Tilting the Networks… a MASSIVE Change

4 July 2015

Payments make up far more than 70% of my personal portfolio.  This investment strategy has been a great bet. Take a look at the 5 yr investment performance of Visa and MA. 333% growth in MA and 247% for Visa.  5yr return payment stocks

From Mar 9 2015 Seeking Alpha

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With this exposure, I keep close track on structural changes in the industry, which I outlined in my January blog Structural Changes in Payments:

  1. Risk and Identity
  2. Data/Commerce Value
  3. Consumer Behavior/Trust/Acceptance
  4. Issuance/Customer Acquisition/HCE
  5. Regulatory/Rates/Rules (Fees)
  6. Mobile/Payment in the OS

Will these structural changes… is my current V/MA at risk? Is there something else I should be moving toward? No way!  I think Visa and Mastercard are start ups that have just begun realizing the value of their network as they EXPAND NODES and SERVICES Let me try to explain why am I such a bull on these  payment stocks.

Network Tilt – Toward Merchants

As most of you know, V and MA were started as Bank consortiums (see Wikipedia and MA History). Rules (and rates) were thus defined by banks for both credit and debit (see this blog for debit history). As a former Banker I never fully understood the Retail view of Visa and Mastercard. For example, Walmart pays an estimated $1.3B in interchange. Most merchants would admit that the benefit from electronic payments and ubiquitious acceptance. Even Mike Cook says that “no one complains about the network fee side of card costs… it is the issuer side that everyone has a problem with”. In other words Visa and MasterCard earn their fees (it is the issuer reward schemes that drive merchants bonkers).

As stated previously Payments, in their simplest form, are a brokering business which manages value exchange between two entities engaged in commerce. Logically, a broker must be removed from the transaction to maintain the trust of both parties, and deliver value through managing the financial risk associated with the transaction. My view is that Card issuing banks, have lost the neutrality of their “brokering” role by creating a card rewards system that incents card use (paid by the merchant). However, this ideal “neutral” world is NOT the nirvana that we should seek, as no one would invest and we would be stuck with cash.

Complexity in payments is driven by the quest for control and margin of the various participants, NOT by necessity. This is what makes understanding payments so hard…. most of the changes are not logical, but political. The friction (inefficiencies and illogical design) in payments is what makes them work. As I’ve stated before, no engineer would design a payment system to operate the way we do today (see Push Payments). Thus there is beauty in this chaos! The V/MA model created incentives for 1000s of banks to invest in payments, and I doubt if we will ever see any other companies that could repeat this feat.

Both Visa and Mastercard realize that their future rests in leveraging their neutrality, thus “tilting” away from their prior “bank centric” model into something that is MUCH MORE merchant friendly. Bank issuers certainly WANT to be in this role, for example the largest US Visa issuer JPM has created a unique off VisaNet transaction routing (see blog) and is building a new data business (ChaseNet) to compete here. The bank efforts are completely stunted as there is no path for obtaining critical mass is a closed network that requires both merchant and consumer consent.  American Express is the clear leader here, but their network is also stunted through its focus in T&E, affluent and business travelers.

Visa and Mastercard win when consumers and merchants transact.  Encouraging use by consumers, and acceptance by merchants, is top priorityThe future of the networks is COMMERCE. This may seem like a logical statement, but historically Visa and Mastercard acted as extensions of the large issuers. Look for both networks to create new teams to rebuild relationships with merchants.. they know they have work to do.Visa-AmEx-Are-up-MasterCard-Discover-Are-Down-3 (1)

What is “Tilt”?

  • Phase 1 – Rules and Facilities to Enable Competition
  • Phase 2 – Merchant Friendly Services / Merchant Rules Setting
  • Phase 3 – Competing with Banks (V/MA Opening up to non Banks)

The First Phase of tilting involves creating network rules and facilities that are favorable to the merchant and/or take away control from issuers (to enable issuer competition). 2015 winners include

#1 VDEP (Data protection and $0 wallet fees)

#2 Visa/MA Token Facilities

#3 ApplePay requiring debit card enablement

#4 Mastercard’s new Merchant Insight Service

Payment industry is very heterogeneous and highly tiered. Large merchants like Walmart, Target and Kroger are able to support strategy teams that can negotiate very competitive payment rates with issuers and acquirers. Similarly the large banks can build multi billion dollar fraud and square pricingauthorization infrastructure. My rule of thumb is that the bottom third of any acquirers merchant accounts (SMBs) result is approximately 60% of their earnings (hence the success of Square).  As an example, try to find the cost of payment acceptance at Chase Paymentech, now do the same at Square or Paypal.

Tokenization and EMV have taken away issuer advantages (control points), enabling smaller issuers (competition). They have also enabled competition in eCommerce and POS acquiring (bringing down merchant costs). Take a look at this must read article from paymnts.com 13Nov14. “Tokenization has opened up this whole world for us to be able to use digital devices to be a meaningful part of the payments flow in a way that (those payments) wouldn’t have in the past,” – Scharf at BAML Banking & Financial Services Conferenceglobal digital snap

On this last point, Visa and MA are growing from 1.9B cards to their “network” into mobile, creating services that will be critical to deliver payments and authentication/authorization in the channel that is capturing consumer time like none other.

