%左右。从金融的角度来看,蚂蚁最大的创新就是它为信贷融资的方式。最初,它发放贷款,然后把贷款打包成证券出售给其他金融机构。但监管机构担心这与2007年至2009年金融危机之前的证券化热潮有相似之处,要求证券的原始权益人和银行一样持有资本,这项规定削弱了蚂蚁的利润。
So Ant devised a new approach. It now identifies and assesses borrowers, but passes them on to banks which extend the loans. Ant collects a “technology service fee”. For borrowers it is seamless. With a few taps on their smartphones, their credit requests are approved or rejected. Ant ends up with a cash-rich, asset-light lending model. Fully 98% of the loans are held as assets by other firms. Credit has become Ant’s biggest single business segment, accounting for 39% of its revenues in the first half of this year (see chart 2).
蚂蚁于是想出了一个新办法。现在它会识别和评估借款人,但接下来会把他们推荐给银行,由银行发放贷款。蚂蚁收取“技术服务费”。对于借款人而言,整个过程是无缝衔接的。他们只需在智能手机上点几下,就可以看到贷款申请是被批准还是拒绝了。蚂蚁最终形成了一个现金充裕又轻资产的贷款模式。全部贷款的98%是由其他公司作为资产持有的。贷款已成为蚂蚁最大的单一业务部门,占今年上半年收入的39%(见图表2)。 
The strength of Ant’s platform is what enables its third and fourth business segments: asset management and insurance (InvestmentTech and InsureTech, to use Ant’s nomenclature). Ant got started on asset management in 2013 with the launch of Yu’ebao, or “leftover treasure”. The idea was that merchants or shoppers with cash in Alipay could get a small return by parking it in a money-market fund. That attracted people interested in Yu’ebao purely for storing cash, since its yields (now roughly 1.7%) were higher than those available on current accounts at banks. By 2017 Yu’ebao had given rise to the world’s biggest money-market fund by size.
蚂蚁平台的优势赋能了它的第三和第四个业务部门:资产管理和保险(用蚂蚁的术语叫投资科技和保险科技)。蚂蚁在2013年推出余额宝,启动了资产管理业务。它的想法是,支付宝账户中有现金的商家或顾客可以购入货币市场基金以获得少量回报。这吸引了人们把余额宝单纯用于存储现金之用,因为它的收益率(现在约为1.7%)高于银行活期账户的利率。到2017年,余额宝已成长为全球规模最大的货币市场基金。
Ant broadened its offerings to become one of China’s most powerful distribution channels for investments. Today 170 companies sell more than 6,000 products such as stock and bond funds on Ant. Altogether these firms have roughly 4.1trn yuan in assets under management enabled by the app. As with its lending business, Ant screens prospective clients and directs them to products. It then collects a service fee. “Our growth on Ant has been faster than on any other digital platform,” says Li Li, deputy CEO of Invesco Great Wall Fund Management. Her group’s two money-market funds soared from 665m yuan in assets under management in early 2018, when it started selling them on Ant, to 114bn yuan in June.
蚂蚁扩大了服务范围,成为中国最强大的投资分销渠道之一。如今有170家公司在蚂蚁的平台上销售6000多种产品,比如股票和债券基金。这些公司通过蚂蚁的应用总共管理着约4.1万亿元的资产。与贷款业务一样,蚂蚁会筛选潜在客户并将他们导流到产品,然后收取服务费。“我们在蚂蚁上的增长比在任何其他数字平台都要快。”景顺长城基金管理公司的副总经理李黎说。她的公司有两只货币市场基金从2018年初开始在蚂蚁上销售,管理的资产规模已经从当时的6.65亿元飙升到今年6月的1140亿元。
Ant’s push into insurance happened more recently. For a decade it offered shipping insurance for purchases on Alibaba, letting dissatisfied customers return goods for no charge. But it is only in the past two years that it has applied its asset-management template to insurance. In partnership with big insurance firms, it has unveiled life, car and medical insurance—again collecting fees as a distribution platform. Asset management and insurance now make up nearly a quarter of revenues.
