Prior to the current pandemic, economies around the world were heading towards a strong start in 2020. The US stock market experienced a historic bull run for over 11 years; US GDP was also growing at an average rate of around 2.5%, and unemployment gradually decreased from 10% to 4% throughout the decade – a strong recovery from the Great Recession. Financial activities have also increased as a result of the bull market, as investors capitalised on the strong economic growth; North American M&A activity increased from 1.2 trillion USD in 2010 to over 2.5 trillion USD in 2015, signalling the strong sentiment from investors. Nevertheless, recent M&A trends highlighted the increased number of acquisitions of technology start-ups, driven by COVID-19 and digital transformation across sectors.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has transformed global business activities; companies have often had to raise capital in the equity and debt markets as a result of liquidity issues, and M&A activity has declined due to the volatility in firms’ earnings. Many oil companies have been facing funding challenges due to the fall in oil price in the first quarter of 2020. This has resulted in large oil corporations raising significant sums of money in the debt market, with BP, a British multinational oil and gas company, raising around 12 billion USD in bonds. On the other hand, the technology, media and telecom (TMT) companies proved to be resilient throughout the pandemic. Technology companies capitalised on the high investors’ confidence within the sector, as remote working has increased consumers’ reliance on technology.
One of the largest mergers this year involved Visa and Plaid. Plaid is a fintech-specialised API start-up which was previously backed by venture capitalists. Venture capital firms aim to invest in early private start-up companies with long-term growth potential in the hope of selling them in the future to a strategic buyer, yielding a significant profit. Plaid proved to be a profitable investment to investors as the company has consistently grown and exceeded expectations – the firm experienced a growth in valuation of approximately 100% between 2018 to 2020. Venture capitalists invested a total of 353.3 million USD into Plaid, and this investment has proved to be a strong success since Plaid was sold to Visa for 5.3 billion USD, with 4.9 billion in cash, and the remaining in equity shares. In 2018, Plaid was valued at 2.65 billion USD, as a result of capital raising in private markets, half of its valuation during this recent acquisition.
Plaid acts as an intermediary and securely connects clients’ bank accounts to different financial institutions by transferring data between the two, ensuring a secure transaction. 75% of all online consumers use a fintech-enabled application for the movement of money, and Plaid is a market leader in doing this. Visa’s acquisition of Plaid allows the firm to gain more control over the way banks connect to customers, enabling Visa to protect its customers. This acquisition supported Visa to move further into the cashless payments industry, hence the consumer market opens up for Visa, especially as more people prefer cashless payment methods. Consumers are towards a cloud-based and cashless society, strategic buyouts of fintech companies could result in increased efficiency and profitability of the acquirer. Increased dependence on big data analytics, such as cloud computing, will result in the increased value and profitability of data in the future. This acquisition indicates Visa’s forecast that the data market will experience significant, continued growth over the next decade.
Visa’s share price rallied to 207 USD from 190 USD as a result of the announcement, as investors are confident of the future growth in the fintech sector that Plaid operates in. Plaid’s high valuation of over 100% between 2018 to 2020 was driven by investors’ confidence in the fintech sector. Analysts predicted a revenue multiple valuation of 25 to 50 at the time of the acquisition, indicating the firm’s strong potential growth as its current financial earnings fail to justify this large valuation. In comparison, Mastercard, a fully established and strong financial services company, and has a current revenue multiple valuation of 22, indicating that investors are confident about the firm’s future earnings.
The global financial technology market is expected to grow between 20-25% annually until 2025, and this merger represents the strong projected growth in the industry. As the demand for data analytics and digital fintech increases, the acquisition of technology start-ups by well-established firms are also projected to increase throughout the next decade. This acquisition trend is driven by large firms looking to invest in digital solutions to improve efficiency, as they will be able to benefit from the expertise in delivering fintech solutions offered by technology start-ups. Therefore, the strategic buyout of Plaid by Visa will be one of many acquisitions observed in the next few months, as firms seek to leverage the expertise of start-ups to provide digitalised solutions to clients.
By Josh Davies
Senior Editor: Jo Yean Kok