Swedish Klarna buys rival Sofort

Sebastian Siernatkowski, 31
Sebastian Siernatkowski, 31

Klarna is taking a big step towards becoming the leading European payments provider and rival to US groups such as PayPal, Visa and MasterCard as the Swedish start-up pays more than €150m to acquire a German rival.

Klarna, which allows customers to buy goods online and pay for them later by invoice, is taking over Munich-based Sofort, paying more than half in cash thanks to support from the Swedish company’s existing shareholders, such as Sequoia Capital and General Atlantic.

Together the two groups – which will continue to offer their separate online payments services – will have 25m users and 10 per cent of the north European market, processing $10bn each year.
“It is no longer crazy to say we have a shot at becoming the independent payments provider in Europe,” Sebastian Siemiatkowski, Klarna’s chief executive and co-founder, told the Financial Times.

The Sofort deal opens up new European markets for Klarna including the UK, Italy, France, Spain and Poland. Mr Siemiatkowski said there were no immediate plans to launch in the US but added that idea was “exciting”, while some of Klarna’s venture capital backers are keen on the idea of it taking on PayPal head to head.

“Sofort is high-test additive that puts even more pep in Klarna’s engine and will help the company accelerate its business in Germany,” said Sir Michael Moritz, a partner at Sequoia Capital.

Klarna was launched in 2004 by a trio of students and has grown rapidly to now account for a quarter of all online payments in Sweden. It uses a complex system to analyse customers’ behaviour in an attempt to detect fraud with late-night or multiple purchases, for instance, viewed as more suspicious than those made in the afternoon or for single items.

The Swedish group claims it can increase sales for online stores by 15-25 per cent, as fewer shoppers abandon purchases through frustration at the payment process. Klarna assumes the credit risk from the merchant in return for a fee and collects payment from the customer.

It has become one of the success stories of European technology and particularly Stockholm start-ups, valued at close to $1bn in its last fundraising two years ago.

Klarna is buying Sofort from its majority owner, Reimann Investors, the family office of the Reimann family that derives its wealth from consumer goods group Reckitt Benckiser and perfume manufacturer Coty.
PayPal, owned by auction site eBay, has 137m active accounts and processed $145bn in payments last year, with just under half of its revenues coming from the US.

The Klarna deal comes amid reports that Amazon, the US online retailer, is to buy GoPago, another payments start-up. – Financial Times