Greece’s “unicorn” Viva Wallet has signed a deal with American banking giant JP Morgan, with the latter acquiring approximately 49 percent of the online bank.
Specifically, JP Morgan will acquire the Viva Wallet shares held by three funds: Hedosophia (24 percent), the Latsis family (13 percent) and Deca (10 percent).
Major Viva Wallet shareholders Haris Karonis and Makis Antypas maintain the majority stake of 51 percent and will continue to run the company, the newspaper Naftemporiki reports.
“Unicorn” is a term used in the venture capital industry to describe a private startup company with a value of over $1 billion.
According to reports, JPMorgan valued Viva Wallet Holdings at $2 billion, with the American giant paying close to half of that for the share acquisition.
Birth of Viva Wallet
Founders Haris Karonis and Makis Antypas started a company called Realize in 2000, creating IT programs for Greek banks.
From a company that created banking programs, it morphed into a fintech concern at a time when most people in Greece — especially older folks — preferred to stand in line at the bank to withdraw money.
Viva Numbers was founded in 2006 as a subsidiary of Realize. The company provided voice services and internet telephony under a permit from the National Telecommunications and Post Commission.
The company then expanded to a telecommunications provider, an online travel agency and even a registered insurance agent. It also provided online ticketing services for concerts, theaters and travel and bank services, such as Viva Payments.
Rise to the top
The injection of venture capital to the Greek company came with the help of Apostolos Tamvakakis, a man that Karonis considers his mentor.
Tamvakakis brought the first big investor to Viva Wallet, the family office of Marianna Latsi and Paris Kasidokostas. The Latsis family invested €6 million and the company took off.
Viva Wallet expanded abroad, and later, in 2018, Dimitris Daskalopoulos of Deca invested in the company, getting a 10 percent share.
Soon Viva was present in 23 more countries; it then acquired Praxia Bank, receiving a banking license through that deal.
Currently, Viva Wallet is the first European Neobank to have a complete infrastructure in the Microsoft Azure cloud, and it now has more than 600 employees.
It provides services in 19 different languages and payments in ten currencies, while it is an official member of Visa and MasterCard.
In 2021, Viva acquired a 33.5 percent stake in the Polish firm N7 mobile, a specialized company that develops software programs.
N7 mobile has developed software programs and hybrid technologies for customers in Poland and the rest of Europe, such as Microsoft, Orange, T-Mobile and Dolby.
In 2020, Viva Wallet had revenues of € 44 million, while in 2021 it almost tripled in size to around € 130 million, a performance that testifies to the momentum of its operations.
It provides payment acceptance services to businesses of all sizes through the innovative Viva Wallet POS application, the add-on Google Play devices and through the advanced payment gateway in online stores.
It also offers business accounts with a local IBAN and a Mastercard business debit card.
Viva Wallet Holdings has a Greek banking license (VIVABANK SA) and an electronic money institution license from the Bank of Greece, in accordance with the provisions of the PSD II Directive for activities in the EEA-31 region and in the United Kingdom.
The agreement with JP Morgan
JP Morgan signed a shareholders agreement with Haris Karonis, with specifics of the deal remaining undisclosed.
It is reported that JPMorgan’s flirtation with Viva Wallet started in the Fall of 2021 in London, where the Greek company has offices.
The acquisition of Viva Wallet is part of a broader plan of the Americans to penetrate the market for digital services companies.
JP Morgan Chase has reportedly agreed to a capital injection of approximately €200 million to the Greek company.
Furthermore, the Greek-American President and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, visited Greece last week and met with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announcing investments in Greece.
Greek startups that attracted big investors
While Viva Wallet has become an international brand, there are other Greek startups that have extended their businesses abroad, attracting big investors.
Beat, which was launched in 2011, showed the Greek consumer the usefulness of a mobile app for everyday transportation.
Beat was acquired Daimler, which formed a joint venture with BMW called Free Now, in which Beat is the flagship. Free Now is one of the leading urban platforms in Europe, serving 100 cities in 10 countries.
Skroutz, named after the Disney character, started in 2005 as a price comparison website. Today, it has created Skroutz Marketplace, offering traders the opportunity to sell online without investing in an e-shop.
Blueground started in 2013 in the market of managing the leasing of short-stay furnished apartments. Bloomberg has reported that its value has now reached $750 million.
Hellas Direct started in 2011 as a digital insurance company for motorists. Ten years later, it is ranked as being one of the 1,000 fastest-growing companies in Europe.