蚂蚁进军保险业要更晚一些。过去十年里,它为在阿里巴巴上的网购提供运费险,不满意的客户可以免费退货。但它直到最近两年才将自己的资产管理模式用到保险上。它与大型保险公司合作,推出了寿险、车险和医疗保险,同样是作为分销平台收取服务费。资产管理和保险这两块现在构成了它总收入的近四分之一。
All the ants are marching 蚂蚁大军行进 Simply looking at the numbers, Ant can appear unstoppable. It has chalked up dizzying growth rates in every market that it has targeted. It benefits from the network effects so familiar in the tech world: the more people use it, the stronger its attraction for yet more borrowers, lenders and investors. It is a virtuous cycle, especially for Ant’s shareholders. Nevertheless, there exist three kinds of risks that could slow it down: regulatory, competitive and those that are intrinsic to its own model.
单看数字,蚂蚁似乎势不可挡。它在每个目标市场上都有令人眼花的增长速度。它得益于科技业常见的网络效应:人们用它越多,它对更多借款人、放贷人和投资者的吸引力就越大。这是一个良性循环,对蚂蚁的股东而言更是如此。然而,仍有三方面的风险可能使蚂蚁的发展放缓:监管、竞争,以及它自身的商业模式所固有的风险。
The regulatory landscape in China is treacherous. Officials endlessly tweak rules for banks and investors, patching up holes as they emerge in the fast-growing but debt-laden economy. Many have long assumed that the government will give Ant, a private-sector firm, only so much leeway in the state-controlled system.
中国的监管环境变化莫测。官员不停歇地调整针对银行和投资者的规则,修补快速增长但负债累累的经济中出现的漏洞。许多人从很久以前就认为,在国家控制的系统中,政府能给蚂蚁这家民营企业的自由空间也就这么多了。
Indeed, regulators have already put numerous hurdles in Ant’s path. Its first attempt at launching a virtual credit card was blocked. The securitisation crackdown upended its lending model. A government plan to standardise QR codes could weaken it in payments, potentially reducing Ant’s market dominance. Another new rule, taking effect in November, will force Ant to hold more capital.
确实,监管机构已经在蚂蚁的发展道路上设置过诸多障碍。它首次尝试推出虚拟信用卡被叫停。严控信贷证券化打乱了它的贷款模式。政府标准化二维码的计划可能会削弱它的支付业务,进而削弱其市场主导地位。另一项将于11月生效的新规将迫使蚂蚁持有更多资本。
But if all these hurdles were meant to stop Ant, they have not succeeded. So there exists an alternative explanation. Regulators, wary of the pitfalls in financial innovation, continue to erect guardrails around Ant. In general, though, they like it. Not only has it steered credit towards small consumers and businesses, it has also given the government more information about money flows. Duncan Clark, author of a biography of Jack Ma, notes that regulators have long struggled to monitor all corners of China, referencing the old saying that the mountains are high and the emperor far away. “Ant has basically let Beijing tunnel through the mountains and fly drones over their summits,” he says.
但是,如果所有这些障碍都是为了阻止蚂蚁前行,那么它们并未成功。因此还有另一种解释。监管部门对金融创新的隐患保持警惕,因而不断在蚂蚁周围设置安全护栏。不过总的来说,它们还是喜欢蚂蚁的。它不仅将信贷导向小用户和小微企业,还向政府提供了更多有关资金流动的信息。写过一本马云传记的邓肯·克拉克(Duncan Clark)引用一句老话“山高皇帝远”来形容监管部门长期以来难以监视中国全部的角角落落。“蚂蚁基本上已经让北京在山上打通了隧道,在山顶上放飞无人机。”他说。
Another threat to Ant is its competitors. Until 2013 mobile pay was, more or less, Ant’s exclusive domain. But Tencent has used its ubiquitous WeChat app to muscle in, taking nearly a 40% market share. Other firms also have financial ambitions. Meituan, an app known for food delivery, now also offers credit. The financial arm of JD.com, an e-commerce firm, and Lufax, an online wealth-management platform, are on track for IPOs this year.
蚂蚁的另一个威胁来自竞争对手。2013年之前,移动支付基本上是蚂蚁的专属地盘。但腾讯利用其无孔不入的应用微信挤进了这个市场,分去了近40%的市场份额。其他公司也有金融方面的抱负。以外卖递送知名的应用美团现在也提供贷款了。电子商务公司京东的金融部门和在线理财平台陆金所都有望在今年上市。
So far these competitors have a much smaller financial footprint than Ant’s. Partly this is because they do not have the same breadth. Shawn Yang of Blue Lotus, a boutique Chinese investment bank, says that Tencent, for instance, has high-frequency but low-value consumption data, less rich than the trove that Ant has thanks to Alibaba, which accounts for more than half of Chinese online retail sales.
