After years of intense competition, Visa Inc. and PayPal Inc. are burying the hatchet. The two companies disclosed they are on "a new path" that will enable Visa cards to gain parity with the automated clearing house (ACH) system in terms of PayPal payment options.
Shortly after it went public in 2002, money transfer service provider PayPal was acquired by eBay Inc., where it charted phenomenal growth as a low-cost, ACH alternative to credit and debit card acceptance for online merchants. In 2015, PayPal was spun off from eBay and became a publicly traded company once again.
PayPal claims 184 million accountholders. During the first quarter of 2016, PayPal reported handling $81.8 billion in transactions, a 31 percent increase over the same period in 2015. As PayPal's business has exploded, however, it has come under increasing fire from Mastercard and Visa because of its practice of steering customers to ACH payments.
According to published reports, Visa Chief Executive Officer Charlie Scharf stated during a recent meeting with analysts that roughly 50 percent of payments PayPal handles clear as ACH items; the remaining 50 percent use credit, debit and prepaid cards, at least some of which are issued as PayPal Mastercards.
"I've been very clear on this one, which is if you are a foe, you're not a friend," Scharf said about PayPal during a May tech conference sponsored by JPMorgan Chase & Co. "The foe part" is that they "do everything in their power" to encourage customers to use the ACH which disintermediates Visa. "We'd love to figure out a different model with them where it's consumer choice first whether or not disintermediating," Scharf said.
Apparently, the two companies have come to an agreement on that model. "The partnership puts PayPal and Visa on a new path, with the companies working more collaboratively to accelerate the adoption of safe, reliable and convenient digital payments for consumers and merchants," Visa said in a July 21, 2016, statement about the partnership.
The arrangement with PayPal includes "economic incentives," like locking in Visa-assessed fees. Acquirers, issuers and financial institutions will benefit too, from more spending, better customer service, lower operational costs and improved security, the two companies said.
"Giving consumers choice in how and where they pay is essential to our goal of being a customer champion, and we welcome the opportunity to work with more partners like Visa who share our vision," said PayPal President and CEO Dan Schulman. Schulman has made several public statements in recent months about his desire to take the company beyond just moving payments. Scharf said Visa is "excited to begin a new chapter with PayPal."
Investor reactions to the news were mixed. PayPal's stock slid 7 percent on July 21. "Our initial take is that this deal exploits the leverage Visa has over PayPal," wrote James Cakmak, of the investment research firm Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co. "Although this removes an ongoing investor concern, we note that there is a risk to margins and profitability with higher credit funding mix without meaningful incremental volume," wrote Colin Sebastian of the investment banking firm Robert W. Baird & Co.
But in the days following, other analysts gave the arrangement a thumbs up, issuing buy ratings for PayPal stock. "We believe this deal could turn an often-acrimonious relationship between PayPal and Visa/card issuers into a beneficial one for all, as it opens opportunities for [PayPal] at the point-of-sale, yields volume-based economic incentives and provides long-term Visa fee certainty," wrote Youssef Squali, an analyst with the investment banking firm Cantor Fitzgerald & Co.
Here is a summary of key provisions of the partnership agreement, as detailed in Visa and PayPal statements:
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