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Alibaba enlists British start-ups to provide trade financing

BritCham / CBBC
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Global Times, 11/03/15


Alibaba Group Holding has enlisted two UK start-ups to provide financing for small British businesses looking to buy from Chinese suppliers, aiming to help cash-strapped firms access the Chinese economy.
The partnerships with iwoca and ezbob announced by Alibaba on Wednesday are a first for the Chinese company in Europe, and are intended to provide short-term working capital to businesses that otherwise would have trouble securing funds from banks.
Alibaba's British arrangement is similar to its recently announced tie-up with LendingClub Corp in the US.
British firms looking to source cheap components or goods from Chinese suppliers apply for credit online; the start-ups review their business track records, tax returns and other data; then provide a swift decision.
"We want to make financing as easy as possible for the millions of British companies that do business through alibaba.com," said Wei Duan, Alibaba.com's European marketing and business development director.
Unlike LendingClub, a peer-to-peer loans matching service, ezbob and iwoca would provide the financing themselves. They already lend to Amazon.com and eBay merchants.
Ezbob is the trading name for Orange Money. The 4-year-old company is backed by the British government's Angel CoFund and its loans are guaranteed by the EU. Iwoca, or "instant working capital," has secured financing from investors including Global Founders Capital and Redline Capital.
Both will be providing micro-loans of 50,000 pounds ($75,315) and up to qualified firms, at anticipated interest rates of 0.75 percent to 2 percent monthly. Iwoca Chief Executive Officer Christoph Rieche said in a statement he expects to finance 100 million pounds of deals over the next 12 months. Funds are channeled directly to Chinese suppliers.
Britain is one of Alibaba's major markets, primarily for business-to-business goods sourcing on alibaba.com. The Chinese company derives the lion's share of its revenue from retail platforms Taobao and Tmall, but it got its start supporting small businesses with alibaba.com, which Jack Ma Yun co-founded out of his Hangzhou apartment in 1999.
The service is used by businesses on the lookout for cheap products and services from China, ranging from manufacturing to components in bulk.
Its executives have said they are looking for similar providers to extend financing beyond the US to major markets such as Germany and Canada.
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