Creation of payments giant leaves former Blues shareholder Murray Bolton with a half-billion stake

Auckland entrepreneur Murray Bolton has seen his personal wealth skyrocket – while helping prove big deals are still possible in a pandemic-depressed global economy.

Private equity firm Advent International says it is merging two companies in its portfolio: Transaction Services Group and Clearent, to create one payment services giant that will process some US$27 billion in transactions per year.

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The new company, to be called Xplor Technologies – is pitched as a platform for the “subscription services economy” as Covid accelerates the uptake of e-commerce.

A Bloomberg report, citing sources close to the deal, valued Xplor at US$3 billion.

Bolton would not comment on the valuation, citing confidentiality clauses, but did tell the Herald he will be the second-largest shareholder in the new company after Advent itself, implying his holding is worth some US$360 million ($494m).

Former Brierley Investments and Skellerup executive and current Corporate Cabs owner Bolton is best known to the public for his stake in the Auckland Blues (sold to Auckland Rugby for $5m in 2018), and buying the upmarket Mollies “hotel to the stars” in 2016 to remodel the boutique hideaway as his private residence.

But his biggest success was the under-the-radar Transaction Services Group, a two-decade old payment solutions company in which he had a 50 per cent stake.

For 2018 – the final year it posted a statement as a standalone entity, TSG, which posted results in Australian currency, reported an operating profit of A$44.8m, compared to A$32.9m in 2017.

In 2019, the Boston-based Advent – which has some US$58b in assets under management – came knocking and took a controlling stake in what the Herald understands was a $1b-plus deal that left Bolton with a substantial minority holding.

After that deal, NBR’s 2019 Rich List valued Bolton at $220m, up the prior year’s $165m (the paper did not run a rich list in 2020).

Now, with his Xplor stake alone worth under half a billion, Bolton is worth at least double that.

While TSG has been operating globally, its merger with the US-based Clearent (bought ad Advent in 2018) will give its North American operations a considerable boost, Bolton said.

Clearent offers credit card processing for its SME base and provides software for secured payments, business loans and reporting tools.

The merged Xplor will process some US$27b in payments annually for some 82,000 customers across 158 countries.

“Building on our success in creating other payment industry leaders, we are excited to form this platform to drive continued organic and inorganic growth globally,” said Adventmanaging partner Jeff Paduch in the statement.

Although TSG and Clearent shared Advent as a major investor, they were independently advised – TSG by Macquarie and Clearent by Citi.

Bolton told the Herald it was the first major deal he’d participated in without face-to-face meetings. He had meet Advent brass in real-life, but with Clearent, he could only see the whites of their eyes over zoom.

“It was a strange situation,” Bolton says. But ultimately, also one with an outcome he’s very happy with.

And more M&A could be ahead, though Bolton also sees strong organic-growth ahead for the merged company.

The entrepreneur says Xplor will have a unique mix of service offerings.

Xplor will offer cloud-based software solutions for businesses in five industry verticals – education, health and fitness, boutique wellness, field services and personal services, with payment processing supplemented by tools for customer relationship management tools and wrangling loyalty programmes – with an emphasis on mobile apps.

“I know it sounds cliche, but the opportunities are endless. We’re the only global player doing what we do, so the high-growth opportunities are there,” he says.

Clearent CEO Pamela Joseph will serve as executive chairman of Xplor, while TSG’s Floris de Kort will become the new company’s CEO. Xplor will be based in Atlanta.

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