到目前为止,这些竞争对手在金融领域里的足迹远小于蚂蚁。部分原因是它们的业务没有那么广。中国精品投行蓝莲花的杨子潇说,以腾讯为例,它拥有高频但低价值的消费数据,不如蚂蚁的数据那么丰富,后者背靠占据了中国在线零售半壁江山不止的阿里巴巴。
But it is also a matter of business culture. The most controversial episode in Ant’s history came in 2011 when Mr Ma spun it out from Alibaba, without notifying SoftBank and Yahoo, which together held about 70% of Alibaba’s shares back then. Mr Ma explained that Chinese regulations forbade foreigners from owning domestic payments firms, though there may have been work-arounds. Some suspected that he wanted to bring in powerful investors closer to home. Ant’s earliest rounds of fundraising as an independent firm did indeed attract major state-owned enterprises. A stake was also sold to a private equity firm managed by the grandson of Jiang Zemin, China’s paramount leader during Alibaba’s early years.
但这同时也与企业文化有关。蚂蚁历史上最具争议的事件发生在2011年,当时马云将蚂蚁从阿里巴巴剥离出来,却没有通知共持有阿里约70%股份的软银和雅虎。马云解释说这是因为中国的法规禁止外资控股国内支付公司。但原本或许是有一些变通办法的。有些人怀疑他是想引入有影响力的国内投资者。成为独立公司的蚂蚁在早期的几轮融资中确实吸引了大型国有企业。它还向江泽民的孙子管理的一家私募股权公司出售了股份。在阿里巴巴发展的头几年,江泽民是中国的最高领导人。
Yet in retrospect the spin-off has a clear strategic rationale. As a standalone company Ant has had the motivation to explore distant corners of the banking system and act aggressively. An executive with another e-commerce company says that its financial unit worries about making mistakes that might taint the group’s core retail business. Ant, by contrast, has diversified, with less than 10% of its revenues now from Alibaba. For China’s other e-commerce dynamos, its success offers a template. They may be several years behind but the fintech race is far from over.
不过,回过头来看,剥离蚂蚁是有明确的战略依据的。作为一家独立公司,蚂蚁有动力去探索银行系统的非核心领域并激进地采取行动。另一家电子商务公司的一位高管表示,自己公司的金融部门担心犯错,有可能损害集团的核心零售业务。相比之下,蚂蚁已经多元化,现在它的收入只有不到10%来自阿里巴巴。对于中国其他电商巨头来说,蚂蚁的成功提供了一个模板。现在它们可能落后了几年,但金融科技的赛跑还远未结束。
The final danger for Ant has the most global resonance: the nature of its model. Unsecured lending to small borrowers is risky, whichever way it is done. Indeed the coronavirus pandemic has offered a sharp test for Ant. Delinquent loans (more than 30 days past due) issued via its app nearly doubled from 1.5% of its outstanding total in 2019 to 2.9% in July. Yet that is better than most other banks in China. Is that because of Ant’s prowess? Some critics say that it reflects its market power. Given the centrality of Alipay and Alibaba to their operations, few dare to default on Ant loans, worried that a downgraded credit rating may damage other parts of their business.
蚂蚁面临的最后一个威胁最具全球普遍性,那就是它商业模式的特性。无论采用什么方式,向小微借款人提供无担保贷款都有风险。事实上,新冠疫情对蚂蚁造成了严峻的考验。通过其应用发放的拖欠贷款(逾期30天以上的贷款)在2019年占未偿贷款总额的1.5%,到今年7月这一比例几乎翻了一番,达到2.9%。不过这比中国其他大多数银行的情况都要好。这是因为蚂蚁有高超技能吗?一些评论人士说,这反映了蚂蚁的市场影响力。鉴于支付宝和阿里巴巴在很多企业业务中的核心地位,没什么人敢拖欠蚂蚁的贷款,因为担心信用评级被降可能会损害自己的其他业务。
Still, many bankers are persuaded that Ant truly does have an advantage in its analytics. “They don’t need quarterly statements. They see your daily flow of funds. They know who your customer is. They know who your customer’s customer is,” says one. Based on the address for e-commerce deliveries, Ant has more up-to-date information about where someone lives and works than a bank. Based on what that person buys, Ant can work out their income bracket and their habits, preferences and way of life.