Phase 2 – Merchant Friendly services. The number one Retailer issue is “who are my customers?” As I outlined 3 years ago in Payment Enabled CRM, payment networks are well placed to solve this (given consumer consent). These articles provide an overview of 2 new services coming out.

  • 4 June 2015 – Loyalty360. Visa Commerce Network. From Michael Lemberger (Visa VP Offers and Loyalty Solutions) “creating strong connections across commerce is an important piece of the payment ecosystem. As such, Visa also is developing and employing innovative loyalty platforms for merchants to engage with their customers in meaningful and compelling ways”
  • Mastercard Market Insights. [Report] analyzes extensive purchasing data to provide insights into restaurant level econometrics and trends, such as changes in sales, average ticket prices, and customer frequency across fast-casual, casual and family dining restaurants

Phase 3 – Competing with Banks. Banks tend to believe that everything V and MA do is “theirs”. The predominant view was best captured by a former head of strategy “we built these companies once, and we can do it again”.  Thus the definition of competition is rather squishy as banks believe that they own everything. Today every Visa “member” must be a bank. We are starting to see consumer direct services and merchant direct services (Mastercard MoneySend/Omney, CYBS/Visa Checkout, Mastercard Local Market Insights, …). This is MORE THAN ANYTHING turns Issuers apoplectic.

From an investor view I believe that Visa is much more cautious in remaining neutral, whereas Mastercard is much more aggressive in delivering new services. For example few know that Mastercard holds money transfer licenses, or may have purchased a processor (Omney). A key objective of MA may be to create a commercial payments business with debit cards as the key “down line” for disbursements. See http://apps.mastercard.com/#!/app_details/omney#top

The real battle will be on DATA. Issuers strongly feel that they have 100% ownership of payment data. Yet Visa/MA data also belongs to the merchants (for the restrictive and squishy purpose of loyalty and redemption). JPM felt so strongly about this rule that is specifically took its data out of VisaNet purview as part of the 2012 deal. Every payment player is chasing after ADS and Amex in their capabilities to become a “super charged marketing scheme”.

Mastercard has a BIG win by becoming the payment network behind the ApplePay private label enablement (as I discussed on twitter). Take a look at the private label graph above (relative to total number of cards). Private label is a super charged loyalty scheme that I’m keeping a very close (investor) eye on. I believe this may be the first REAL driver of Merchant Friendly “tilt”  that delivers substantial revenue. It is also a reason why I believe ADS will be aggressively chased as an acquisition target.

Revenue/EBIT

Visa and Mastercard are trading at roughly 30x earnings. Today they take less than $0.02 per transaction. Incremental revenue on existing volume through tokenization (see MA Digital Enablement Fees),  and new retailer friendly data services should add at least 10%-15% in near term depending on “wallet” success and merchant adoption. The future for V/MA profitability rests in their ability to balance the merchant Tilt with neutrality, and “stepping on Big bank toes”. As if this growth opportunity were not enough…

Global electronic payment growth is still positioned at 25%+ CAGR. The best industry payment report (IMHO) is from Cap Gemini https://www.worldpaymentsreport.com/ a must read for anyone. Globally electronic payments are in their infancy. Roughly 90% of the world’s electronic transactions happen in the top 10 markets (< 10% of the world’s population). What happens when the other 7B people on the planet get a card (with their phone)? The global growth opportunity for V/MA is 35% CAGR in just about any economic environment and independent of local market payment schemes (ie CUP, Rupay, ELO, …). The payments world continues to look for the “next Brazil” (BTW it is NOT RUSSIA), but it is everywhere. Paypal is another network that capitalizes on this global growth trend (in an eCommerce segment that is growing even faster than the “payment market”).  The emerging markets I like best? China, Columbia, Peru, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Pakistan, Philippines, Indonesia…  The markets I stay away from? Europe (see SEPA Blog).

Have a great 4th of July…. And go buy V/MA.

3 thoughts on “Tilting the Networks… a MASSIVE Change”

  1. An ever-present risk to the networks stock is the possibility of a security breach. A large scale compromise could have all manner of consequences. Your thoughts on that?

    1. Never met a V/MA institutional investor concerned about a network “breach”.. they hold nothing.. they are a telephone book. Authorization goes through them, but is not done by them. They don’t hold any consumer information. They only know the PAN.. and what issuer sponsors it. This seems like a very silly question.

  2. Visa/MC to me are simply bookies, getting their juice from each game (transaction) and not really worrying about who wins and loses as long as they stay the bookie. Perfect situation with little risk and they use the rules (10 foot high document) as their enforcers, you mess up they sick the rules guy on you. What a nice position to be in.

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