Ant Financial and the Greening of Fintech
Financial technology, colloquially known as fintech, is the underlying infrastructure of recent global headlines — bitcoin’s dramatic ebbs and flows, the proliferation of mobile bike-sharing, and the growing issues of micro-lending in China. It is ubiquitous in China, and a handful of Chinese companies dominate the space including Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. The fintech boom has certainly re-shaped the way business is done and fashioned societal shifts in China’s consumer market; it is changing behaviors. Can the fintech boom also create opportunities to help spur sustainable development?
Ant Financial, an affiliate of Alibaba, is one clear example of a company using fintech to encourage a greener world. The company is known for its mobile payment platform, Alipay, and for the world’s largest money-market fund, Yu’e Bao. Under the Ant umbrella, Ant Forest is a lesser-known initiative that is poised to make a big wave.
Ant Forest is the world’s first largescale, bottom-up pilot in greening citizens’ consumption behavior through the use digital technology and social media. It is an app that Ant users can voluntarily engage with to reduce their carbon footprint and encourage their social networks to do the same. Users that perform carbon-reducing activities, such as paying bills online or walking to work, relative to a predetermined benchmark, are rewarded “green energy” points. As users accumulate enough points virtually, a real tree is planted. To date, Ant Forest has planted saxauls, willows, and Scots pine trees in Inner Mongolia and Gansu.