Green Dot has depended heavily on retail behemoth Wal-Mart to help sell its flagship prepaid cards for much of its 15-year existence. In recent quarters, 55%-65% of the Pasadena, Calif., company's revenue has come through Wal-Mart.
The outsized reliance on a single partner poses a risk, especially in light of the fact that Green Dot's contract with Wal-Mart expires next year, so it has been looking to diversify its business. That helps explain why Green Dot plunked down approximately $320 million, in a deal announced Thursday, to purchase Santa Barbara Tax Products Group.
Investors responded positively to the announcement, pushing Green Dot shares up 3% in late-afternoon trading. Still, its shares have fallen 23% over the last year.
Green Dot has been trying for some time to diversify beyond the prepaid cards it pioneered - last year the firm introduced a mobile-phone-based checking account - and the new acquisition takes the company further down that path.
Santa Barbara Tax Products Group, which goes by the acronym TPG, enables consumers to pay their tax-preparation fees out of their tax refund, rather than paying up front. The option is more expensive to consumers, but it can appeal to those who don't have the cash available to pay their tax preparer. The service can also enable people who don't have bank accounts to receive their refunds sooner.
In the most recent tax season, TPG, which works with tax preparers, processed refunds on behalf of roughly 11 million U.S. tax filers, according to a Green Dot news release.
Green Dot Chief Executive Steve Streit said that both companies sell their products to U.S. families with low and moderate incomes, which will offer an opportunity for cross-selling.
"We believe that the vast majority of these 11 million tax filers who annually choose to receive their tax refund through TPG services are prime candidates for a Green Dot-issued prepaid card or checking account," Streit told analysts during a conference call.
Larry Berlin, an analyst at First Analysis, expressed some skepticism that the marriage will yield higher combined revenues.
"The cross-sell opportunities are there, but I want to see them materialize," he said. "I think it has yet to be proven."
Apart from the acquisition, Green Dot also announced Thursday that it expects its revenues for the current fiscal year to be about $30 million lower than its previous estimate of $640 million to $650 million, based on trends in its core business.
Still, analysts saw positives in Green Dot's announcements, including the promise that the company will soon announce another unspecified new program that it believes can have a positive impact on its financial results.
Mark Palmer, an analyst at BTIG, said that Green Dot has previously been counting on a continuation of the rapid growth in the prepaid card market, where American Express and other deep-pocketed competitors have made big investments. "Now it's less dependent on that," he said.
He and other analysts think it's quite likely that Green Dot's contract with Wal-Mart will be renewed, though some observers believe the deal will be extended on terms that are more favorable to the Bentonville, Ark., retail chain.
The acquisition announced Thursday is the latest in a series of moves by Green Dot to wean itself off the Wal-Mart relationship. Over the 15 months or so, the firm has started selling its prepaid cards in thousands of check-cashing stores and other retail chains.
To pay for the TPG purchase, Green Dot will use $55 million in cash and $150 million in new bank debt. The remaining $115 million of the purchase price will be paid in Green Dot shares.
Green Dot said that it expects the deal with generate roughly $85 million in tax benefits, so the effective purchase price is approximately $235 million.