不过,许多银行人士相信蚂蚁在分析方面确有优势。“他们不需要看季报。他们看到你每天的资金流向。他们知道你的客户是谁。他们知道你客户的客户是谁。”一位银行人士说。根据电商的送货地址,蚂蚁掌握的有关某个人在哪里生活和工作的最新信息比银行要多。根据这个人购买的商品,它可以计算出其收入等级,以及习惯、偏好和生活方式。 
But according to Hui Chen, a finance professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has worked on research projects with Ant, individual and systemic risks are different. The machine learning that underpins Ant’s algorithms observes individual behaviour again and again, and is then able to detect patterns and anomalies. But if risks do not appear in the historical data—say, a big economic shock—the same machine learning may stumble.
但根据麻省理工学院与蚂蚁一起开展研究项目的金融学教授陈辉的说法,个人风险和系统性风险是两回事。支持蚂蚁算法的机器学习一次又一次地观察个体行为,进而能够检测出模式和异常。但是,如果历史数据中没出现过某些风险(例如巨大的经济冲击),同一套机器学习系统可能就会挫败。
There are also some limitations hard-wired into Ant’s strategy. By design, it aims for high-volume, small-scale borrowers and investors. “Their analytical advantage is most significant with this mass market, where traditional banking models are most inaccessible,” says Mr Chen. Most corporate lending—about 60% of all credit in China—will remain off limits. Ant also has an awkward relationship with banks. It relies on them to fund the loans on its platform, but as it grows it may become a competitor in their eyes. For now that is not much of a concern, given that it focuses on borrowers ignored by banks. But it means that Ant must befriend the very institutions that it once set out to disrupt.
蚂蚁的策略还存在一些固有的局限性。其模式设计是以大量的小额借款人和投资者为目标。“他们的分析优势在这个大众市场上最为显著,传统银行模式最难进入这样的市场。”陈辉说。大多数的企业贷款(约占中国贷款总额的60%)仍将是蚂蚁无法获得的业务。蚂蚁与银行之间的关系也很尴尬。它依靠银行在其平台上为贷款提供资金,但随着它的发展,银行可能会视它为竞争对手。目前这还不是什么大问题,因为蚂蚁关注的是那些被银行忽视的借款人。但这意味着蚂蚁必须与它最初打算颠覆的机构交朋友。
Doubts exist about its investment and insurance platforms, too. Ant has excelled in selling money-market funds to a plethora of retail investors. Moving up the value chain could be harder. “They are great at selling penny products. But that’s not where you make the money in insurance,” says Sam Radwan of Enhance, a consultancy. To close a deal on a valuable, complex policy like a variable annuity, brokers typically speak with consumers several times. “No ordinary customer is going to trust an online broker for something that complicated,” says Mr Radwan.
人们对蚂蚁的投资和保险平台的前景也存在疑虑。蚂蚁擅长将货币市场基金销售给众多散户投资者。往价值链上游发展的路途可能会更艰辛。“他们擅长销售便宜的产品,但保险业不是靠这个赚钱的。”咨询公司Enhance的山姆·拉德万(Sam Radwan)说。为达成一项高价值的复杂的保单(如可变年金)交易,保险经纪通常会与消费者多次交流。“一般客户买这么复杂的保险时不会信任在线经纪。”拉德万说。
Doing the jitterbug
令人不安的舞步
Ant’s global ambitions are also running into problems beyond its control. It has stakes in around ten different fintech companies in Asia, such as Paytm in India. Boosters once imagined a world connected by Ant, its credit-to-investment architecture straddling borders. The first blow to that vision came in 2018 when America blocked Ant’s acquisition of MoneyGram, a money-transfer firm, which would have established Ant as a force in global remittances. Security concerns over Ant have increased as China’s foreign policy has become more aggressive. Little wonder that Ant plans to devote just a tenth of its IPO proceeds to cross-border expansion.
