Business of Payments
FIS has given an update on the rescue operation following its catastrophic $43bn acquisition of Worldpay in 2019. Worldpay will be spun off into a joint-venture with GTCR, a Chicago based private equity fund, at a valuation of $18bn. You may have noticed $25bn missing. This is a loss to FIS shareholders for which nobody has apologised.
One of the key reasons for the collapse in Worldpay’s valuation is that when FIS bought the business, it was growing sales at about .9%. However, starved of funds under FIS’s ownership, Worldpay hasn’t been able to keep up with high-spending competitors such as Adyen, Stripe, Checkout and JP Morgan. The result: revenue was up just 1% in Q2, JP Morgan has overtaken Worldpay to the global number one spot and $25bn has disappeared.. More details on the Business of Payments blog.
In Europe, most attention is focused on battles for bank partnerships. In Italy, Banco BPM, advised by Bain Consulting, rejected its current partner, Nexi. Instead, in a surprise move, the Milan bank will merge its merchant services business with that of BCC Pay. The combined group, boasting 370,000 POS and €90bn volume, will claim number two spot in the Italian market and has the scale to compete with Nexi and Worldline.
Two other large European banks are in the process of finding partners for their merchant services arms. In France, Credit Agricole has now signed the agreement with Worldline to start a new JV. The revenue should start to flow in 2025. Again, there was less positive news for Nexi. The closure date for its acquisition of a majority stake in Sabadell’s merchant acquiring business (the second largest in Spain) has been put back six months to the first half of 2024.
Both Worldine and Nexi’s merchant services businesses themselves, seem in good underlying health. Reporting H1 results, Worldine revenue was up 13%. Management said it was still interested in acquiring merchant portfolios from banks. Nexi grew revenue 10% in H1 and is proving adept at realising synergies from the recent mergers with SIA, Nets and Concardis. It has decommissioned five of 25 processing platforms, says it’s on track to close another five in H2 and, longer term, to reduce the number to just four.
PagoNxt, Santander’s payment business, is also doing well. Volume was up 22% in Q2with increases recorded in all major markets in Europe and Latin America.
In contrast, Barclays, the UK’s second largest acquirer, reported disappointing acquiring volume growth at Barclaycard Merchant Services. Insiders suggest the bank is struggling to bring modern payment products to market and is rumoured to be considering divesting its acquiring division.
We’ve reported previously on the challenging market conditions for pure-play eCommerce gateways. It’s no surprise that privately owned Computop, which claims 30% of the German eCommerce market, has sold a 30% stake to Nexi. There is strategic logic for Nexi which already owns Concardis, Germany’s largest acquirer. Computop’s volume processed fell from €34bn in 2021 to €30bn in 2022. The decline is partly due the company’s decision to exit the gambling/adult sectors but also indicates competitive pressure from Adyen, Checkout and Stripe.
The decline in value of German payment assets was underlined by KKR’s decision to hand Unzer (formally HeidelPay) to its creditors, writing off most of its $668m investment. KKR acquired a majority stake in Heidelpay, a PSP with about 17% of the German eCommerce market, in 2019. Unzer was recently in trouble with BAFIN, the German financial regulator, due to “serious defects” in its risk processes.
US based Shift4 still hasn’t concluded its acquisition of
Credorax Finaro, a European processor. First announced in March 2022, the deal hit regulatory obstacles linked to a sanctioned Russian oligarch on the Finaro share register. Management says it is confident of closing the deal in Q4.
Ryan Reynolds is a much better proposition as shareholder. After taking an undisclosed stake in Nuvei, a Canadian processor with global ambitions, the actor is fronting a witty and self-deprecating brand advertising campaign. Reynolds’ investment is already under water. Nuvei’s stock fell 39% after disappointing Q2 results.
Rapyd, the London based global “fintech as a service” provider, has paid $610m for the slowest growing and least profitable parts of the sprawling PayU empire. The purchase price will be financed by a fresh capital injection into Rapyd in what the company claims could be the largest Fintech fundraise of 2023. Arik Shtilman, CEO, took to LinkedIn to explain the rationale. “If you don’t aim for a big outcome, you won’t get an outsized return,” he says. More details on the Business of Payments blog.
