EU antitrust regulators on Monday cleared Mastercard’s bid to buy part of Scandinavian payments group Nets after the companies agreed to sell a Nets technology to a rival to boost competition in the market.
U.S. payments group Mastercard last year announced the proposed acquisition of three divisions of Nets, which cover corporate clearing, instant payments and e-billing, for about for about 2.85 billion euros ($3.4 billion).
The European Commission has approved, under the EU Merger Regulation, the proposed acquisition of Nets’ account-to-account payment business by Mastercard. The decision is conditional on the transfer of a license for Nets’ “Realtime 24/7” technology for account-to-account core infrastructure services as well as of the relevant personnel and other assets.
Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, responsible for competition policy, said: “Companies and citizens seek competitive and innovative payment solutions for their banking transactions. This merger, as originally notified, would have significantly reduced competition in the market for account-to-account core infrastructure services and undermined the development of new real-time payment solutions, which are becoming increasingly important. Today’s decision ensures that effective competition is preserved and facilitates the emergence of a new provider of real-time payment infrastructure services in the European Economic Area„.
The Commission’s investigation
The Commission’s investigation focused on the markets for the provision of account-to-account core infrastructure services “A2A CIS” and account-to-account payment services “A2A payment services”, where the activities of the Mastercard and the target business mainly overlap in the European Economic Area (EEA).
A2A CIS allow to process payments, including real-time payments, directly from one bank account to another, without the need for a card. They can be provided either as a software-only solution or as a managed solution consisting of the provision of the A2A core infrastructure (including the software, together with the hardware and the telecommunication networks and processes), as well as the management and operation of the infrastructure.
The Commission found that the transaction, as originally notified, would have raised competition concerns in the EEA market for A2A CIS in relation to managed solutions. In this market, both companies have strong positions and the transaction would have led to the strengthening of the leading player, Mastercard.
The Commission also found that the parties closely compete with each other, having been shortlisted by customers in a higher number of EEA tenders compared to other players. Finally, the Commission’s investigation revealed that the parties face a limited number of credible competitors in the provision of A2A CIS managed services, whereas the market for the provision of A2A CIS software-only solutions is generally more competitive. The Commission was therefore concerned that the proposed acquisition would harm competition and lead to higher prices and less choice in the market for the provision of A2A CIS as managed services.
The Commission’s investigation did not identify competition concerns in the various national markets for A2A payment services, which are end-user services/applications to transfer money from one bank account to another, within the EEA. In particular, the Commission found that the companies’ activities only overlap in the Nordic region, where Nets’ A2A payment business’ existing solutions are expected to lose relevance irrespective of the transaction, as they will soon be replaced by cheaper and more innovative solutions.
The proposed remedies
To address the Commission’s concerns, Mastercard and Nets offered to transfer to a suitable purchaser a global license to distribute, supply, sell, develop, modify, upgrade or otherwise use Nets’ Realtime 24/7 technology, with which the target business currently competes in A2A CIS tenders. In particular, the purchaser will have access to the licensed technology on an exclusive basis in the EEA and, on a non-exclusive basis, outside of the EEA. The transfer also includes all necessary personnel and services, such as consultancy services and transitional support services, including access to all necessary components and capabilities to provide managed services based on Nets’ Realtime 24/7 technology.
The proposed commitments fully address the Commission’s competition concerns, as they will increase competition in the market for the provision of A2A CIS as managed services in the EEA, by allowing a new player to effectively and credibly compete in this space.
The Commission therefore concluded that the proposed transaction, as modified by the commitments, no longer raises competition concerns in the EEA. The decision is conditional upon full compliance with the commitments.
Nets A/S’ account-to-account payment business is a business unit within Nets A/S, a payment solution provider headquartered in Denmark. It provides payment services and technology solutions, mainly in the Nordic region, as well as in the Single Euro Payments Area.
The Transaction was notified to the Commission on 26 June 2020.
„Tendinţele pe care le-am remarcat înainte de începerea pandemiei s-au accelerat pe perioada stării de urgenţă. Am văzut acest lucru ca o oportunitate, un tipping point pentru bancă. Post-pandemie nu avem cum sa ne întoarcem la comportamentul financiar pe care îl aveam până în februarie a.c. Relaţia românilor cu online-ul s-a schimbat. In plus, cardul fizic se va dematerializa. Vom asista la o scădere a cererii pentru cardurile fizice, respectiv la o creştere a preferinţei pentru componenta digitală a acestora.”