蚂蚁的全球野心也遇到了超出它自身掌控的问题。它持有印度的Paytm等约十家亚洲不同的金融科技公司的股份。蚂蚁的支持者曾想象过一个由蚂蚁连接起来的世界,它从信贷到投资的架构跨越国界。这一愿景在2018年受到了第一次打击,当时美国阻止了蚂蚁对汇款公司速汇金(MoneyGram)的收购,本来这项交易会让蚂蚁成为全球汇款领域里不可忽视的力量。随着中国的外交政策变得越发激进,对蚂蚁安全问题的担忧也增加了。蚂蚁计划仅将其IPO融资的十分之一用于跨境扩张也就不足为奇了。
Despite all these limitations, one lesson from Ant’s decade in existence is that future possibilities remain vast. Ms Li of Invesco gushes about her fund-management firm’s mini-site within the Alipay app, one of the tens of thousands of separate sections that constitute the Ant ecosystem. In September Invesco hosted a live-stream on the mini-site to discuss its market outlook. More than 700,000 tuned in—just one example of how Ant has become the main doorway into the financial system for tens of millions of people. And for all those who have walked through it, many more have not. Ant will soon know where they live, how much they earn and what they want. It is coming for them.
尽管存在所有这些局限性,但从蚂蚁的十年历史中可以得出的一个经验就是未来仍有无限可能。景顺长城的李黎对自己的基金管理公司在支付宝应用中的财富号大加赞赏,这是构成蚂蚁生态系统的数以万计的独立部分之一。9月,景顺长城在这个财富号上做了一场讨论市场展望的直播。70多万人观看了这场直播——这只是蚂蚁成为千百万人进入金融体系的一个主要入口的例子之一。而相比已经通过这个入口的人流,还有多得多的人尚在门外。蚂蚁很快就会知道他们住在哪里、赚多少钱、想要什么。它正向他们行进。

三、经济学人杂志双语文章中文译文

蚁后
中国的金融科技巨头新贵是否代表了金融的未来?【深度报道】 
在沉闷传统的中国银行业,很少会有高管公开发表批评言论。 因此,电子商务巨头阿里巴巴的创始人马云在2008年抱怨中小企业贷款难时,就登上了新闻头条。他说:“如果银行不改变,我们就改变银行。”从那以后,他没有再发出这样的警示。他不需要了。
马云已经通过蚂蚁集团对中国的金融体系产生了深远的影响。蚂蚁最初是阿里巴巴的一项支付服务,它帮助中国晋升为数字交易领域里的全球领导者,让企业家和消费者获得贷款的机会大增,并改变了人们的理财方式。现在它自身已长成一个巨头。在过去一年中,它的活跃用户超过10亿。去年,它处理了110万亿元的支付交易,是中国以外最大的在线支付平台的近25倍(见图表1)。 
过几周蚂蚁就要上市,见证它的成长。预计它将融资超过300亿美元,让沙特阿美( )去年的史上最大规模相形见绌。这象征着世界从一个以石油为最具价值资源的世纪进入数据至上的时代。蚂蚁的远期市盈率为40倍,与全球大型支付公司相当,因此其市值可能超过3000亿美元,超过世界上任何一家银行。
