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French payments giant Worldline on acquisition trail again after €2.3B SIX deal

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French payments giant Worldline on acquisition trail again after €2.3B SIX deal

Just six months after its €2.3 billion acquisition of Swiss-based SIX Payment Services, Worldline SA is sizing up the market for its next acquisition target, Deputy CEO Marc-Henri Desportes said.

"Consolidation is going to be a big theme in the payments world in the next year. And we are on the acquisition trail ourselves," he said in an interview on the sidelines of the Money2020 Europe conference in Amsterdam.

French-based payments processor Worldline snapped up the payments arm of Swiss exchange operator SIX Group AG in a deal that closed in early December 2018. SIX Group was forced to sell off its payments arm after falling foul of antitrust regulations and being faced with a fine by the Swiss financial watchdog. Worldline saw off competition from U.S. buyout fund Hellman & Friedman LLC and a consortium of Natixis and Warburg Pincus LLC to buy SIX Payment Services.

Now Worldline is scanning the horizon for promising fintech and payments firms.

"We're primarily looking for opportunities in Europe," Desportes said. "There is potential everywhere in Europe. In countries where there is a high level of cash use, there is obvious room to grow. Germany, for example, [has] a very cash-intensive economy. But things are changing. There may be low adoption of credit cards in Germany but the role of contactless payments will become more important. But even in countries which have widely adopted digital payments, there is still more to be done."

In addition to a well-established presence in Europe, which includes processing payments for Germany's Commerzbank AG, Worldline has a growing presence in India, where Desportes estimates that the company provides about a third of electronic point-of-sale terminals, the electronic devices used by merchants to process card payments.

Worldline has another reason to be bullish about acquisitions: Majority shareholder Atos SE sold down its stake in the company in January, taking its share to 27.4% from 50.8%. While IT solutions provider Atos had "always been very supportive" as a shareholder, the fact that they no longer have a controlling stake gives Worldline a freer hand to go out and expand, Desportes said.

The SIX Payment Services deal might give a flavor of what is to come next for Worldline, Desportes said.

"If you look at our past as a company, then yes, it was a pretty unique deal. But looking ahead, this is the kind of profile of company that we'd be looking for."