Visa Warns PayPal of All-Out Competitive War

canstockphoto5725096Visa may soon start targeting PayPal in ways you’ve “never seen before,” its CEO has warned investors.

PayPal has long been walking the line with traditional payment networks. So when asked about the “friend or foe” debate with PayPal, Visa CEO Charles Scharf said out loud recently what many have long been thinking:

I’ve been very, very clear on this one which is, if you are foe, you’re not a friend, and PayPal’s historic model, on the one hand, 50% of the volume is ACH, the other 50% is general purpose cards of which we’re half of it. So, they drive a lot of business our way — that’s supposedly the friend part of it. The foe part is where they then use historically those transactions to do everything they can to get those to ACH, where we and our clients get disintermediated from the transaction, the entire experience, and it causes tremendous customer service problems for the bank specifically.

And so anyone that’s trying to take your customers and disintermediate you — is not a friend and so that’s the reality of the way we viewed PayPal historically.

Foe it is.. 

Scharf’s message delivered during a JPMorgan Chase conference last week, but made public today, is clear: PayPal should stop encouraging its customers to link their PayPal accounts directly to their bank accounts, instead of credit/debit cards — or face the consequences.

Listen, historically they were the only game in town, but as we just talked about, there are lots of other opportunities for us to capture that share.

We’d love to figure out a different model with them where it’s consumer choice first where they are not disintermediating, if we can figure that out with them great we’ll think of them more as a partner they need to do things differently in order to do that. The other door is where we go full steam and compete with them in ways that people have never seen before, because you’ve never seen us go target PayPal in the marketplace in any meaningful way. And so those are the options that are on the table. They are not threats or anything like that. It’s just that’s the reality of the situation and we will see where we come out on it.

Well, that certainly sounds like a threat. Since the market clearly seems to be moving toward ACH transactions, it’s unlikely PayPal will change its strategy going forward. So, we are left observing what Visa will look like in “full steam” mode.

Visa’s competing product to PayPal is the relatively new Visa Checkout – an online credit card launched in 2014. It allows customers to checkout from merchant websites or apps using only a username and password (somewhat like PayPal). However, Scharf said that the payment network doesn’t view Visa Checkout as the “one thing that has to be successful. It might be Visa Checkout, it might be one of the other things,” he said.

Visa Checkout currently has more than 12 million consumers. To compare, PayPal ended its first quarter with 184 million active accounts. (Alright, probably not a fair comparison.)

PayPal’s stock [ticker: PYPL] is trading 1.24% higher today at 11:23 am ET at $38.26 a share.

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