It was a very busy week in the world of fintech, which certainly kept us on our toes. We covered a couple of notable M&A deals (including one of the biggest of the year so far), a different kind of financial services startup aimed at undocumented immigrants, Brex’s official recommitment to the startup community and more.
We started the week with some M&A news out of corporate spend management company Ramp. The team shared with us exclusively that it had scooped up an AI-powered customer support called Cohere.io, which had raised $3.5 million in seed funding over its lifetime from backers such as Initialized Capital, Y Combinator and…Ramp co-founders Eric Glyman and Karim Atiyeh. Notably, Ramp (and companies like Deel and Rippling) were also customers. Glyman told us that it was evident from early on that once his company started using Cohere.io, “suddenly the majority of tickets were being answered properly in an automated fashion. […] It actually really worked,” he said. “The technical sophistication of the team was far beyond anything we had ever seen.”
Then later in the week came confirmation of one of the biggest, if not the biggest, fintech M&A deals of the year. It was rumored for months that Visa, Mastercard and potentially a bank and private equity firm were all courting Brazilian payments infrastructure startup Pismo. The acquisition was definitely a coup for the Latin American startup community, considering that Visa could have likely considered companies from all over the world. Pismo has apparently seen some explosive growth in recent years — jumping from 10 million accounts at the end of 2020 to 80 million today. Also, at the beginning of 2021, Pismo was doing less than $1 billion per month in transaction volume compared to processing $40 billion in transaction volumes annually today.
However, as noted by KBW managing director Sanjay Sakhrani, the $1 billion purchase price is roughly 30% below the $1.4 billion that Visa was rumored to have offered for Pismo earlier this year. We don’t know what Pismo was valued at when it raised $108 million in a round co-led by SoftBank, Amazon and Accel in 2021. But Accel partner Ethan Choi told us the sales price was “a very strategic multiple.”
Sakhrani also said in a report that in addition to beefing up Visa’s issuer processing capabilities across card products, Pismo also brings “differentiated core banking capabilities and will allow Visa to provide connectivity and support to emerging payment rails like Pix in Brazil.”
The last week in recent memory where we remember seeing such a flurry of fintech M&A activity was in mid-January, when Jonah Crane, partner at Klaros Group, predicted we would continue to see more acquisitions in 2023 thanks to the continued venture slowdown and practically dead IPO and SPAC markets. And according to CB Insights, fintech M&A exits rebounded in the first quarter, but not as much as one might have expected. They were up 15% QoQ to 172 deals. Most of Q1’23’s top M&A deals involved fintechs based outside of the U.S. For the first time in the previous year, the top M&A valuation fell below $500 million.
Side note: The acquisition represented a rare win for SoftBank, which has had a number of high-profile disappointments in recent years with investments in the likes of WeWork, the now defunct Katerra and FTX. Alex and I talk more about that on Friday’s episode of Equity Podcast here.
Last summer, Brex made headlines for announcing it would stop serving SMBs and non-funded startups. This summer, it’s making headlines for pledging its recommitment to the startup community. After Silicon Valley Bank imploded in March, Brex (along with the likes of Arc and Mercury) saw an influx of new customers. Specifically, the company says it opened 4,000 new accounts and received $2 billion in deposits in the first week after the SVB shutdown alone. That obviously led the company to rethink its strategy. Last week, Brex told us exclusively that it had hired Jason Mok, a former operating partner at Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and 16-plus-year veteran of Silicon Valley Bank to serve as its head of startups. I talked with Mok about his previous experience and how he thinks that will help him in his new role, which includes providing more “Brex ambassadors” who can serve as the face of the brand that founders, operators and VCs can go to for advice, perspective and connections to other founders.