Ant Group announced on Tuesday that it will close Xianghubao, a crowdfunded medical insurance service popular with its Chinese users.
After January 28, the online mutual aid program will be discontinued, and existing users will be able to buy regulated commercial health insurance products on Ant Group's platform, with coverage supplied by PICC Life Insurance Co. or Sunshine Life Insurance.
The move comes as the Chinese government continues to strengthen its control over the financial technology industry.
“In the past year, the mutual-aid industry has undergone significant changes,” Xianghubao’s notice to users said, adding that it is winding down “in order to protect the rights and interests of all participants in the longer run.”
In September 2020, China's banking and insurance authority cautioned that mutual aid programs run by various Chinese internet businesses had insurance-like characteristics but were not overseen as such, posing hazards to people and the companies themselves.
Tech giants, including Baidu, JD.com, Meituan, and Xiaomi, have their own mutual aid platforms, however they have all been shut down since this year.
Xianghubao was first launched in 2018 with insurance company TrustLife's participation, then Ant expelled the insurance firm and manages the business on its own. Since it lacks an insurance firm to serve as the underwriter, Xianghubao is a mutual aid organization rather than an insurance service.
It requires zero signup fee and gives members the chance to get as much as $45,000 for life-threatening injuries or illnesses. Members have had to contribute as little as one cent to each claim.
Xianghubao and other mutual aid platforms are popular in China’s low- and middle-income rural communities, where quality medical care can be scarce.
Currently, Xianghubao is the world’s largest mutual aid platform, with roughly 180,000 people receiving aid through the platform since its debut.
After regulators put the brakes on Ant Group’s initial public offering (IPO) in November 2020, Xianghubao has witnessed a decline in memberships. Over the last year, its membership has dropped from a peak of 106 million to 91 million early this year.