比其规模更重要的是蚂蚁代表什么。它在全球的重要性超过其他任何中国金融机构。中国的银行受国企身份的拖累,规模庞大但效率低下。相比之下,外国的金融家对蚂蚁充满好奇、艳羡和焦虑。据说白宫的一些鹰派人士想约束蚂蚁或阻碍它的。蚂蚁是世界上最全面的金融科技平台:可以把它想象成 (离线支付)、(在线支付)、(转账)、万事达卡(信用卡)、摩根大通(消费金融)和(投资)的结合体,外加保险经纪业务,全都整合在一款移动应用里。
鉴于中国有海量消费者数据,并且对数据使用的管理措施相对宽松,与其他地方的金融科技同行相比,蚂蚁有更多数据资源。它的信用风险模型包含了3000多个变量,其自动化系统可在三分钟内决定是否发放贷款——要不是阿里巴巴已展示出每秒处理54.4万笔订单的能力,这个说法可能让人难以置信。简言之,蚂蚁完完全全就是世界上一个证明数字金融的巨大潜力的例子。但随着它进一步发展,它也可能为数字金融的局限性做出警示。
从一个看似简单的问题开始:蚂蚁是什么?在作为一家独立公司的十年里,它曾三度更名:先是阿里巴巴电子商务有限公司,然后是蚂蚁小微金融服务集团,再到蚂蚁集团。它曾经自称金融科技领导者。后来,为更能体现它的重点,马云把金融科技这个表述改成了科技金融。蚂蚁极力想让自己区别于纯粹的金融公司,已经让一些经纪公司指派科技板块分析师来研究它。(当然了,科技股的估值要比银行股高很多,这一点也是有利的。)
但毫无疑问,蚂蚁的核心是金融。最能清楚理解其商业模式的方法是看它的四个收入来源。首先是支付,这是蚂蚁靠之起家的业务,现在仍然是它的根基。2004年创立蚂蚁是为了解决一个问题。当时顾客和商家大量涌向阿里巴巴,但缺乏可信赖的付款方式。支付宝由此诞生,它作为第三方托管帐户,在买家收到商品后再把钱转给卖家。随着移动版支付宝的推出,它进入了线下世界,2011年推出的支付二维码更是加速了它的成长。店铺老板只需要打印二维码摆出来即可收款,这对以前一直依赖现金的中国来说是一大进步。
在整个中国,数字交易额从2010年的不到一万亿元增长到2019年的201万亿元。支付宝的市场份额被腾讯削弱,后者在微信这款中国的主导即时通信应用中添加了支付功能。两家公司在每笔交易上赚取0.1%,低于银行通过借记卡刷卡的收费。但由于交易数量庞大,这笔收入加起来依然可观。去年蚂蚁的支付业务创造了近520亿元的收入。但这一块的增速正在放缓,占蚂蚁总收入的比重从2017年的55%下降到今年上半年的36%。其实,关键在于支付是一个入口,蚂蚁通过它来吸引、了解用户,并最终监控他们。
从所有这些数据中收益最大的是蚂蚁的贷款部门,这是该公司第二个收入来源(从来不吝于使用术语的蚂蚁称之为信贷科技)。蚂蚁从2014年开始提供消费信贷,推出了花呗,为网购提供循环无担保信用额度,基本上就是一种虚拟信用卡。支付宝用户可以接入花呗,延迟一个月付款或分期付款。信用卡在中国从未普及,因此花呗很受欢迎。在此基础上支付宝又推出了借呗,允许用户借更多的钱。蚂蚁还提供贷款,主要面向小微企业。年化利率徘徊在7%至14%之间,低于小额贷款公司的利率。
和蚂蚁的许多客户一样,东部城市东阳的朱一凡从小本生意做起,开了一家兔兔到家便利店。四年前,她和丈夫想自己开家店。因为没什么财产可用作抵押,他们没法从银行贷到款,只能从亲戚朋友那里七拼八凑地借钱。期间他们很偶然地从蚂蚁借了一万块,这是当时他们能借到的最高额度。后来他们还了这第一笔贷款,并在店里让顾客用支付宝付款(让蚂蚁得以了解其现金流状况),朱一帆的信用评分上升了。现在,她在蚂蚁有10万元信用额度,让她可以在客流量大的节假日来临前多上些货。
在不到五年的时间里,蚂蚁的未偿消费贷款就达到了1.7万亿元,约占中国消费贷款市场的15%。蚂蚁对小微企业的贷款总额约达4000亿元,占整个小微企业贷款市场的5%左右。从金融的角度来看,蚂蚁最大的创新就是它为信贷融资的方式。最初,它发放贷款,然后把贷款打包成证券出售给其他金融机构。但监管机构担心这与2007年至2009年金融危机之前的证券化热潮有相似之处,要求证券的原始权益人和银行一样持有资本,这项规定削弱了蚂蚁的利润。
