Billionaire Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., arrives on stage to speak during the company’s inaugural Gateway ‘17 conference in Detroit, Michigan, U.S.

Jack Ma Embraces Blockchain for Ant But Warns of Bitcoin Bubble

(Bloomberg) -- Billionaire Jack Ma has declared Bitcoin a potential bubble, reiterating his caution over the volatile crypto-currency as his Ant Financial on Monday launched blockchain-based money transfers between Hong Kong and the Philippines.

The founder and chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. extolled the possibilities of the decentralized ledger on which Bitcoin is based but warned that the digital currency itself may be driven by torrid speculation. Ma made his comments after officially launching a blockchain-based remittance service with Standard Chartered Plc and GCash, Ant’s venture with the Philippines’ Globe Telecom Inc.

Bitcoin set a 2018 low on Sunday before bouncing back a tad, underscoring the volatility that stems from increased scrutiny by regulators even as global central bankers and business chiefs raise questions about its viability.

“Blockchain technology could change our world more than people imagine,” Ma told reporters in the former British colony, home to a large population of Filipino workers and domestic helpers who send money home regularly. “Bitcoin however could be a bubble.”

Ant Financial, an affiliate of Alibaba’s backed by some of the biggest names in global finance and investment, has explored blockchain technology for years, including to clean up China’s murky charities. But the remittance service marks one of the first instances of the internet giant using the technology in mainstream finance.

On Monday, Ma also took potshots at the traditional banking industry, saying financial institutions were over-charging for overseas payments. Ant Financial, blocked from buying Moneygram International Inc., now wants to build something better and take blockchain-based remittances beyond just Hong Kong to the Philippines. He didn’t elaborate.

“Traditional financial institutions serve 20 percent of people and make 80 percent of profits. New financial institutions should service 80 percent of people, and make 20 percent of profit,” said Ma.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.