Visa abandons takeover of Plaid after DOJ raises antitrust concerns

US News

Visa CEO Alfred Kelly speaks at Boston College’s Chief Executive Club luncheon, September 27, 2018. 

Brian Snyder | Reuters

Visa has ended its takeover efforts of Silicon Valley start-up Plaid about two months after the Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit on grounds that it would limit competition in the payments industry.

The company said the decision to end the merger was mutual.

About a year ago, on Jan. 13, 2020, Visa announced that it planned on acquiring Plaid in a deal worth $5.3 billion — roughly double the start-up’s last private valuation. The company’s API software, often referred to as the “plumbing” behind fintech companies, lets start-ups connect to users’ bank accounts. The company says it integrates with more than 11,000 banks.

Plaid CEO Zach Perret said in a statement the company will work with Visa as an investor and partner going forward.

The deal hit a snag late last year after the DOJ pointed out Visa’s acquisition could eliminate a nascent competitive threat. The DOJ cited Visa CEO Al Kelly’s description of the deal as an “insurance policy” to neutralize a “threat to our important US debit business.”

The department argued at the time there was potential for the deal to extend a Visa “monopoly” on debit transactions, adding that it “must be stopped.”

The DOJ said in a statement Tuesday that termination of the merger was “a victory for American consumers and small businesses.”

The lawsuit symbolized a step that many tech critics say should have been taken by the Federal Trade Commission back when it was approving Facebook‘s acquisitions of Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014.

Now, those mergers are re-entering public discussion. Late last year, the FTC and several states filed antitrust lawsuits against Facebook, alleging it used its market power to squash competitors before they could become true rivals to Facebook’s empire. The suits suggest remedies that could include requiring Facebook to spin off those two businesses.

— CNBC’s Kate Rooney and Lauren Feiner contributed to this report.

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