蚂蚁于是想出了一个新办法。现在它会识别和评估借款人,但接下来会把他们推荐给银行,由银行发放贷款。蚂蚁收取“技术服务费”。对于借款人而言,整个过程是无缝衔接的。他们只需在智能手机上点几下,就可以看到贷款申请是被批准还是拒绝了。蚂蚁最终形成了一个现金充裕又轻资产的贷款模式。全部贷款的98%是由其他公司作为资产持有的。贷款已成为蚂蚁最大的单一业务部门,占今年上半年收入的39%(见图表2)。 
蚂蚁平台的优势赋能了它的第三和第四个业务部门:资产管理和保险(用蚂蚁的术语叫投资科技和保险科技)。蚂蚁在2013年推出余额宝,启动了资产管理业务。它的想法是,支付宝账户中有现金的商家或顾客可以购入货币市场基金以获得少量回报。这吸引了人们把余额宝单纯用于存储现金之用,因为它的收益率(现在约为1.7%)高于银行活期账户的利率。到2017年,余额宝已成长为全球规模最大的货币市场基金。
蚂蚁扩大了服务范围,成为中国最强大的投资分销渠道之一。如今有170家公司在蚂蚁的平台上销售6000多种产品,比如股票和债券基金。这些公司通过蚂蚁的应用总共管理着约4.1万亿元的资产。与贷款业务一样,蚂蚁会筛选潜在客户并将他们导流到产品,然后收取服务费。“我们在蚂蚁上的增长比在任何其他数字平台都要快。”景顺长城基金管理公司的副总经理李黎说。她的公司有两只货币市场基金从2018年初开始在蚂蚁上销售,管理的资产规模已经从当时的6.65亿元飙升到今年6月的1140亿元。
蚂蚁进军保险业要更晚一些。过去十年里,它为在阿里巴巴上的网购提供运费险,不满意的客户可以免费退货。但它直到最近两年才将自己的资产管理模式用到保险上。它与大型保险公司合作,推出了寿险、车险和医疗保险,同样是作为分销平台收取服务费。资产管理和保险这两块现在构成了它总收入的近四分之一。
单看数字,蚂蚁似乎势不可挡。它在每个目标市场上都有令人眼花的增长速度。它得益于科技业常见的网络效应:人们用它越多,它对更多借款人、放贷人和投资者的吸引力就越大。这是一个良性循环,对蚂蚁的股东而言更是如此。然而,仍有三方面的风险可能使蚂蚁的发展放缓:监管、竞争,以及它自身的商业模式所固有的风险。
中国的监管环境变化莫测。官员不停歇地调整针对银行和投资者的规则,修补快速增长但负债累累的经济中出现的漏洞。许多人从很久以前就认为,在国家控制的系统中,政府能给蚂蚁这家民营企业的自由空间也就这么多了。
确实,监管机构已经在蚂蚁的发展道路上设置过诸多障碍。它首次尝试推出虚拟信用卡被叫停。严控信贷证券化打乱了它的贷款模式。政府标准化二维码的计划可能会削弱它的支付业务,进而削弱其市场主导地位。另一项将于11月生效的新规将迫使蚂蚁持有更多资本。
但是,如果所有这些障碍都是为了阻止蚂蚁前行,那么它们并未成功。因此还有另一种解释。监管部门对金融创新的隐患保持警惕,因而不断在蚂蚁周围设置安全护栏。不过总的来说,它们还是喜欢蚂蚁的。它不仅将信贷导向小用户和小微企业,还向政府提供了更多有关资金流动的信息。写过一本马云传记的邓肯•克拉克( )引用一句老话“山高皇帝远”来形容监管部门长期以来难以监视中国全部的角角落落。“蚂蚁基本上已经让北京在山上打通了隧道,在山顶上放飞无人机。”他说。
蚂蚁的另一个威胁来自竞争对手。2013年之前,移动支付基本上是蚂蚁的专属地盘。但腾讯利用其无孔不入的应用微信挤进了这个市场,分去了近40%的市场份额。其他公司也有金融方面的抱负。以外卖递送知名的应用美团现在也提供贷款了。电子商务公司京东的金融部门和在线理财平台陆金所都有望在今年上市。
到目前为止,这些竞争对手在金融领域里的足迹远小于蚂蚁。部分原因是它们的业务没有那么广。中国精品投行蓝莲花的杨子潇说,以腾讯为例,它拥有高频但低价值的消费数据,不如蚂蚁的数据那么丰富,后者背靠占据了中国在线零售半壁江山不止的阿里巴巴。
但这同时也与企业文化有关。蚂蚁历史上最具争议的事件发生在2011年,当时马云将蚂蚁从阿里巴巴剥离出来,却没有通知共持有阿里约70%股份的软银和雅虎。马云解释说这是因为中国的法规禁止外资控股国内支付公司。但原本或许是有一些变通办法的。有些人怀疑他是想引入有影响力的国内投资者。成为独立公司的蚂蚁在早期的几轮融资中确实吸引了大型国有企业。它还向江泽民的孙子管理的一家私募股权公司出售了股份。在阿里巴巴发展的头几年,江泽民是中国的最高领导人。
