Taking Stock Of The UK Payments Sector: Worldpay Group PLC, Paysafe Group plc & SafeCharge International Group Ltd

Given the recent IPO of Worldpay Group (LSE: WPG), the UK payments sector now has a king. Before this coronation, there were already few names in this very attractive sector: Optimal Payments’ purchase of Skrill to create Paysafe Group (LSE: PAYS) was a solid deal, and little-known SafeCharge (LSE: SCH) has been silently winning the technology game in the sector. It now seems constructive to examine the investment case for each.

Before we sort the wheat from the chaff, let’s outline what to look for when judging a payment business. First, bricks-and-mortar payment services are a good business. After all, we are all using less cash and more cards. However, processing e-commerce is better: the market is growing fast (at least 10% p.a.), it is fragmented, and penetration is still low (so the trend will continue). Second, though we hear that ‘mobile payments’ are the future (and it is true by all accounts), definition of ‘mobile payments’  is nebulous at best: ApplePay is a debit card in your phone, while Square allows you to use an iPad as a store checkout. Both solutions count as ‘mobile payments’, but are very different. Third, value-adding analytics are becoming more important. Customers not only want a 100% robust payment solution, but also an ability to analyse customer data and predict behaviour. Finally, if you are going to stick to the more mature bricks-and-mortar business, then scale is crucial for success. 

Worldpay Group

Worldpay Group is solid in all areas of the payment world. In particular, it has a fantastic bricks-and-mortar platform and an e-commerce offering. In particular, it is a market leader in the UK and has a strong ‘omni-channel’ offering in the US. It may be lagging some upstarts in mobile or data analytics, but offers more than ‘hygiene level’ services in both (especially in the US). Also, services such as ApplePay will actually use its bricks-and-mortar system, and by accelerating substitution away from cash, ApplePay could be a positive. However, as I mentioned before, Worldpay is expensive. A trailing 2014 EV/EBITDA of more than 18x cannot justify anything but sustained ‘high-teens’ growth rate (at the EBITDA level). Although it is possible, past financials only hint at such an outcome and nothing more.

Paysafe Group

Full disclosure: this is my favourite of the pack, despite the recent news of a breach by hackers. Paysafe Group, which used to be called Optimal Payments, is solely involved in online commerce. Its focus on the gambling sector provides a sense of security: online gambling is growing (despite facing some regulatory uncertainty) and it allows the firm to develop know-how and scale so it can be competitive in its e-commerce offering outside of gambling. By the way, PayPal does not allow use of its wallet for online games.

Recently it become apparent that, due to a hack, data was stolen form the company’s NETELLER and Moneybookers divisions. It may be true, and the hack may have been damaging to Paysafe’s clients. There are few points to consider, however. 1) NETELLER and Moneybookers were competitors at the time of the alleged hack, and were both leading wallet providers for online games. If they were hacked, it is an industry problem, not a company-specific one. 2) Consequently, given the combination of the two leaders, there is actually very little competition for these wallets. Other providers are probably less secure. 3) Future for Paysafe lies mostly in e-commerce payments and expanding of the Paysafecard product. Even if the the hack did damage the gaming wallet business, the group is likely to enjoy solid growth going forward. The full recovery in the share price since the hack confirms this view. 

Hence, despite its troubles and its lagging in offering of mobile and value-added products, the group’s valuation at about 12.3x 2016E EV/EBITDA  is very attractive. 

SafeCharge International       

Just like Paysafe, SafeCharge provides an online gateway for payment processing. However, it is leading in the associated value-added services. For instance, its checkout page can minimise transaction abandon rates by learning from customer behaviour. Consequently, the company earns above-industry revenues per customer, while having high customer satisfaction. It had a zero customer churn in 2014. Although its 2016E EV/EBITDA of 14.7x looks rich, it is also enjoying growth of about 25%. I would also say it would be a good buy.

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Patrick Radecki has no position in any shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.