Saturday, April 24, 2010

Visa's acquisition of CyberSource: Potential for growth but not quite a home run

Since going public, Visa's expansion plans had to be well calibrated to not upset a lucrative business while trying to take advantage of upcoming trends.  Visa's M&A considerations ere driven by the following factors:

Ecommerce segment is more lucrative: Prima facie it makes sense.  The interchange rates charged for  credit card payments is around 1.8%.  However, ecommerce merchants pay around 2.5%+$0.30.  This provides payment gateway providers, such as CyberSource revenues of around 70 bps.  This kind of revenue is huge, considering that the financial risk as a payment gateway service provider is minimal.  The percentage revenue to a payment gateway provider in only second to that of an issuer.

Mobile Payments are coming:  They will change the dynamics of merchant acquiring, not in as far as displacing incumbents, but as they are expected to take a significant share of future growth.  This holds true for both developed and emerging economies.

Brick-n-Mortar still rules: While ecommerce and mobile payments have folks gushing, transaction volumes from these sources account for less than 20%.  The bulk of the revenues come from brick-n-mortar stores which Visa wouldn't want to impact.

Visa's decision to acquire CyberSource met these criteria.  Having said that, it is not clear how much of the upside from ecommerce CyberSource can deliver to Visa.  It is interesting to note that CyberSource's revenue per dollar processed is only 22 bps (Revenues of $265M from TPV of $120.4B).  This is pretty small compared to expectations of over 50 bps.  However, CyberSource's TPV per merchant is also a whopping $400K/merchant/year ($120.4B from 300K merchants).  The high number is consistent with CyberSource's clientele of both high-volume retailers and SMB online merchants.  Compare this against PayPal's TPV of over $10,000 per merchant per year ($20.1B/quarter from 8M merchants).

Consequently, the opportunity then for Visa is to increase both revenues per transaction, and revenues per dollar processed.  Additionally, the mobile payments world will be dominated by lower value transactions and smaller/micro merchants which requires the payments service provider to have low acquisition, fixed and variable costs.  Both Visa and CyberSource are both used to medium and large retailers.  To effectively compete and take advantage of mobile payments, the new entity has to fill the above holes, either thru' internal capability or thru' yet another acquisition.

While the acquisition looks like a base hit, it will require a lot of chutzpah from Visa's management to convert it into a triple, which Visa really needs if it is going to be something more than a payment scheme (which its shareholders demand) and to take on PayPal in any meaningful manner.


  1. Great article, Manju!

    Some thoughts:

    - The very nature of the payment gateway world these days lends to CyberSource's revenue per dollar of only 22bps. It's a commodity market, and vendors can only be so "competitive". Knowing this, CYBS has pursued other avenues on top of the payment gateway service to further capitalize on revenue per dollar. These have primarily included acquiring services and value add-on's such as fraud prevention services (Decision Manager, etc.).

    - To my knowledge, CYBS hasn't done much at all with mobile payments, so I'm not sure how they will help Visa in that regard.

    - You stated: "Both Visa and CyberSource are both used to medium and large retailers." Keep in mind that CYBS acquired, who comprises mostly small merchants. Of CYBS current merchant base, 80-90% are in the camp. Having said that, of course, there is no debating that many of the mid-to-large merchants on the CYBS side are very large players.

    - Regarding taking on PayPal, CYBS took a shot at this a few years back when they resurrected BidPay. It was an attempt that miserably failed in the end, as CYBS realized the auction space is prolific with fraud - much more than typical online retail - and that their standard eCommerce fraud prevention strategies did not curb the fraud rate to an acceptable level. Not sure how quickly they're going to want to take on that space again. But with the non-auction services - sure, I could see a big potential with the Visa-CYBS team-up to give them a run for their money.

  2. Mike,

    Thanks for your comments. I agree with your comment about 22bps margins. You can only increase these margins if you move up the value chain by getting acquiring processing, which Visa will stay away from.

    Valid comments about the small/micro merchants, as well as, about mobile payments.