Turkey's Iyzico Beats PayPal to Unlock Iran's E-Commerce System

  • Iyzico deal gives it access to 230m Iranian payment cards
  • Payment cos. Paypal, Stripe have yet to enter Iranian market

An Istanbul-based payments startup says it’s signed a deal that smooths the way for companies seeking to follow it into Iran’s $400 billion economy.

Iyzico’s agreement with Tehran-based electronic payments platform PECCO lets its customers process transactions from some 230 million payment cards that until recently weren’t connected to any financial system outside Iran, according to Barbaros Ozbugutu, Iyzico’s German-Turkish chief executive. The deal is the first of its kind, he said in an interview in Istanbul.

Since visiting Tehran last year, the founders of the World Bank-backed company have been working on expanding in Iran, Ozbugutu said. That gives them a foothold in a country that’s been so far untapped by U.S.-based competitors Paypal Holdings Inc. and Stripe Inc.

"We’re fulfilling the role Paypal was providing in places like Germany, where they were the preferred provider during that country’s digitalization phase," Ozbugutu said of Iyzico’s home market. It made sense to expand to Iran because there are "two major markets in the region with high card penetration, and they’re Iran and Turkey. Both have populations of 80 million, a very young population and quite high Internet penetration."

Sanctions Ending

While PayPal’s website says it’s active in more than 200 markets, Iran isn’t one of them. San Francisco-based Stripe also says it doesn’t support transactions in the Iranian rial.

While Iyzico to expanding to Iran is "a no-brainer," larger competitors may have more difficulty making the move, according to Sal Karatas, founder of mobile security company SAASPASS. More established companies are "slow to move into weird foreign markets because it’s a whole lot of effort in order to benefit from a market that’s basically the size of Michigan."

If Iran’s economy’s is worth just less than Michigan’s now, its integration into the global economy will spur growth of 4.5 percent to 6 percent by next year, Renaissance Capital estimates. Iran’s development will probably be similar to Turkey, and Turkish corporations will be the ones rushing in to drive the change, according to Mike Harris, head of research at Renaissance.

Iyzico signed the deal to enter Iran after restrictions excluding the country from the SWIFT banking system began to be dismantled as part of an agreement over its nuclear program. In Iran, all banks are integrated into one unitary clearance system, called Shetab, which means Iyzico’s clients can sell to any card holder in the nation without establishing relationships with individual Iranian banks, Ozbugutu said.

Iyzico last year raised $6.2 million in a round led by the International Finance Corporation, or IFC, the investing arm of the World Bank. Its customers in Turkey include BMW, Allianz and online marketplace Sahibinden.com.

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