SoftBank Group Corp. is in talks to invest about $1.4 billion in India’s One97 Communications Ltd. in a deal that would value the owner of the country’s largest digital-payments provider at about $7 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.
The deal is not yet finalized and the terms may yet change, said the people, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. One97 Communications, whose Paytm unit has seen business surge as India took most of its paper bills from circulation, has also had discussions with two other investors, one of the people said. The company was last valued at $4.2 billion, according to research firm CB Insights.
The Paytm deal would be a vote of confidence in the India market amidst a brutal downturn in the venture market. Hundreds of fledgling companies are cutting staff or closing their doors. Indeed, SoftBank is said to be pressing Snapdeal, an Indian e-commerce provider it backs, to merge operations with market leader Flipkart Online Services Pvt. in what would be a dramatic sign of consolidation in the market.
Patym has avoided the worst of the trauma thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision in November to ban high-value currency notes in his fight against corruption. Within hours of Modi’s announcement, Paytm saw a 1,000 percent surge in money added to customers’ digital wallets, the company said the day after the ban.
Vijay Shekhar Sharma founded One97 Communications in 2000 and changed business models multiple times before expanding into digital payments. His backers already include China’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and its finance affiliate. SoftBank was an early investor in Alibaba, and SoftBank Chairman Masayoshi Son and Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma sit on each other’s boards.
SoftBank spokesman Matthew Nicholson didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.