What is the story of the payment company Worldline?

What is the story of the payment company Worldline?

In the service sector of payments and financial transactions, the French group Worldline is now the market leader in Europe and 4th in the world. How did it come to this? What does the growth of this company look like over the years?

The early years with merit on the Carte Bleue

Worldline begins under the name Sligos in 1972 and is strongly linked to the emergence of the Carte Bleue, the classic French debit card of the following decades. It was the merging of Cegos Informatique (in existence since 1962) and Sliga (the data processing company within Crédit Lyonnais since 1970) into a new payments company, still controlled by one of France’s largest banks, Crédit Lyonnais. The Landesbank of France mentored Sligos to develop its payment processes into Carte Bleue, and not long after, in 1975, Sligos was processing 2.5 million payment transactions a year. By 1980, these had risen to 30 million a year; the bank card had gained widespread acceptance. In the 1980s, Sligos relied on the development of the microchip and introduced ‘smart’ card payment transactions that used pin numbers for authorization, which began the gradual decline of the process involving reading the magnetic strip and a manual signature. By the end of the decade, 50 million bank cards of the national type ‘Carte Bleue’ had been issued. In principle, this marked the nationwide acceptance of an electronic means of payment in France. France was at the vanguard of Europe in popularizing smart cards. But it wasn’t until 2003 that Cartes Bleues gained a use beyond national borders with the alignment to the international EMV standard. In 2010, they disappeared in favor of Visa.

Expansion abroad and the merger with Axime to form Atos

With the nineties, the expansion of Sligos (later Worldline) beyond the borders of France began, the acquisition of the British company Signet took place in 1991 There were further acquisitions in Germany (Marben Group), Italy and Spain until the mid-nineties. During a period of restructuring and sale of subdivisions, such as that of smart card production, the next major event in the history of Sligos occurred when it merged with its competitor Axime in 1996, at the latter’s suggestion. Under its former name, Sodinforg (prior to 1993), Axime had become France’s third largest smart card payment system developer. Axime had also seen a steady rise in e-payments through the acquisition of other companies similar to Sligos, but that will not be of interest here. Axime made a name for itself particularly in the stock exchange sector with software and electronic systems. After the merger, Sligos and Axime operated under the name Atos from September 1997.

With the name Atos to the top of the continent

The merger was immediately followed by further reorganization measures, with the creation of four key divisions: Services, Multimedia, Outsourcing and Systems Integration. Areas that did not fit into these four divisions were divested. These included companies for computer hardware sales, direct marketing, software development for network interconnection. Sesam (Italy) was acquired, and another major merger turned Atos into Atos Origin in 2000 after the takeover of Origin (originating from Royal Philips Electronics). Now the group could claim to have become the number 3 among all IT companies in Europe, with an annual turnover of 2.8 billion euros at that time. At that time, there was a trend to combine system integration with consulting services. In 2002, KPMG Consulting, with its activities in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, was added to the group. An important deal in the Netherlands in the same year was the takeover of almost all of KPN’s IT operations for the equivalent of one billion euros. At the end of 2003, Atos Origin took ownership of SchlumbergerSema, the leading provider of IT services to the oil industry. This was to be a door-opener for penetrating the Chinese market, because SchlumbergerSema brought with it important support contracts, namely with six out of ten existing Chinese banks that issued credit cards. On this basis, Atos Origin planned to expand further in China, quadrupling its operations there by 2006. In 2004, the name Worldline appeared for the first time when Atos created a new division for its payment and online services, under the name Atos Worldline.

Atos Worldline grows to autonomy

Two Belgian companies came under the ownership of Atos Worldline in 2006 – Banksys and BCC. The former was responsible for securing electronic payments in Belgium, the latter regulated payment systems for Visa and MasterCard in Belgium. This deal had a magnitude of 309 million euros in revenue. Managing Director Bernard Bourigeaud, who had been at the helm of Atos since the days of Axime, handed over the reins in the fall of 2007 to Philippe Germond, who held the position until 2008, when he made way for longtime Atos CEO Thierry Breton (until 2019, now European Commissioner for Internal Market). From India, Atos Worldwide received Venture Infotek, which handles payment processes among merchants, banks and that country’s administration, for 100 million euros in 2010. The following year, Siemens’ IT services division joined Atos Worldline, followed in 2012 by Quality Equipment, a Dutch electronic payments company. In 2013, Thierry Breton found Worldline so significant that this business unit was granted more autonomy within Atos, while parent company Atos Origin remained 100% shareholder of this spun-off subsidiary Worldline.

Disengagement from Atos and final stages of growth

Efforts at constant expansion continued under the latest name: once again, a Dutch company was the target of an acquisition; Equens joined Worldline in November 2015, although in the first step only just under 64% of the new equensWorldline was owned by Worldline itself. In the summer of 2017, Digital River World Payments of Sweden came into French ownership for $37 million from Bezons, Worldline’s headquarters on the outskirts of Paris. Then First Data Baltics of Lithuania was absorbed for €73 million. However, these acquisitions pale before the subsequent purchase of SIX Payment Services, the payment services arm of the Swiss stock exchange, which was worth 2.3 billion euros to Worldline. That transaction, in May 2018, reportedly boosted Worldline’s revenue by 30%. The following year, Worldline became fully independent of parent Atos, whose stake dropped to 27%, by reshuffling its shareholdings. The last major acquisitions were Ingenico, the world leader in the field of device manufacturing for e-payments (February 2020) and the Eastern European online payment service provider GoPay (April 2020). Worldline stock analysis also shows that. The current CEO Gilles Grapinet has been trying since May 2020 to achieve an alliance of the major groups of European digital payment service providers by forming the umbrella organization EDPIA, of which he also became the founding president. Currently, Worldline’s activities are divided into Merchant Services, Terminals Solutions Services, Financial Services and Mobility e-Transactional Services. In 2018, Financial Services accounted for nearly half of revenue at just over 42%.

Source: Worldline 
Photo by Jonas Leupe on Unsplash

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