Industry consolidation is not a new phenomenon. Still, the payment sector's increase in mergers and acquisitions over the past decade is noticeable. International acquirers are competing for scale to resist price pressure, fight competition and reduce costs while acquiring merchant portfolios and building direct relationship networks. The recent mergers between FIS/Worldpay, Fiserv/First Data and GlobalPayment/TSYS are some of the larger consolidations in the US and NEXI/SIA/Nets and Worldline/Ingenico are accelerating consolidation in Europe. This is the result of a wave of new companies specialising in e-commerce payment systems and fintech who are challenging traditional banks by harnessing the rise of e-commerce innovation and smartphones as means of payment.
 

 

Consumers’ payment preferences have changed rapidly with the expansion of payment options and that has made merchants look for payment service providers (PSPs) offering an omnichannel approach to payments. Many of these merchants, particularly small and medium enterprises (SMEs), are choosing competitively priced integrated solutions to meet the expectations of more demanding customers. On the supplier side, the proliferation of payment solutions, combined with the increased demand for broader services and competitive prices, is driving PSPs to scale their businesses to keep up with the market.

The M&A wave sweeping over Europe

Since the financial crisis of 2008, the financial services industry in Europe has seen a wave of new (but necessary) regulations such as PSD2 and CBPR2. These new regulations have accelerated the trend of Open Banking and enabled fintech companies to compete with conventional banks by offering targeted financial services such as payments, investments and lending combined with a faster and superior customer experience. Additionally, Covid-19 accelerated digitisation in 2020 as every merchant worldwide required a digital proposition. While smaller businesses may feel neglected at times by their banks, fintechs are building targeted platforms designed to make it easier for SMEs to quickly onboard new customers and accept digital payments. Eventually, some of these platforms will likely apply banking services to accompany their capabilities – either becoming banks themselves or utilising the Open Banking access to existing banks [1].

The growth potential of the payments market over the past decade is the wind in the sails of the current trend for mergers and acquisitions. As consumers demand further payment innovation, merchants seek increasingly specialised service providers with deep knowledge of both payments and technology to increase their conversion rates and sales volumes. To keep up with the development and consumer demand, companies active inpaymentsneed to invest heavily and/or grow their capabilities through mergers and acquisitions in the payments industry.

Some banks have divested their payments businesses because they were unable to sustain and adapt to these new changes. The need to commoditise traditional payment activities like processing and acquiring or gain technical skills and agility to accommodate e- and m-commerce, for example, has only increased with merchants’ demand for omnichannel solutions.

In order to successfully navigate a market where technologies such as NFC, biometrics, wallets, blockchain, chatbots, virtual reality etc. are developing fast, banks need to invest in innovation within their IT platforms and R&D just as new disruptive players such as Adyen (The Netherlands, 2006), Stripe (Ireland, 2009) and Klarna (Sweden, 2005) have done. These companies have shown innovative, organic growth. They have positioned themselves in attractive segments like e- and m-commerce, which have become crucial factors in accommodating increasing customer expectations and security requirements (behavioural scoring, new authentication methodologies, tokenisation). IT integration and data analytics are also increasingly required if banks want to keep up with merchants’ requirements [2].
 

Worldline: the EU consolidator

After Worldline’s annual financial results announcement in Q1 of 2021, the group stated that it would continue to look for consolidation opportunities. On 28 May 2021 Worldline acquired 92.5% of the share capital of Cardlink, the leading Network Services Provider in Greece [3].

Worldline is specifically targeting consolidations that will enhance scale and generate synergies, as in the case of the acquisition of Ingenico, which ticked all the boxes. This acquisition helped Worldline enhance its presence in key verticals such as large retail and in key countries like Germany, Sweden and the UK. It also expanded Worldline’s product offering with the ability to serve global digital players that do not want to handle payments and treasury issues in-house, such as online travel agencies. Consolidation in the payments industry has become an unstoppable trend as more PSPs like Worldline look to build scale to sustain investments, ride an acceleration in digital payment volumes and establish a presence in key European markets [4].
 

What’s next for the payment sector?

The payment sector has seen numerous disruptive fintech innovations over the past couple of years. So far, consumer trust has been the advantage of the incumbents, but that is about to change as consumers find non bank-branded models increasingly trustworthy. This enhanced competition from fintech companies will lead more established PSPs towards consolidation with companies providing more advanced technology.

In the future, PSPs will focus on consolidating with companies that will provide them with tech to support concepts such as checkout-free stores. Here mobile apps play a key role in tracking data derived from shopping as they link the payment back to enrollment and forward crucial data to the PSP that enrolled the consumer. Another sizeable focal point in the payment sector that continues to grow is the payments ecosystems of the big tech players such as Alibaba, Amazon, and Apple, which have billions of global users. In 2019, Amazon hired over 4,500 employees sourced from the top US banks sending a clear message regarding the financial direction of its payments ecosystem going forward. With all of these possibilities for fintechs to compete on the same level as the incumbents in the payments sector, experts predict that the consolidation trend will continue for many years to come [5].
 

PSD2

In 2007, the Payment Services Directive (PSD) created a single market for payments (essentially credit transfers, direct debits, cards) in the European Union and provided the legal foundation for a Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA). Since the creation of the PSD, the digitalisation of the European economy has steadily progressed. New services provided by new players have appeared for online payments but the problem is that they were outside the scope of PSD, and therefore not regulated at EU level. The PSD was updated to PSD2 in order to make payments safer, increase consumers’ protection, foster innovation and competition while ensuring a level playing field for all players, including the new ones [6].

CBPR2

Under CBPR2, charges levied by PSPs for cross-border payments carried out in euros will have to be the same as those for national payments of the same value in the national currency of the Member State in which the PSP is located (can be euros or another currency). By replacing the reference to ‘national payments in the same currency’ with ‘national payments of the same value in the national currency’, in practice lifting the practical barrier of the absence of benchmarking national payment transactions in the Current Regulation, Regulation 2019/518 extends the equality of charge rule to the non-eurozone [7].

 

 

 

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