Flipkart’s Authorises Phonepe Pvt Ltd Unit To Become A New Entity And Explore Raising $1 Billion

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New Delhi: When Walmart Inc. paid $16 billion for control of India’s e-commerce pioneer Flipkart Online Services Pvt. last year, the American retail giant got a little-noticed digital payments subsidiary as part of the deal. Now the business is emerging as one of the country’s top startups, a surprise benefit for Walmart from its largest-ever acquisition.

Flipkart’s board recently authorized the PhonePe Pvt Ltd. unit to become a new entity and explore raising $1 billion from outside investors at a valuation of as much as $10 billion, according to people familiar with the matter, asking not to be named because the discussions are private. The funding may close in the next couple of months, although the talks are not finalized and terms could still change, they said. The unit would then become independent with a distinct investor base, although Walmart-owned Flipkart would remain a shareholder. Walmart and Flipkart didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.

PhonePe -- which means “on the phone” in Hindi and is pronounced “phone pay” -- has grown into one of India’s leading digital payments companies. Its volume and value of transactions have roughly quadrupled over the past year as the country’s consumers adopt the technology to transfer money digitally to businesses and each other. PhonePe is gaining ground on Paytm, which leads the field and is backed by Warren Buffett.

PhonePe is an “underappreciated asset,” Edward Yruma, an analyst from KeyBanc Capital Markets, wrote in a recent research note. He estimated the business may be worth $14 billion to $15 billion, separate from Flipkart’s e-commerce operation.

The startup was founded in December 2015 by three friends who left Flipkart to get it off the ground. Within a year, Flipkart founders Binny Bansal and Sachin Bansal decided to acquire PhonePe, realizing that solving payments friction would make it easier for consumers to buy online. Less than a year later, the Indian government made the unprecedented move to ban large banknotes to curb corruption and boost digital transactions. With this “demonetization,” Paytm, PhonePe and other fledgling services flourished.

Cheap smartphones and cut-rate wireless data plans have brought millions of Indians online in the years since, boosting the whole industry. In June, the PhonePe app reached 290 million transactions with an aggregate value of $85 billion, compared with 71 million transactions at $22 billion a year earlier, according to the company.

The service gained momentum by offering an array of services, including mutual funds, movie tickets and airline bookings. Earlier this year, it began using Bollywood star Aamir Khan in its advertising.

 

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