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Korean fintech Kakao Pay to acquire majority stake in US brokerage firm Siebert

Kakao Pay, the online payment service of South Korean messaging and internet giant Kakao, announced that it has acquired a stake in Siebert Financial, a brokerage firm based in New York. Kakao spent $17 million on this transaction and the company now owns a 19.9% stake in Siebert.

This is just the first step as Kakao Pay plans to acquire an additional 31.1% stake in Siebert depending on shareholder and regulatory approval. If it goes through, Kakao Pay would become the largest shareholder of Siebert, owning a 51% stake in total. Gloria Gebbia, Siebert's controlling shareholder and board member, told TechCrunch that the second transaction is expected to close in the first quarter of 2024.

Kakao Pay first launched its mobile payment service in 2014. It was spun off from Kakao Corp. in 2017 and it is now one of the major mobile payment players in South Korea. The Korean fintech firm offers online and offline payments, money transfer, credit rating, insurance and loan services to approximately 40 million registered users in South Korea. Siebert Financial, the U.S.-based brokerage and financial advisory firm, and its subsidiaries have been providing financial services for over 50 years. One of its subsidiaries, Muriel Siebert & Co. (MSCO), has more than 100,000 customers.

Today's acquisition represents Kakao Pay's first M&A transaction outside of its home market. It is part of a bigger strategy as the company plans to expand to the U.S. market and strengthen its brokerage unit Kakao Securities at the same time.

Kakao Pay "plans to create a new overseas stock trading solution that combines the user-centric MTS (mobile trading system) of Kakao Securities with Siebert's brokerage's infrastructure, which could be expanded to foreign fintech companies, including those in Southeast Asia," Gebbia told TechCrunch.

Kakao Pay will integrate its technology expertise into the financial services of Siebert as part of the strategic partnership to offer "an advanced user experience through extended market access to U.S. securities, lower securities trading fees and more," Gebbia said.

"Kakao Pay has attained a great opportunity to expand its financial business abroad by making a strategic investment in Siebert, a company with over 55 years of tradition and experience," the chief executive officer of Kakao Pay Won-Keun Shin said in a statement.

Kakao Pay currently offers payment services in South Korea, Japan, Macao, Singapore, France and China.

Siebert's current management team, led by the Gebbia family, will stay at the helm of the company. The team of 120 employees will remain after the transaction closes, the two firms told TechCrunch. "We do not expect this transaction to affect day-to-day jobs and will continue to operate the business in a way that drives long-term success for our customers and employees," Gebbia said.

Kakao Pay has a team of 1,130 people, according to a spokesperson at Kakao Pay.

"The partnership with Kakao Pay will provide us with significant financial resources to opportunistically invest in our key business lines while leveraging the expertise and technological capabilities" of Kakao Pay "to expand our reach and enhance our technology offerings," Gebbia said in its statement.

Note: MTS stands for the mobile trading system, not the money transfer system.