Operating from Kansas, payments processor Euronet Worldwide has been working furiously—and quietly—on a way to disrupt China-based Ant Financial's deal to buy Dallas-based MoneyGram ever since news broke in January.

“When we saw Ant’s offer, we saw an opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime advantage, and we decided to jump in,” Euronet Worldwide’s CEO Michael Brown told analysts today following the company’s bid of over $1 billion to top Ant’s offer.

Observers say a key advantage of Euronet’s offer is that the deal doesn’t require review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, an agency that has challenged other Chinese companies' moves to buy U.S. companies.

MoneyGram store
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Euronet is offering to pay $15.20 for each MoneyGram common share and preferred stock and assume about $940 million of MoneyGram’s outstanding debt, topping Ant Financial’s offer of $13.25 per share by about 15%.

As the cross-border remittance industry heats up with blockchain startups and other new entrants, MoneyGram provides something most newcomers lack: 350,000 outlets in nearly 200 countries that are essential in distributing cash to an audience with patchy bank access.

"MoneyGram has a vast network of agents, and for a lot of remittance users, in-person transactions and brick-and-mortar are important," said Sarah Grotta, a director with Mercator Advisory Group.

The U.S. market is the largest for outgoing, cross-border transactions and MoneyGram is the second largest player in a fragmented market, she noted.

President Donald Trump has targeted remittances between the U.S. and Mexico as a possible means of leverage to urge Mexico's government to pay for a border wall, a move that could stifle the world's busiest remittance corridor.

"Certainly a remittance tax would be detrimental to the industry," Grotta said, but noted there is strong demand for remittances around the world, where both Euronet and MoneyGram are two large players.

Euronet's offer for MoneyGram didn't take analysts completely by surprise. The Leawood, Kan.-based firm, which was founded in Hungary in 1994, reportedly tried to buy MoneyGram in 2007.

Euronet also disclosed today that it has renewed its contract with Walmart; Euronet's Ria subsidiary powers the domestic Walmart-2-Walmart transfer service. Brown said the company wasn’t planning to announce this news until its first-quarter earnings conference call, but it underscores Euronet’s confidence in the strength of its retail relationships and its intricate global electronic funds transfer network. It also demonstrates its ability to mesh with MoneyGram’s business model; MoneyGram has a longstanding relationship with Walmart.

“[Our] proposal offers stockholders a clear and significantly more certain path to a faster closing with no required review and no closing condition related to securing change of control consent covering money transmitter licenses in the jurisdictions in which MoneyGram operates,” Brown said in a letter to MoneyGram.

Ant’s planned purchase of MoneyGram is “fraught with uncertainty and challenges at every level,” according to Brown, in part because U.S. legislators are questioning the one-way street of many of China’s U.S. investments, and President Donald Trump’s policies on trade add further headwinds.

Brown told analysts he’s confident Moneygram’s board will “quickly” agree to take Euronet’s offer and terminate Ant’s proposed deal, and Euronet expects to close a deal with MoneyGram by the end of this year. MoneyGram executives were not available for comment.

How badly does Ant Financial, the Alibaba affiliate that operates Alipay, want MoneyGram?

"For Ant, MoneyGram would be a nice addition, but it's not a strategic imperative," Grotta said. "MoneyGram has a valuable foothold in Asia that could be integrated with Ant's current offerings...Ant also is very well funded and if they simply wanted to buy into a growing new line of business, they certainly have the cash to make that happen."

Analysts have mixed views on whether Euronet's offer could create a bidding war for MoneyGram.

"The deal offered by Euronet is more compelling [than Ant's offer] in terms of price and speed to close," said David Ritter, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. "But Western Union's stock is up today, along with MoneyGram's, and Ant could conceivably go after Western Union too."

Euronet has much to gain in its proposed deal, said Eric Grover, a principal with Intrepid Ventures.

"Euronet was a pioneer in managing ATMs in emerging markets, and MoneyGram is an interesting and arguably underperforming asset. For Euronet to acquire this larger competitor is a consolidation play in an industry threatened by a host of new, primarily electronic money-transfer companies and tech giants," Grover said.