Visa Inc.'s planned purchase of CyberSource Corp. shows the company's pursuit of mobile and online commerce also includes an eye on security risks.
The $2 billion cash deal is part of a strategic effort to shift the focus of Visa's security efforts from retail locations, where anti-fraud capabilities have improved dramatically in recent years, to the Internet and especially to mobile phones.
Joseph W. Saunders, Visa's chairman and chief executive, said in a press release that "as e-commerce increasingly migrates to mobile devices, we believe the combination of Visa and CyberSource technology and services will position Visa to lead in mobile e-commerce."
CyberSource, which has more than 295,000 merchant clients, is well-known for its security technology, and Gerry Sweeney, Visa's head of global e-commerce and authentication, said the acquisition will also play an important role in Visa's evolving anti-fraud efforts for online transactions.
Though mobile banking in the United States is still in its infancy, phones are already coming under attack from hackers who have figured out how to harvest sensitive information stored on smart phones. Avivah Litan, a vp and distinguished analyst at the Stamford, Conn., market research company Gartner, said that "nobody's figured out how to solve mobile fraud yet, because there's not a lot of it." But she says that will eventually change.
"I don't think [Visa is] going to make a ton of money in" owning CyberSource, Litan says. "I think it's mainly to get visibility into e-commerce transactions because of the high risk levels. Right now they don't have any visibility like they do with point of sale."
One of the main frustrations for fraudsters today is the chip-and-PIN card. In countries that adopted the EMV Integrated Circuit Card Specifications, fraud has begun to move away from cards and back online, Litan says. Even though "the crooks don't care about e-commerce data as much as they do about plastic ... e-commerce fraud is going up."
In addition to CyberSource's prowess for online and mobile fraud management, Visa praised the company's deep merchant relationships and potential for global expansion, particularly in Asian and Latin American markets.
"The transaction is about long-term growth," Saunders said in a conference call. "Visa must touch as much of each transaction as possible in order to enable a long-term differentiated value proposition. This acquisition fulfills this aspiration head-on."
Saunders also characterized the acquisition as a defensive move against alternative payment providers such as PayPal Inc., a unit of eBay Inc. and a payment company with global reach.
"We're paying attention to what PayPal as well as other companies are getting into [in] the e-commerce space," Saunders said, "and we are obviously concerned that would have an effect on our market share over a moderate or longer-term period of time."
The CyberSource purchase is "somewhat in reaction to" the growing influence of PayPal and other alternative payment providers, but "this is also happens to be consistent with what we think our long-term strategies should be to grow Visa," he said.
Visa said the acquisition is expected to close in the third quarter of the calendar year (Visa's fourth fiscal quarter). Michael Walsh, CyberSource's president and CEO, will continue to head the company as a Visa subsidiary, and William S. McKiernan, CyberSource's executive chairman and founder, will become an executive advisor at Visa to facilitate the companies' integration.