We reported last month that Toast, a leading US restaurant software vendor with integral payment processing, had shocked its merchants by adding a $0.99c service charge to each bill. The fee would have been paid by diners and provide Toast with free money at 100% gross margin. The company has now back tracked with its CEO recognising “we made the wrong decision.”
Shift4, with time on its hands waiting for the Finaro deal to close, responded with a clever “Don’t get Toasted” campaign.
Two small French payment companies reported good results. HiPay, an omni-channel PSP quoted on Euronext, grew volumes 14% to €4bn in H1 with revenues up 19%. Business picked up in southern Europe and in the iGaming segment. Lemonway, which provides specialist payment services to marketplaces, broke even in H1 as revenues surged 90% to €14m.
Synch Payments, an attempt by a consortium of Irish banks to produce a domestic mobile money transfer app to rival Revolut, has been delayed once more. Again, it’s Nexi supplying the technology.
Many domestic schemes co-brand with Discover to access a global acceptance network. Surprisingly, 3rd party volume over the Discover Global Network fell 10% in Q2. New management at DGN will be looking to reboot its proposition.
While autonomous stores are gaining traction across Europe, Amazon, which invented the technology, is struggling. According to the RTHI blog, Amazon’s stores are in the wrong place, have the wrong products, cost too much to build and are confusing for customers. For example, you can now checkout by tapping your physical payment card but not with Apple/Google Pay. Or with Amex. The stores don’t even accept Amazon gift cards.
Customer satisfaction with traditional self-checkouts is falling. Shoppers resent the ongoing reduction in staffed checkout. With autonomous stores so expensive, smart carts may provide a cheaper and more flexible compromise. Here’s a good round up from Forbes on the state of play. Kroger, the US grocer, says smart cart shoppers spend less time in store but spend more money. Everyone’s a winner.
Shoppers are returning to local stores. As expected, once confronted with the true economic cost of rapid grocery deliveries, people are willing to walk to the shops just like it’s 2019. The last mile delivery specialists are disappearing one by one. Getir is the latest to urgently need more cash to keep trading. Maybe robot deliveries are the answer.
Fans of biometric payments will be delighted that Amazon is rolling out Amazon One, its palm payment product, to 500 US Wholefood stores by the end of this year. Amazon says the technology has been used 1m times to date with zero false positives and is ideal for high volume locations such as stadiums. Shoppers first need to visit an Amazon One location where they can scan their palm and link it with their Amazon account.
Palm payments are no more convenient for shoppers than Apple/Google Pay. But there is clear benefit to Amazon of capturing extra customer data and/or being able to steer transactions to lower cost payment methods.
While Amazon can probably be trusted to keep your data safe, other vendors may not be so reliable. For example Worldcoin, a San Francisco-based start-up, is creating a global identity database founded on iris scanning and secured $115m funding in May this year. Its focus has been mainly on developing countries such as Kenya, in which Worldcoin has been asking people to agree to having their eyeballs scanned in return for $50 in tokens on the blockchain. What could possibly go wrong? Bain Capital is one of the VCs which should know better than be mixed up in this madness.
Legacy acquirer like Worldpay and Barclaycard need to make rapid product investments to keep up with the new capabilities showcased by Adyen, Checkout and Stripe.
Optimised checkout is a great example. This uses AI to configure checkout pages with the best selection of payment brands, ensures that transactions contain the correct data and optimises routing to maximise acceptance or minimise cost. Stripe claims merchants moving to its optimised checkout grew sales revenue 10.5% more than a control group which stayed on the old product. Checkout says its Intelligent Acceptance product increased acceptance rates by up to 9.5ppts. Early customers include Klarna.
Checkout.com has also launched Identity Verification which, it says, uses AI to identify individuals within 120 seconds as they video themselves holding up identity documents. Uber Eats is an early customer.
Adyen announced Data Connect for Marketing which helps merchants identify their in-store customers. Retailers used to this themselves before PCI regulations banned them from storing customers’ card details in their own systems. Impressively, Adyen is also the first Fintech to join FedNow, the new US instant interbank payment network.
