Payments processor First Data, purchased by private equity firm KKR in 2007 for $29.8 billion through a leveraged buyout, recently filed a registration with the SEC for an initial public offering.
Ultimately, First Data looks ready for a second public life. First Data is expected to bring about a turnaround after going public, giving KKR the opportunity to cash in on its investment. The IPO should help alleviate the companys debt burden, enabling improved cash flow and profitability, thereby helping First Data compete more effectively. The challenge in this latest phase will be to disrupt, not be disrupted.
It is no surprise that First Data has struggled under its debt load (KKR financed the deal with more than $20 billion of debt) for several years under a succession of CEOs. High interest rates made it difficult for First Data to dig itself out of debt.
However, the transformation of First Data has started to surface. In 2013, KKR recruited Frank Bisignano from JPMorgan Chase as CEO and raised an additional $3.5 billion in equity to help First Data invest in emerging opportunities. The two bets that KKR placed in 2013 paid dividends and the door was now closed on the old First Data.
And it is a payment processing behemoth, First Data processed more than $1.7 trillion in U.S. payments and 74 billion transactions globally in 2014. First Data made its name in providing payments processing services and technology to banks and merchants, but has been working to keep up with the evolving payments landscape.
Since 2013, it has acquired point-of-sale device startup Clover; Perka, which helps retailers with their customer loyalty programs; and gift card startup Gyft. When KKR invested more into First Data, it did so in the hope that the company would grow into new areas like cybersecurity and data analytics and counter the moves of emerging payment players. Consider that First Data's innovation base in Palo Alto, California has grown into a key strategic unit with more than 100 employees, where just a few years ago only a handful of employees were based in the area. Ultimately, First Data wants to be merchants partner in not only taking payments, but also marketing, collecting, and using shoppers data. Bisignano has frequently been quoted as saying that First Data is the industrys grand collaborator.
Nevertheless, it has still been a challenging time. As First Data moves beyond processing card transactions into a broader array of payment services, it will face an increasingly crowded field of competitors.
But where it was part of massive acquisitions historically, the companys focus has shifted to smaller technology related enterprises. The company believes it can super-charge startups with its outsized offline businesses.
In the hunt for growth, a global payment-processing land grab is also under way. Emerging markets offer headroom critical for the long term. While the U.S. remains First Datas locomotive, to bolster growth the company needs to expand and deepen its international footprint. The payments giant has bolstered beachheads in Brazil and India. Meanwhile, Europe remains a patchwork of national markets where First Data is more pan-European than large traditional local competitors such as Worldline and WorldPay. With an enormous processing ecosystem, First Data ought to be able to deliver closed-loop-style benefits enhancing issuer and merchant profitability that its smaller and narrower competitors cant across the globe.
First Data plans to raise $100 million in an IPO. The $100 million is a placeholder and is likely to change as the roadshow for the IPO progresses. First Data will likely use the proceeds from the offering to repay some of its debts, which stood at $21 billion at the end of March. This will provide First Data with a cleaner slate to further rejuvenate, maintain profitability, and grow.
Jared Drieling is business intelligence manager at The Strawhecker Group
Corrected August 14, 2015 at 2:44PM: This column has been updated since its original posting.