China’s online mutual aid market: A new battleground for tech giants and startups

Startups spotted the opportunity and tech giants too have entered a market seen tripling by 2025. But profitability is still in doubt amid regulatory uncertainty

When Covid-19 hit China hard in February, Xiang Hu Bao, an online mutual aid platform operated by Alibaba’s financial arm Ant Financial, launched a special program offering a payout of up to RMB 100,000 per person if any of its users died as a result of catching the virus. Unlike the typical online mutual aid programs in China, the payouts in this case would not have to be borne by Xiang Hu Bao participants, but by Ant Financial.

The move impressed many, even those who were not familiar with online mutual aid platforms. Participants in mutual aid platforms crowdfund to pay the medical expenses of a fellow participant, with each member typically paying only dozens of RMB a year, but can get up to RMB 500,000 to pay for treatment of critical diseases.

Xiang Hu Bao, the market leader, was launched in October 2018 and provides its participants with a mutual aid plan covering many types of critical illness, including thyroid cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, critical

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