不过,回过头来看,剥离蚂蚁是有明确的战略依据的。作为一家独立公司,蚂蚁有动力去探索银行系统的非核心领域并激进地采取行动。另一家电子商务公司的一位高管表示,自己公司的金融部门担心犯错,有可能损害集团的核心零售业务。相比之下,蚂蚁已经多元化,现在它的收入只有不到10%来自阿里巴巴。对于中国其他电商巨头来说,蚂蚁的成功提供了一个模板。现在它们可能落后了几年,但金融科技的赛跑还远未结束。
蚂蚁面临的最后一个威胁最具全球普遍性,那就是它商业模式的特性。无论采用什么方式,向小微借款人提供无担保贷款都有风险。事实上,新冠疫情对蚂蚁造成了严峻的考验。通过其应用发放的拖欠贷款(逾期30天以上的贷款)在2019年占未偿贷款总额的1.5%,到今年7月这一比例几乎翻了一番,达到2.9%。不过这比中国其他大多数银行的情况都要好。这是因为蚂蚁有高超技能吗?一些评论人士说,这反映了蚂蚁的市场影响力。鉴于支付宝和阿里巴巴在很多企业业务中的核心地位,没什么人敢拖欠蚂蚁的贷款,因为担心信用评级被降可能会损害自己的其他业务。
不过,许多银行人士相信蚂蚁在分析方面确有优势。“他们不需要看季报。他们看到你每天的资金流向。他们知道你的客户是谁。他们知道你客户的客户是谁。”一位银行人士说。根据电商的送货地址,蚂蚁掌握的有关某个人在哪里生活和工作的最新信息比银行要多。根据这个人购买的商品,它可以计算出其收入等级,以及习惯、偏好和生活方式。 
但根据麻省理工学院与蚂蚁一起开展研究项目的金融学教授陈辉的说法,个人风险和系统性风险是两回事。支持蚂蚁算法的机器学习一次又一次地观察个体行为,进而能够检测出模式和异常。但是,如果历史数据中没出现过某些风险(例如巨大的经济冲击),同一套机器学习系统可能就会挫败。
蚂蚁的策略还存在一些固有的局限性。其模式设计是以大量的小额借款人和投资者为目标。“他们的分析优势在这个大众市场上最为显著,传统银行模式最难进入这样的市场。”陈辉说。大多数的企业贷款(约占中国贷款总额的60%)仍将是蚂蚁无法获得的业务。蚂蚁与银行之间的关系也很尴尬。它依靠银行在其平台上为贷款提供资金,但随着它的发展,银行可能会视它为竞争对手。目前这还不是什么大问题,因为蚂蚁关注的是那些被银行忽视的借款人。但这意味着蚂蚁必须与它最初打算颠覆的机构交朋友。
人们对蚂蚁的投资和保险平台的前景也存在疑虑。蚂蚁擅长将货币市场基金销售给众多散户投资者。往价值链上游发展的路途可能会更艰辛。“他们擅长销售便宜的产品,但保险业不是靠这个赚钱的。”咨询公司的山姆•拉德万( )说。为达成一项高价值的复杂的保单(如可变年金)交易,保险经纪通常会与消费者多次交流。“一般客户买这么复杂的保险时不会信任在线经纪。”拉德万说。
令人不安的舞步
蚂蚁的全球野心也遇到了超出它自身掌控的问题。它持有印度的等约十家亚洲不同的金融科技公司的股份。蚂蚁的支持者曾想象过一个由蚂蚁连接起来的世界,它从信贷到投资的架构跨越国界。这一愿景在2018年受到了第一次打击,当时美国阻止了蚂蚁对汇款公司速汇金()的收购,本来这项交易会让蚂蚁成为全球汇款领域里不可忽视的力量。随着中国的外交政策变得越发激进,对蚂蚁安全问题的担忧也增加了。蚂蚁计划仅将其融资的十分之一用于跨境扩张也就不足为奇了。
尽管存在所有这些局限性,但从蚂蚁的十年历史中可以得出的一个经验就是未来仍有无限可能。景顺长城的李黎对自己的基金管理公司在支付宝应用中的财富号大加赞赏,这是构成蚂蚁生态系统的数以万计的独立部分之一。9月,景顺长城在这个财富号上做了一场讨论市场展望的直播。70多万人观看了这场直播——这只是蚂蚁成为千百万人进入金融体系的一个主要入口的例子之一。而相比已经通过这个入口的人流,还有多得多的人尚在门外。蚂蚁很快就会知道他们住在哪里、赚多少钱、想要什么。它正向他们行进。