Away from the global processors, Cashflows, a UK eCommerce acquirer, has added a range of Castles POS terminals as part of omni-channel proposition to its ISV and ISO distribution partners. This is a smart move. New UK regulation has outlawed lengthy POS terminal rental contracts but were connected to one of the 14 largest acquirers. Cashflows is not one of the 14 and so will be an attractive option for ISOs looking to continue business as usual.
In case you’re wondering what counts as a POS terminal in UK law, the regulator says this is “an electronic device that a merchant uses to accept a card in a card-present transaction without the need to connect to a smartphone or tablet.” This excludes the typical mPOS propositions from SumUp and others although these devices are normally sold to merchants, not rented.
Far Eastern tourists are back in Paris to shop and the top retailers know they need to offer their favourite ways to pay. Printemps, a leading department store, has integrated Alipay+ into its POS checkout flow. Alipay+ also gives access to Kakao Pay (South Korea), GCash (Philippines), Touch ‘n Go (Malaysia) and TrueMoney (Thailand).
Visa appears to have built its own Blik competitor in Poland, called Visa Mobile. ING, Nest and SGB banks have enabled this within their mobile banking applications.Shoppers just enter their mobile phone number into a merchant checkout page and authorise the transaction in the mobile app.
Fuel cards are commonly issued to staff who drive company vehicles but there’s always a risk of fraud or misuse. A new idea from CarIQ uses vehicle data as a sort of biometric ID. Linked to a virtual card, the vehicle pays for its own fuel, without the driver needing to sign for the gas. CarlQ has just signed a global partnership with Visa.
Access to cash
As cash usage declines, a growing number of merchants are only accepting digital payment. This presents problems in societies where some citizens don’t have access to electronic money. But cash-free stores are also enraging many of the people already angry about vaccines, traffic restrictions, 5G masts and sundry other inevitable aspects of modern life.
Piers Corbyn, a notorious conspiracy theorist, posted a video of himself trying to pay cash at a cash-free Aldi store. It didn’t end well. Lobby for cash if you want, but be careful of the company you keep.
If cash is to be preserved, public policy needs to address the fact that the less cash is used, the more expensive it gets. For example UK convenience stores often host ATM machines with the retailer receiving a commission of 15p per withdrawal. One store reports transactions down 70% at a “free” ATM. The result: the retailer is not making enough revenue and is switching to an ATM that charges customers a withdrawal fee. The likely outcome is that transactions will fall further.
Meanwhile, in Germany where cash is still plentiful, 496 ATMs were blown up by criminals last year who got away with a total of €30m in bank notes.
SoftPOS has only been available on Android so news of the European launch of Apple’s “Tap to Pay” on iPhone made the headlines. Apple’s SoftPOS is based on the $100m acquisition of Montreal-based Mobeewave in 2020. Architected differently to Android SoftPOS, Apple offers an SDK to developers/PSPs allowing them to build payment acceptance capability into their own iPhone apps.
With Apple SoftPOS, there’s still a need for an acquirer (or payment facilitator) to process the transactions but no obvious role for the specialist payment app/gateway providers such as MyPinPad or Phos. Happily for the SoftPOS start-ups, the Android market is large enough to keep them all busy for some time.
In Android product news, Oona, a Finnish start-up, has some interesting enterprise SoftPOS ideas such as this kiosk, for which Rubean provided the payment application. Getnet (Santander) has launched SoftPOS in Spain although only for larger business customers. Finally, Worldine is now live with SoftPOS in Italy via its new Banco Desio partnership supported by a clever TV commercial.
Natwest, which has modestly taken the URL www.bankofapis.com, commissioned a report to identify the key obstacles holding back the wider adoption of Open Banking. It concludes the problems lie in “lack of commercial incentives” to develop or enhance the core APIs and “lack of alignment between.. .banks.” Or as Nick Dunse, former CMO of Pay with Bolt wrote on LinkedIn, “Nobody is leading it and there’s no money in it.”
