Will Interswitch be Africa’s first $1bn tech “unicorn”?

Nigeria’s digital payments and payment card giant Interswitch Ltd could become Africa’s first tech “unicorn” or technology company valued at over $1 billion. Private equity firm Helios Investment Partners (majority owner) is preparing to sell and Citigroup Inc are hired to handle the sale, which could involve an initial public offer (IPO) and listing on the London and Lagos stock exchanges.
Website TechCrunch reported that Interswitch has 32 million customers for its “Verve” chip-and-PIN cards and its Quickteller digital payment app processed $2.4 billion in transactions. It processes most of Nigeria’s electronic bank, government and corporate transactions.
A subsequent report from Bloomberg says Helios paid $92 million for a 52% stake in 2010.
Techcrunch contributor Jake Bright (Twitter @JakeRBright, co-author of The Next Africa: An Emerging Continent Becomes a Global Powerhouse) reports that Interswitch CEO and founder Mitchell Elegbe told him no final decision has yet been made and they are also mulling the option of a trade sale.

Mitchell Elegbe CEO Interswitch (from www.naij.com)

Mitchell Elegbe CEO Interswitch (from www.naij.com)


Bright’s Techcrunch report also cites Eghosa Omoigui, Managing Partner of EchoVC, a Silicon Valley fund investing in African start-ups: “They’ve already selected the ibankers and will likely go public sometime between Q2 to Q4 at (or close to) a $1 billion dollar valuation–roughly two times revenues,”.
Bright points out that there are strong tech opportunities for ventures focused on digital commerce and payments, and cites research by Crunchbase that VC investors put $400m into African consumer goods, digital content and fintech-oriented startups. Helios and Adlevo Capital back ventures such as MallforAfrica (e-commerce) and Paga (payments).
Although Kenya has the spotlight still, because of the runaway success of Safaricom’s M-PESA product, which has 13m customers and generated $300m in revenues for Safaricom in 2014, consumers in Nigeria are projected to generate $75bn in e-commerce revenue by 2020. See this McKinsey report on future consumer spending trends in a youth-driven market.
Interswitch – motto “bills aren’t fun but payments solutions can be” – is still building digital finance market share in Nigeria and in 2014 bought Kenya’s Paynet and also has operations in Uganda, Tanzania and Gambia. The IPO could support plans to expand into more countries – Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ghana were mentioned in an earlier Bloomberg article.
Elegbe, age 43 years, founded Interswitch in 2002.
Bloomberg reports that if this goes ahead, it will be one of the few private equity exits at a valuation of over $1 billion. It also cites Bain Capital’s $1.2bn exit from South African retailer Edcon’s private label store cars in 2012, sold to Barclays Absa unit. It says increasing use of e-commerce worldwide makes payments-processing industry a “structural growth market”.
The London Stock Exchange has more than 120 African listings.
In its 2010 press release, Helios described the company: InterSwitch provides shared, integrated message broker solutions for financial transactions, eCommerce, telecoms value-added services, eBilling, payment collections, 2 and also administers Verve, the leading card scheme in Nigeria. The Verve card, which is currently issued by 16 out of the 24 banks in Nigeria, is the first and only chip-and-pin card accepted across multiple payment channels including Automated Teller Machine (“ATMs”), Point of Sale (“POS”) terminals, online, mobile and at banks. InterSwitch has been at the forefront of the development and growth of the epayment sector in Nigeria which is evidenced by its unique position of being the only switching and processing company connected to all banks in the country as well as over 10,000 ATMs and 11,000 POS terminals. In addition, InterSwitch is the leading processor for Mastercard and the market leader in merchant acquiring/POS, a segment which is still emerging and has potential for tremendous growth in Nigeria. Babatunde Soyoye, Managing Partner and Co-founder of Helios added: “InterSwitch is a Nigerian success story having been led by a superb management team and benefiting from the foresight, innovation and support of its founding shareholders, and a supportive regulator in the Central Bank Nigeria.”

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