Visa Inc. is making inroads into the world of third-party software development, bolstering its ability to compete in e-commerce payments.
The company has poured enough cash into Authorize.Net, a payment gateway that came with its July purchase of CyberSource Corp., to advance its open-source platform at least two years ahead of schedule.
Analysts said the move puts Visa closer technologically to the likes of PayPal Inc., which launched its PayPal X platform last year.
Visa plans to unveil its latest updates today. Some of the improvements include software development kits that provide ready-made code for developers to use with their own mobile and desktop applications, updated documentation and blogs that offer tips, a redesigned portal on its website, and a new connection method that allows a merchant to never have to store or collect any of the transaction detail for security purposes.
This work builds on a platform that Authorize.Net built in 2005 and updated last year. The move is the first that industry watchers have seen out of Visa's CyberSource acquisition.
"Now that we have been part of the Visa environment for a couple of months, they are very interested in driving this forward," said John Bodine, Authorize.Net's vice president. "Everybody is trying to cultivate that developer, or third-party solution community; we are talking about an electronic environment that's doing trillions of dollars in flow a year."
MasterCard Inc. has similar ambitions for third-party software developers. The Purchase, N.Y., company plans to launch its own open platform this year. American Express Co. discussed intentions along the same lines when it bought Revolution Money in January.
In the meantime, Visa's strategy is to use Authorize.Net as its mouthpiece, rather than just simply absorb the technology.
Today, the platform is agnostic. The roughly 300,000 online merchants that use Authorize.Net can accept any of the payment networks using Authorize.Net, and Visa said it is not going to restrict that.
Executives would not specify how much additional funding and personnel Visa has committed to the payment gateway.
And although Visa said it considers PayPal an ally, analysts note that PayPal, a unit of eBay Inc., is also Authorize.Net's main competitor.
Authorize.Net has long been the underdog, said Beth Robertson, the director of payments research for Javelin Strategy and Research in Pleasanton, Calif. Authorize.Net "is actively used by the small, smaller to midsize merchants," she said. It has been "more product-specific, whereas PayPal X has a broader platform that is less narrowly focused."
Their rivalry goes back a decade. In the 1990s, Authorize.Net was just as big a player in e-commerce as PayPal, said Brian Riley, a research director for bank cards at TowerGroup. After its sale to eBay, PayPal pulled ahead of Authorize.Net. "It's a long way to catch up to PayPal," Riley said. PayPal "is kind of on its own right now."
Still, the more businesses developing the technology, the more opportunity there is. "Something like this with Visa certainly expands the capability," Riley said. "It's a little bit late in the game, but there is plenty of room for growth."
This growth would come as more merchants explore the opportunities in digital channels. "There is tons and tons of business that is not on the Internet — yet, and not on the electronic payment channels," Riley said. "It's a perfect example of a rising tide raises all boats."
Gerry Sweeney, Visa's head of e-commerce, said PayPal and Authorize.Net will complement each other at times. "PayPal is a complex organization, and there are going to be some parts of the payment system that we are going to partner with them with," he said. "PayPal drives a lot of volume through the system … I mean, the fact of the matter is, that PayPal has many roles within the payment system."
Sweeney said Visa's open platform shows promise. "We are seeing a blurring of the lines of what is an online transaction versus a mobile transaction versus an unattended kiosk. The opportunity is absolutely there to expand into all of those different channels."
A PayPal spokeswoman said she could not comment for this story.