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India's PhonePe tops $12 billion valuation in new funding

PhonePe's valuation has more than doubled to over $12 billion in a new funding round as the Indian fintech giant readies for life without parent firm Flipkart. The Bengaluru-headquartered startup said it has raised $350 million and anticipates raising up to another $650 million as part of the round in a remarkable feat at a time when fundraising activity has slowed down globally as investors become cautious.

General Atlantic led the first tranche of the investment. The company has not assigned a name to the funding round, but said it was valued at $12 billion pre-money. TechCrunch reported last month that PhonePe was finalizing a large funding round at $12 billion pre-money valuation.

Indeed, $12 billion is a staggering valuation for PhonePe, which was valued at $5.5 billion in late 2020. PhonePe currently does less than $450 million in annual revenue. Publicly traded rival Paytm, which expects to hit $1 billion in revenue in the financial year ending March 2023, currently has a market cap of $4.2 billion.

Walmart, a majority investor in PhonePe, is expected to participate in the current funding round, according to a source familiar with the matter.

PhonePe, to be sure, is a clear leader in the mobile payments market on UPI, a network built by a coalition of retail banks in India. UPI has become the most popular way Indians transact online, and processes over 7 billion transactions a month. Seven-year-old PhonePe commands about 40% of all these transactions. The startup says it has more than 400 million registered users and more than 35 million offline merchants rely on the platform.

A concern for PhonePe's growth was Indian regulators enforcing a market cap check on each player, but the deadline for the new guidelines was extended last month and now won't come into effect until 2025, giving PhonePe another two years of fast-growth.

"I would like to thank General Atlantic and all our existing and new investors for the trust they have placed in us. PhonePe is proud to help lead India’s country-wide digitization efforts and believes that this powerful public-private collaboration has made the Indian digital ecosystem a global exemplar. We are an Indian company, built by Indians, and our latest fundraise will help us further accelerate the Government of India’s vision of digital financial inclusion for all," said Sameer Nigam, founder and chief executive of PhonePe, in a statement.

"We look forward to delivering the next phase of our growth by investing in new business verticals like Insurance, Wealth Management and Lending, while also facilitating the next wave of growth for UPI payments in India."

PhonePe was founded in 2015 and within a year was acquired by e-commerce giant Flipkart. The two parted ways last month and now Flipkart no longer owns a stake in the payments firm. The separation will have some impact on Flipkart’s valuation. In July last year, Flipkart Group raised $3.6 billion at a valuation of $37.6 billion. Flipkart doesn't plan to re-enter the mobile payments market, TechCrunch earlier reported.

At stake is India’s payments market that is estimated to be worth $1 trillion in the next two to three years, up from about $200 billion in 2020, according to Credit Suisse. Google and Meta are among players investing heavily to win the market.

The payments firm has also shifted its base to India, a move that triggered a big tax event for its investors. Walmart confirmed earlier this month that it had paid the Indian government most of the nearly $1 billion in tax owed as part of PhonePe shifting its base from Singapore.

PhonePe said it will deploy the new funds to make significant investments in infrastructure, including in the development of data centers and to build more financial services. The company also plans to invest in new businesses, including Insurance, wealth management and lending.

"Sameer, Rahul and the PhonePe management team have pursued a clear mission to drive payments digitalization and significantly broaden access to financial tools for the people of India. They remain focused on driving adoption of inclusive products developed on the open API based 'India stack,'" said Shantanu Rastogi, managing director and head of India at General Atlantic, in a statement.

"This vision is aligned with General Atlantic’s longstanding commitment to backing high-growth businesses focused on inclusion and empowerment. We are excited to partner with the PhonePe team to help enable the next generation of digital innovation in India."