Some Fintech lobbyists are asking the regulator to lead by expanding the number of services available but Oliver Wyman, the management consultant, thinks its time for banks to introduce financial incentives for themselves by monetising the APIs. The consultants suggest that a typical bank could make $50-$75m per annum if it charged PSPs for value added services linked to the open banking APIs.
Variable recurring payments (VRP) – an open banking equivalent to direct debits – were meant kick start the sector in 2023 but have also been rather slow to take off. Here’s a good podcast from Edgar Dunn which explains how VRPs work and what the opportunities might be.
In corporate news, NuaPay, an early open banking leader may be for sale. Its parent company, Senteniel, was acquired by EML, the accident prone Australian fintech for €70m in 2021. Account to account payments are meant to be hard to spoof but Senteniel was then hit by A$8.5m merchant fraud in August 2022. Now the Irish regulator has raised anti-money laundering concerns and asset sales look likely.
Banked, a London based white label API aggregator which has raised £36m from investors including Bank of America and NAB, reported revenues of just £45K in 2022 as losses widened to £15m. Management says it will need to raise fresh capital this year
Munich-based Ivy has raised €7m for “instant bank payments your customers love.” It sits on top of Tink, TrueLayer or Token.io and looks like a very well thought-through proposition. Merchants need vendors to build compelling customer experiences on top of the raw capabilities provided by the API aggregators so this could be a winner.
PayPal is hoping to legitimise crypto with its newly minted Paypal dollars but opinion is divided. Bank of America thinks PayPal is unlikely to win significant crypto market share but I suspect its analysts are missing the point. PayPal will focus on customer experience, global deployment, and ease of use in a sector notorious for operational complexity. If PayPal can’t make this work, nobody can.
Meanwhile, the regulatory clampdown on unbacked crypto is bringing results. Sex workers are complaining that crypto exchanges have been terminating their accountsciting reputational risk. One adult star left with a pile of unsaleable crypto tokens said “the whole ‘crypto is permissionless and censorship-resistant’ thing is a bunch of bullshit.”
With crypto exchanges now behaving (slightly) more like respectable institutions, the criminals are moving on. Bitcoin is no longer the currency of choice for laundering money.
No criminal could possibly need the new “No KYC Visa card” available to anyone with an Ethereum wallet. Jason Mikula explains that this wholly noncompliant boondoggle is most likely built on banking-as-a-service capabilities from Stripe.
Edgar Dunn writes on payment orchestration platforms (POPs). The consulting company counts 27 multi-acquirer platforms available today plus eight acquirers marketing their eCommerce gateways as orchestration platforms. The sector has attracted over $650m investment in recent years.
It’s helpful occasionally to remind ourselves of the difference in commerce between the US and Europe. Watch this report on the world’s largest gas station. It has 120 pumps and is in Tennessee. Where else?
Research from Justt shows UK consumers are “now as trigger happy toward chargebacks” as their American cousins.
Poland is a fintech hotbed. There are over 80 payment businesses referenced in the 2023 Map of Polish Fintech.
If you want to become a wealthy payments sales person, here’s a handy guide from the US Electronic Transaction Association. Because independent sales agents are rewarded with small but long-lasting commission payments, the best advice is to be patient and love your customers.
The British Government has launched (yet another) Future of Payments Reviewalthough without clearly stating the problem it is trying to solve. No matter. The UK Payment Association has a handy survey for you to give your views.
What if generative AI turned out to be a dud? A must read from Gary Marcus
Sifted lists nine payments start-ups to watch. Four are from the UK and two from the Netherlands.
The collapse of Railsr has caused havoc at Irish shopping centres, many of whom had sold open-loop gift cards issued by UAB Payrnet, a Ralisr subsidiary whose licence was revoked by the Lithuanian regulator.
Latest Wirecard news. Two ex-employees have been jailed in Singapore, the first criminal convictions anywhere in the world relating to the scandal. Meanwhile, Jan Marsalek, the fugitive COO, has claimed that Wirecard’s third party operations, whose existence or lack of existence, brought down the company, have continued to trade.
Worldline kindly invited me to join its Navigating Digital Payments podcast. If you’ve enjoyed this newsletter, give it a listen. Although I was certainly flattered to be asked to participate, my head isn’t normally this large.