EU's antitrust voices cry foul on Mastercard-Nets deal

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After considering requests from competition agencies in six nations, the European Commission says Mastercard's acquisition of a majority of Denmark payments provider Nets last summer may violate antitrust rules.

Mastercard Europe disagreed with that assessment and hopes to move forward in closing that transaction in the coming months, though the card brand now has to get European Union approval to close the deal, according to a Reuters report.

Mastercard agreed to buy Nets' corporate services business for about $3.19 billion, considered one of the card brand's largest acquisitions ever. Nets operates as Scandinavia's largest payments processor, triggering antitrust concerns from Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Britain in seeking EU intervention.

Mastercard wants to boost its digital payment offerings, specifically in obtaining Nets' support in clearing, e-billing and instant payment services.

"The global adoption of real-time payments is moving quickly," Paul Stoddart, president of new payment platforms for Mastercard in London, said at the time of the acquisition announcement. "More markets are coming out of implementation and looking at different use cases and lots of other markets are in the process of implementing it."

The pursuit of Nets capped a busy 2019 for Mastercard in the acquisitions and mergers field for digital payments. The card brand also acquired bill pay provider Transacts three months before Nets, as well as Vyze for point-of-sale financing and security provider Ethoca earlier in the year.

The other major acquisition for Mastercard in digital payments came in 2016 when the card brand put its footprint on faster payments in the U.K. by acquiring Vocalink.

If Mastercard can get over the EU antitrust hurdle, it has big plans for Nets technology.

Nets gives Mastercard a deeper footprint in Europe for open banking, bill pay, data analytics and real-time payments. Nets' corporate service business potentially adds scale to Mastercard Send and Transfast, and gives Mastercard greater account-to-account reach in continental Europe to match the card brand's power in that channel in the U.K., Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas.

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