Jack Dorsey

  • PayPal is buying the Swedish card-reading startup iZettle for $2.2 billion.
  • The deal looks expensive at 20 times revenue and double iZettle’s expected initial-public-offering valuation.
  • But iZettle’s in-store offering complements PayPal’s online prowess and gives PayPal a much more powerful sales pitch to take to businesses.
  • PayPal plans to roll out iZettle to new international markets, and this is likely to include the US — that is bad news for Square, which has only really competed with iZettle in the UK.

LONDON — PayPal surprised many industry observers Thursday with a $2.2 billion deal to buy the eight-year-old Swedish card terminal company iZettle.

The deal is PayPal’s largest acquisition and comes less than two weeks after iZettle announced plans to go public. The Financial Times reported at the time that iZettle could seek a valuation of $1.1 billion in an initial public offering, suggesting a huge premium on PayPal’s offer. The sale price is just over 20 times iZettle’s 2017 revenue, and the company is loss making.

Thomas McCrohan, an analyst at Mizuho Securities, said in a note to clients on Friday: “We do not believe this was the acquisition shareholders were anticipating [and] the price paid appears expensive.”

Dan SchulmanSo why did PayPal think iZettle was worth it?

For PayPal, which was spun out of eBay in 2015, the deal makes perfect strategic sense. PayPal is traditionally more dominant in online and mobile payments, while iZettle produces card terminals that allow small businesses and sole traders to take affordable card payments. The deal means PayPal will suddenly gain an in-store presence in 11 new markets: Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden.

As well as complementing each other geographically, combining the two companies means the new group can offer what’s known as an “omnichannel” solution to retailers.

As shopping increasingly moves online and on mobile devices, traditional retailers want to be able to take payments through different channels: online, in-store, and on mobile. By combining iZettle’s terminal chops with PayPal’s online know-how, the group can pitch itself as a one-stop shop for merchants looking to solve all their payment problems. Management will hope that this new offering will supercharge revenue growth.

Once PayPal/iZettle is embedded in retailers, the company can then start to layer on additional revenue-generating services. iZettle has launched loans to customers based on the data gathered from terminal activity, for instance.

“While the 100% premium that they appear to have paid for iZettle may look high, it may prove to be a prudent call,” Jonny Hunot, a cofounder of the UK iZettle rival The Good Till Company, said on Friday.

“Mobile, cloud-based payment solutions are clearly the future gateway for billions of dollars of annual retail sales, and whoever owns these gateways stand to gain significant fees over the long term. This has always been the PayPal play.”

jacob de geerStill, it’s a gamble. McCrohan said in his note to clients on Friday that “acquiring iZettle does not alter how smaller merchants perceive PayPal as a tender type given the plethora of options already available for purchases in-store.”

But the deal is at least a step in the right direction for PayPal. Crucially, it should also worry Jack Dorsey’s Square.

Square and iZettle’s products are very similar, and both target the small-business sectors. Until now, they have only really competed head-to-head in the UK — Square is dominant in North America, while iZettle has a strong footprint in Europe and Latin America.

iZettle CEO Jacob de Geer said in a blog post on Friday, however, that part of the logic of selling to PayPal was that doing so would give the company a significant war chest to fuel international expansion. “We’ll become iZettle with superpowers and jump on a fast track to realise our vision,” he wrote.

The United States seems like an obvious market for iZettle to target. It’s a huge market and also PayPal’s core market.

Square, of course, has a big head start in the US, but iZettle’s new firepower shouldn’t be underestimated. PayPal’s market capitalization is $96 billion, compared with Square’s $21.7 billion, and PayPal most likely will plan to invest in iZettle to reap the full expected rewards it wants from the takeover, especially if it’s targeting long tail revenue from getting embedded within merchants.

Evercore advised PayPal on the deal, while JPMorgan was the sole financial adviser to iZettle.

SEE ALSO: PayPal just made its biggest acquisition ever as it snaps up a Swedish credit-card-processing company for $2.2 billion

DON’T MISS: European Square rival iZettle is heading for a $225 million IPO

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