Ensuring that it remains in the driver's seat of the Indian e-commerce ecosystem even as it continues its talks to sell its biggest bet in the country, Japanese telecom major SoftBank has invested $1.8 billion in mobile wallet major Paytm.
SoftBank, after its failed experiment in Jasper Infotech-owned Snapdeal and FreeCharge, in which it invested close to a billion dollars, will be the biggest stakeholder Paytm's parent company, One97 Communications, pushing Chinese internet giant Alibaba to second spot.
The move would help SoftBank maintain its bellwether status of being the lead investor in the country and it will take a seat on the Paytm board.
This is the biggest round of funding ever by an Indian e-commerce firm.
"In line with the Indian government's vision to promote digital inclusion, we are committed to transforming the lives of hundreds of millions of Indian consumers and merchants by providing them digital access to a broad array of financial services, including mobile payments. We are excited to partner with Paytm in this journey and will provide them with all our support," said Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive officer, SoftBank Group Corp, in a statement.
Beating online marketplace major Flipkart's recent $1.4-billion funding, One97 Communications, the parent company of both Paytm Payments Bank and PayTm Mall, has managed to close this round at a valuation of $9 billion, putting it just $2 billion away from Flipkart.
According to sources, SoftBank has invested $1.4 billion directly in the company, and the rest it has spent on buying One97's secondary shares. SoftBank will directly hold a 20 per cent stake in the company, while it would gain 12 per cent by virtue of being a major shareholder in Alibaba, the Chinese internet giant that has a stake in One97. Alibaba's shareholding in One97 technically will go down to 29 per cent from 41 per cent, while Paytm founder and Chief Executive Officer Vijay Shekhar Sharma's shareholding might remain the same at around 19 per cent.
"We are at an inflection point in our journey with Paytm. This investment by SoftBank and support of the incredible entrepreneur Masayoshi Son is a great endorsement of our team's execution and vision. We believe we have a great opportunity to bring financial inclusion to half a billion Indians," Sharma said in a statement.
Sources said this investment by SoftBank would not only fuel the company's expansion plans, but help it get rid of the "Chinese company" tag because of its association with Alibaba, a reputation that its rivals and detractors used to derail its growth during demonetisation. They even alleged that the country's data were at risk.
Paytm, which had its back-end infrastructure ready for its payments bank after demonetisation, used it to fuel its massive growth in the past six months.
"Now that SoftBank is the major stakeholder, the whole debate around Paytm being Indian or not should be finally laid to rest. SoftBank is planning to invest in Flipkart as well anyway," said a source close to the company.
This investment, according to the company, will help Paytm expand its user base and build a suite of financial services products for its users. The company on Wednesday announced that it would launch its payments bank on May 23.
Paytm plans to invest Rs 10,000 crore (approximately $1.6 billion) over the next three to five years.
Paytm, launched in August 2010 as an online recharges and bill payments platform, soon expanded into ubiquitous online and offline use-cases. In January 2014, it launched Paytm Wallet, which has emerged as India's biggest digital wallet with over 220 million users and more than five million offline merchants across India.
Paytm is headquartered in Noida, and its other investors include Ant Financial (Alipay), SAIF Partners and Mediatek.