Thomas Cook Group Ltd.'s pending acquisition of Interpayment Services Ltd., the travelers check subsidiary of London-based Barclays Bank PLC, resulted from two simple and fortuitous decisions: Thomas Cook wanted to buy; Barclays wanted to sell. The deal, announced Aug. 11,.
Barclays' Interpayment unit, with 35,000 sales locations in 145 countries, is the largest issuer of Visa Travelers Cheques, with annual sales of $7 billion.
Thomas Cook had a 13-year marketing relationship with Mastercard International, which was expanded in 1991 when Cook took over the card organization's travelers check operations.
Thomas Cook, the London-based travel and financial-services enterprise 90% owned by Westdeutsche Landesbank of Germany, also sells Euro Travellers Cheque International.
With the Barclays acquisition, Thomas Cook will command 30% of the highly competitive, increasingly concentrated global travelers check market. American Express leads the pack with 44% of the $54 billion market, and Citicorp has a 12% market share.
In a written statement, Alex Jablonowski, managing director of Barclays, said, "We are delighted to have concluded this agreement with Thomas Cook. Their depth of experience and expertise on the travelers checks business will make for a smooth and seamless transition."
Terms were not disclosed, but sources close to the deal said Thomas Cook paid "nowhere near" Interpayment's gross asset value of 800 million pounds, or $1.2 billion.
Graham Rider, managing director with Thomas Cook, called it "a financially attractive price."
"Thomas Cook was actually invited by Visa, who asked if there was anything we could do to help," Mr. Rider said.
Visa, concerned that its largest issuer was looking to get out of the business, went searching for potential buyers.
"Barclays made a strategic decision to focus more on its core retail banking," said David Brancoli, a spokesman for San Francisco-based Visa International. "And then the question for Visa was, where do we go from here?"
Mr. Brancoli said Visa was satisfied that Thomas Cook bought Interpayment, saying that it was "sold to someone who knows what they are doing."
Other groups also reacted favorably.
The Independent Bankers Association of America proclaimed the acquisition good for community banks, since 2,500 of them nationwide can continue selling IBAA/Visa Travelers Cheques through Interpayment.
Stephen A. Ello, IBAA's director of services, explained that community banks will not lose enhancements like their sharing of float revenue, a major source of industry profits. He said that feature was not available from other large bank issuers or American Express' travelers check group.
"It ensures that community banks will retain access to the Visa brand name and not have to go to other brands like American Express or Citibank," Mr. Ello said. "They are not considered friendly to community banking."
Mr. Rider said Cook's acquisition comes at an opportune time, since travelers check market growth has been stunted by the relatively slow economies of the United States and western Europe.
"People are traveling less," Mr. Rider said. "In North America, I think it also has to do with [competition from other] payment instruments," including credit and automated tellermachine cards.
He said there remained significant potential for growth in developing regions such as South America and the Pacific Rim, where, he said, the Visa brand is "well established."
"Visa has quite a strong presence in many of those countries," Mr. Rider said, adding that more of their citizens "may now for the first time become international travelers."