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Beyond fundamentals: Outlook on digital payments


Beyond fundamentals: Outlook on digital payments

In this video Dan Davidowitz, Portfolio Manager and Analyst for Polen’s Focus Growth strategy, shares his insights on the often-misunderstood world of digital payments. Can the Visa and MasterCard duopoly be disrupted?

What interests you the most about the digital payments space from an investment perspective?

There’s a lot to like about digital payments. First, it’s an area of secular growth. People are using digital payments more and more every year. Not long ago, most U.S. transactions were in cash and check. Now, the majority use digital forms of payment and outside the U.S., there’s even more room to grow.

Exhibit 1: Card Penetration of Purchase Personal Consumer Expenditure (PCE)

chart, bar chart

Source: Nilson, World Bank, IMF and Bernstein estimates and analysis.

Secondly, it’s exceedingly hard to process digital payments quickly, accurately, and with minimal fraud or downtime. Very few companies can do it on a global scale like Visa and MasterCard, so it’s difficult to compete with them.

What else stands out to you about Visa and MasterCard?

These two companies sit at the nexus of consumers, merchants, and banks. They enable a whole payments ecosystem that wouldn’t be able to function without them, as they link to all counterparties and confirm that transactions between them can happen. And they make these approvals happen anywhere on the planet within milliseconds, billions of times per day. So, they’ve become trusted partners that can operate cost-effectively because of their scale.

Exhibit 2: The Payments Value Chain


Source: Polen Capital

One nuance that investors don’t always understand is that the credit risk these companies assume is minimal. They take credit risk for only the fractions of seconds that it takes to confirm the validity of the transactions.

Over time, we’ve heard about many potential disruption risks for Visa and MasterCard. Years ago, some predicted that retailers would organize their own payment networks. Later, there were presumptive threats from other networks and digital wallets like Apple Pay. More recently, the focus has been on whether cryptocurrency might displace the incumbents. However, none of these threats seem to have changed the business model for these companies. Why is that?

We’ve observed that each time one of these new, disruptive players comes along, they eventually partner with Visa and MasterCard. And again, this is because no one has figured out how to transact as cheaply, reliably, or globally.

Why do new entrants struggle to replicate the model?

With their massive volume of transactions, Visa and MasterCard have access to a tremendous amount of information. Due to their longevity, they’ve also overcome three huge hurdles of acceptance—from consumers, banks, and merchants—that are difficult for newcomers to surpass.

You’ve studied many other high-quality businesses in this space. How do their models compare?

That’s a tricky question because we only focus on analyzing companies that we believe are outstanding and competitively advantaged. That said, it’s tough to find a duopoly of this caliber, with robust secular growth trends behind it and such a critical position within the global economy. Visa and MasterCard enjoy pricing power and have a history of making strategic capital allocation decisions. In our team’s view, these factors make their businesses extremely hard to disrupt.

If you would like to learn more about the Polen Capital Global Growth Fund, please visit the fund’s web page to learn more: Polen Capital Global Growth Fund

Past performance is not an indicator of future performance. Returns are not guaranteed and so the value of an investment may rise or fall.

The Polen Capital Global Growth Fund own shares in Visa and MasterCard. This video was prepared 08 June 2023 with the information we have today, and our view may change. It does not constitute formal advice or professional investment advice. If you wish to trade these companies you should seek financial advice.


Established in 1979, Polen Capital is a high conviction growth investment manager with offices in the US and UK. Polen has been dedicated to serving investors by providing concentrated portfolios of the highest-quality companies for more than three decades. The firm’s established team manages US$71 billion in total assets and their longest-running flagship investment strategy has delivered on average double digit annual returns for more than 30 years.

This post was contributed by a representative of Montgomery Investment Management Pty Limited (AFSL No. 354564). The principal purpose of this post is to provide factual information and not provide financial product advice. Additionally, the information provided is not intended to provide any recommendation or opinion about any financial product. Any commentary and statements of opinion however may contain general advice only that is prepared without taking into account your personal objectives, financial circumstances or needs. Because of this, before acting on any of the information provided, you should always consider its appropriateness in light of your personal objectives, financial circumstances and needs and should consider seeking independent advice from a financial advisor if necessary before making any decisions. This post specifically excludes personal advice.

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