Cielo, PagSeguro, Stone and Linx: who will lead?

For the benefit of my friends, here is the translation of the last post:

The Brazilian acquiring market will have a new leader in a few years – or even earlier, if current leaders do not change their strategy.

Acquiring is a commodity business. While this assertion is obvious to some, most of the acquirers have not yet realized it and continue to compete solely on the basis of price.

However, the brutal war for the market will be won by those players who can understand the merchant’s needs in addition to payments. This means understanding their value chain, identifying “pain points”, creating and offering solutions.

Two large groups of problems and solutions will dominate the next battles of this war for leadership:

a) Offer a better financial services and solutions – high interest rates, low credit supply, fees and bank charges, collection services, etc.;

b) Technology – there is a large space for improvement of automation systems, software and applications that provide increased sales, loyalty, improvement in operation, etc.

The examples above are just a few of the areas that, once integrated with the means of payment, will bring huge benefits to merchants of retail products and services.

You may not know it, but with very few exceptions, a POS terminal connected to an acquirer is a totally separate system, which runs parallel to the store’s front-end (Cashier). At the end of the day, merchants need to reconcile their sales recorded with the statement provided by the acquirers and banks.

In addition, most of the merchant’s automation systems are hardware-based, which makes integration difficult, resulting in a huge opportunity for technology providers.

POS terminals are from the past. If you want to be a leader in payments, think about how to get rid of plastics and terminals. Payments have become invisible in some sectors and will be invisible across the industry in the future. Which players can take the lead? We analyze below the movement of some acquirers and possible impacts in the market dispute.


Stone was probably the first to explore in Brazil the idea of software integration. See all the companies that Stone added to their assets. They can now offer additional services, integrated with the payment solution, helping merchants to: reconcile their sales; settle transactions in split accounts; financial services; automation software; ERP, etc.

Distribution capacity is a key success factor. Stone hired a sales force and created what they call Stone HUB. The idea is to be closer to the merchant, so Stone HUB is a small office covering a geographical area that houses up to 400,000 inhabitants. In large cities, such as São Paulo, a HUB will cover a neighborhood, for example.

This sounds insane due to high customer acquisition cost (CAC), however, as they offer other products in addition to payments, they can achieve a significant CAC reduction. As Stone is not tied to any of these banks, I believe it was the only way out for distribution and rapid growth. On the other hand, there is a high risk of failure.

A digital sales approach would further reduce CAC, but perhaps Brazilian merchants are not yet easily reachable by digital means.

Anyway, with the HUBs and the sales “army” of “farmers”, Stone is already getting benefits from increased brand recognition. Offering more than payments, not just financial solutions, but also technology services, puts Stone at the forefront of this battle, differentiating itself from the competition.


PagSeguro was born digital and uses the mobile POS terminals to serve a brand-new market, the so-called “MEI – Micro Entrepreneurs Individuals”. As the vast majority of MEIs do not accept credit or debit cards as a means of payment, and since more than 80% do not have a bank account, banks and acquirers have never paid attention to this segment.

By offering the possibility of purchasing its own mPOS terminals (mobile POS) combined with a payment account, PagSeguro was able to grow rapidly in this segment, with a level of loyalty never seen before. More than 70% of PagSeguro customers are active on a monthly basis.

In addition, PagSeguro now has its own bank and will increase the portfolio of financial services from “bank account” to “whatever you need”. Its veiled intent is to become the bank for micro-merchants and SMEs.

As mentioned, PagSeguro was born digital and I have a strong feeling that soon it will launch different products that will replace the need for a mPOS. Maybe, by migrating to mobile payments.

New Players:

Last year, the IPO of PagSeguro and Stone rocked the market and woke up some other players. If a financial institution and payment companies can add technological ability to better compete, why can not a technology giant offer payments and financial services?

I’m not talking about Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Amazon, Apple, Samsung, etc. We know that these companies are looking at the future of payments and, to a certain extent, they already work mainly outside of Brazil.

We looked at software vendors, companies that already have a large customer base, such as Linx. Of course, it is too early to talk about Linx, but the two largest acquirers in the market have missed the opportunity to establish a business partnership with this technology company.

At the end of 2018, Linx launched Linx Pay, more than a sub-acquirer or PSP, it is part of a platform that combines different alternatives to satisfy its customers. As I said, it’s too early, but keep an eye on this company and we’ll see how they will impact the payments market.

Current Leaders:

We can see the integration of payments with financial services offered by other players, such as Rede, GetNet, SafraPay, etc. However, the formula combining “bank account + acquiring + financing”, assuming it is not a “tie-in” sale, is a relatively equal offer among competitors and, at the end of the day, price is the only differentiation.

Rede, after being acquired by Itaú – Unibanco, spent a lot of time looking for efficiency and integrating almost all areas with the bank itself. As a result, it should continue to lose the partnerships it has built with other banks. Many of these have decided to launch their own acquiring business.

Without innovation and integrated with the controlling bank, it is expected to have a market share equivalent to the market share of Itaú – Unibanco.

Cielo had all the time, money, people and knowledge to change the market, maintain its leadership position and be recognized as an innovative company. But so far, the company has not done anything worthy of being called disruptive. Even the innovation effort with the launch of LIO goes against the market imperative: “do not spend money on hardware, pay attention to dematerialization.”

I will never forget an advisor, “captain” of a big bank, talking about a new competitor in the payments industry: “Wait and you’ll see, they will not eat turkey this Christmas.”

Somehow, this phrase reflects how big, rich and fat organizations face new competitors – with arrogance.

The arrogance of the great seems to be very common in our society, after all, if they are great victors, they must be the best at what they do, right?

In fact, leaders tend to spend a lot of energy to maintain the status quo. Speaking about it with a friend, a technology executive, he said: “Cielo has spent the last ten years impeding the development of the market” … “You cannot make a Joint Venture between a company that wants to develop a market and another whose only strategy is to keep it to itself “

In the book “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing,” Al Ries and Jack Trout speak of Law 18 – The Law of Success: Success often leads to arrogance and arrogance to failure.

I have faith that the biggest acquirers will react and use all their power to reinvent themselves, bringing real innovations to the market. Especially Cielo, the new CEO already speaks of the need for change. What do you think? Who will be the leader in the acquiring sector in 3 or 5 years?