Monday , June 14, 2021

Visa Hits Back After the Justice Department Challenges the Network’s $5.3-Billion Plaid Deal

Visa Inc. on Thursday delivered a rebuke to the Department of Justice’s antitrust lawsuit attempting to block its $5.3 billion acquisition of Plaid Inc., calling the lawsuit “legally flawed and contradicted by the facts.” 

The Department of Justice, which had filed the suit hours earlier, charges that Visa’s deal for Plaid is an effort to stifle competition in debit networking by acquiring an entity whose technology could enable it to challenge what the DoJ sees as Visa’s dominance in that market. 

“American consumers and business owners increasingly buy and sell goods and services online, and Visa—a monopolist in online debit services—has extracted billions of dollars from those transactions,” assistant attorney general Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division says in a prepared statement.  “Now, Visa is attempting to acquire Plaid, a nascent competitor developing a disruptive, lower-cost option for online debit payments. If allowed to proceed, the acquisition would deprive American merchants and consumers of this innovative alternative to Visa and increase entry barriers for future innovators.” 

Visa announced in January it had struck a deal to acquire Plaid, an 8-year-old company that connects nonbank payments providers such as Stripe and Venmo with consumers’ bank accounts, with consumers’ permission, to aggregate spending data, look up balances, and verify other personal financial information. Those connections, also known as open banking, are vital links for fintechs seeking to enable such services as peer-to-peer payments, online banking, and digital investing. 

One of the biggest players in open banking, Plaid has connections to 200 million consumer bank accounts and 11,000 U.S. banks, according to the DoJ.   

In its response to the lawsuit, Visa argues the DoJ misunderstands both Plaid’s business and the ultra-competitive landscape in which it operates.

“The combination of Visa and Plaid will deliver substantial benefits for consumers seeking access to a broader range of financial-related services, and Visa intends to defend the transaction vigorously,” Visa says in its statement. “As we explained to the DoJ, Plaid is not a payments company. Visa’s business faces intense competition from a variety of players—but Plaid is not one of them. Plaid is a data network that enables individuals to connect their financial accounts to the apps and services they use to manage their financial lives, and its capabilities complement Visa’s. Together, Visa and Plaid will deliver better digital experiences and more choice for consumers in managing their money and financial data. Visa is confident that this transaction is good for consumers and good for competition.” 

Visa could not be reached for further comment.

Despite Visa’s claims, Plaid’s size and reach are most likely what triggered the DoJ’s theory that the acquisition by Visa violates antitrust law, says Patricia Hewitt, principal at PG Research & Advisory Services, a Savannah, Ga.-based consultancy.

“There is increasing value in organizations to get to depository accounts and affect transactions in those accounts,” Hewitt says. “What Plaid does is connect disparate entities to bank accounts and other authentication services. The acquisition of Plaid by Visa could lock out a lot of competition in open banking.

“Visa has always been an aggressive competitor and it looks for contractual exclusivity in its business arrangements,” she adds. “The DoJ is obviously looking hard at the antitrust implications of Visa’s planned acquisition of Plaid.”

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