On Monday, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard announced that the Federal Reserve would build and operate a real-time payments system for all U.S. banks by 2023 or 2024. As envisioned, the system would allow nearly instant payment system it calls FedNow.
On Tuesday, Mastercard Inc. (NYSE: MA) said it had agreed to acquire most of the Corporate Services division of Danish payment company Nets for approximately $3.19 billion. According to its announcement, Mastercard said the acquisition gives the company “best-in-class real-time payment assets” by complementing the company’s existing technologies, broadening its customer base, leveraging existing assets and creating more end-user applications and value-added services. Nets operates in several European markets, including Norway and Denmark.
This is the company’s fourth acquisition in 2019. Last month Mastercard completed its acquisition of Transfast, a cross-border payment network, following a $57 million acquisition in May of Transactis, a fintech firm that provides billing and payment services to businesses. Those deals came after a March acquisition of Ethoca, a firm that offers a real-time solution to identity theft and fraud. In April 2018, Mastercard acquired Vyze, a company that provides point-of-sale payment options, and in March of last year, the credit card issuer acquired Oltio, a mobile payment firm operating in the Middle East and Africa.
Mastercard chief product and innovation officer, Michael Miebach, said:
The global opportunity for real-time payments is accelerating. This deal strengthens our unique position as the one-stop partner for any bank, merchant or government’s payment needs. The combination with existing Mastercard assets such as Vocalink, Transfast and Transactis delivers real-time payment capabilities, innovation and expertise that are truly differentiated.
Nets Group CEO Bo Nilsson, commented, “Nets has built a strong account-to-account payments platform with a global growth opportunity. However, to fully unlock its international growth potential beyond Nets’ existing geographical footprint requires the capabilities and resources of an established global leader.”
In the United States, the Fed’s announced move into real-time payments is good news for small banks and less-good news for big ones. For small banks have been wary about signing up for the big-bank operated The Clearing House, fearing that their interests would be shunted aside. The big banks argue that the Fed’s involvement will only slow down the development and adoption of a real-time payments system.
In her Kansas City speech Monday, Brainard noted the development of private sector real-time payment programs like Facebook’s Libra that bypass U.S. banks and currency completely. Banking industry website American Banker cited an unnamed “Fed official” who said, “the central bank plans to grant access to its new service only to depository institutions, shutting down the idea that tech giants like Amazon or Google might be able to use the platform to bypass the banking system. If a company that does not have a bank charter wanted access to the Fed’s system, that would require congressional approval, according to the Fed official.”
The world’s financial system changes slowly. The Fed first started talking about a real-time payment system in 2013 and doesn’t plan to have the FedNow system up and running until at least 2023. That’s dog years in the fast-moving, barely regulated fintech industry.
Mastercard is shrewdly looking outside the United States for real-time payment opportunities that it may not be able to establish in a system dominated either by big banks or the Fed. At the same time, the company is positioning itself to remain a player in the U.S. market no matter how real-time payment programs shake out.
The transaction with Nets is expected to be completed in the first half of 2020, subject to regulatory approval and other customary conditions. Mastercard expects the acquisition to be dilutive to earnings for up to 24 months following closing, largely due to purchase accounting and integration costs.
The firm’s stock traded up about 2% late Tuesday morning, at $262.09, in a 52-week range of $171.89 to $283.33. The stock’s 12-month consensus price target is $307.63.