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Axis Bank will acquire Snapdeal’s Freecharge

The board of Snapdeal (Jasper Infotech), which owns and operates FreeCharge, has agreed to sell the digital payments platform to Axis Bank, India’s third-largest private sector lender according to two people aware of the development.

The conclusion of the deal marks a closure to a two-year long process during which Gurgaon-based Jasper Infotech – which also owns and operates beleaguered online marketplace Snapdeal—has also sought to raise fresh funding for the payments provider that competes with market leader Paytm.

The proposed deal will value FreeCharge at Rs 385 crore-Rs 390 crore, a steep plunge from the Rs 2,400 crore that Jasper Infotech paid to acquire the company in 2015, which at the time, was the biggest acquisition in the Indian startup sector.

The board of the Delhi-based company is also expected to approve the sale of its troubled online marketplace Snapdeal, to rival Flipkart.

Flipkart, the country’s largest online commerce company, has made a revised bid for Snapdeal, estimated at $850 million.

Others who had also evinced interest in buying out the payments provider included rival Paytm and online retail major Amazon, which made a late bid for the Bengaluru-based FreeCharge. Additionally, Airtel and global payments major Paypal had also been in talks to acquire the company.

A sale to Flipkart, being orchestrated by Japanese investor Softbank, the largest stakeholder in Snapdeal, has continued to divide the board, which had also rejected an initial offer of $500-$600 million, earlier this month.

Snapdeal founders Kunal Bahl and Rohit Bansal have been arguing that they are prepared to run and operate, what has been described as a stripped-down version of the company.

The sale of FreeCharge, once described as “Snapdeal’s crown jewel” by CEO Bahl, will provide much needed capital relief to the beleaguered company, potentially giving it operational liquidity for a few additional months.

The sale of Snapdeal is expected to include a cumulative special payout of about $90 million to venture capital firms, Kalaari Capital and Nexus Venture Partners, two early backers of Snapdeal, who hold about 18%-19% of the company, along with powerful veto rights under the shareholders agreement.

Separately, the founders are also believed to be in line for a payout of $30 million.

However, the terms of the sale have not gone down well with Snapdeal’s minority investors, a list that includes PremjiInvest, the personal investment arm of Wipro Chairman Azim Premji, BlackRock and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, who have continued to raise issue with the special payouts, while also asking for greater clarity on the protection of their rights, in lieu of a sale of the company.

The sale of FreeCharge is a reflection of the reversal in fortunes of its parent, Snapdeal. The digital payments company, for which Jasper had, at one point, eyed a valuation of close to $1 billion, has undergone a sharp drop of its volume and value of transactions.

The company is estimated to have recorded Rs 300 crore in transaction revenue on about 12 million transactions in April. In its heyday, the payments company had forecast 7 million daily transactions and gross merchandise transactions of Rs 20,000 crore by the end of fiscal 2017.

The purchase of FreeCharge by Axis Bank comes after the bank posted a 16% year-on-year fall in net profit to Rs 1,305.6 crore for the quarter ended June 30, hurt by higher provisions, increased credit costs and lower operating income.

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