Tencent Holdings Ltd pushed into the nation's booming online financial services sector on Thursday as it announced plans to launch a wealth management service on its dominant mobile messaging app WeChat.
The service, called Licaitong, was jointly developed by Tencent and four fund companies, including China Asset Management Co and GF Fund Management Co.
The service, with a minimum investment of just 0.01 yuan ($0.0017), will enable WeChat users to buy and sell money market funds via mobile devices and get higher interest rates than typical banking deposits.
Tencent, China's largest Internet company by revenue, didn't reveal when the service will be officially launched and open to all WeChat users.
It did, however, say that its cooperation with the four fund companies isn't exclusive and it seeks to cooperate with more fund companies.
Sources said Tencent has been working on the service for months after its archrival, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, introduced Yu'E Bao, an investment service, in June 2013 through its e-payment affiliate Alipay.
The tremendous popularity of Yu'E Bao, which reported more than 250 billion yuan under management and 49 million users as of Wednesday, has prompted many Internet companies and fund managers to follow in its path.
Baidu Inc, China's leading search engine, joined forces with China Asset Management Co in October 2013 to launch its first wealth management product, known as Baifa.
Suning Commerce Group Co Ltd earlier this month launched its first online investment service, Lingqian Bao, with GF Fund Management Co and China Universal Asset Management Co Ltd.
Analysts said Licaitong is the strongest competitor so far for Yu'E Bao, which is the largest money market fund in China.
Wang Weidong, an analyst at iResearch Group, a Beijing-based consulting firm, said that given the business model and the huge user base of WeChat, Tencent's offering would be a real challenge to Yu'E Bao.
"The most difficult part in selling wealth management products is to find a large pool of customers. WeChat, which already has more than 400 million registered users and boasts 272 million global monthly active users, is a great gateway to allow fund companies to gain access to potential customers," said Wang.
Chai Bin, a manager of e-business at GF Fund Management Co, told China Daily in an earlier interview: "With the increasing number of netizens in China, there is no better vehicle for reaching these potential clients than the Internet."
He said that more than 90 percent of fund products are currently sold through banks in China.
Despite Tencent's huge user base, analysts said it is still too early to tell whether Licaitong will surpass Yu'E Bao and become the largest online financial service in China.
"Yu'E Bao has already accumulated a large number of customers because it was the first product of its kind in China, which makes it difficult for others to overtake it," said Wang.
But even if Licaitong cannot capture Yu'E Bao's current customers, it still has the potential to become a giant player in the sector, Wang added.
Ding Xuemei, a spokeswoman for Tian Hong Asset Management, which jointly launched Yu'E Bao with Alipay, said her company welcomes Tencent's move. "We are happy to see innovation in the sector, and competition is good for the market's development," said Ding.
The Beijing-based Tian Hong was a nonentity in China's public fund industry before launching Yu'E Bao with Alipay in June 2013.
According to Ding, the company had risen to become the second-largest public fund in China by the end of 2013.