Emre Kenci / Papara
Papara CEO: Turkish unicorn poised to enter “two or three other markets” via upcoming M&A
In a conversation with AltFi, Papara CEO Emre Kenci said Turkey's leading neobank is set to announce its second acquisition of the year and is also planning an IPO
When Papara, Turkey's leading challenger bank, acquired Spanish neobank Rebellion in July, it became the country’s first fintech unicorn, reaching a valuation of over $1bn.
A few short months later, CEO Emre Kenci revealed to AltFi that Papara will announce another acquisition in the coming weeks.
Papara was founded in 2016 and to date has grown to over 17 million users in Turkey (which has a population of 84 million) with a large user base among younger people.
“Everyone under 30 knows about Papara today, and 1 out of 4 Gen Z individuals actively use it,” Kenci said, adding that moving forward he's looking to grow presence in the Middle East and Africa.
The company doesn't have a banking licence and is following a similar model to Revolut, by building out a suite of banking and non-banking features.
“We are trying to become a financial super app, in the full sense of the word,” Kenci said.
“Within the next year, our users will be able to buy and sell Turkish stocks, US stocks, precious metals, gold, silver, and platinum. And, we will divide bonds... into small pieces and allow people to access the bond market.”
The company's acquisition of Rebellion will give Papara an overnight user base of 250,000 in Spain which Kenci said will provide the company “with a solid foundation that we believe we can build upon” to further grow Papara's presence in Europe.
In the coming weeks, Kenci disclosed that Papara also will announce another acquisition in Europe and is only waiting on the central bank of the country to approve the transfer of shares.
He said the acquisition will grow Papara's presence in “two or three other markets in Europe”.
(Note: Papara shouldn't be confused with its similar sounding fellow Turkish payments fintech Param, which acquired Czech buy now, pay later provider Twisto in August.)
Pathway to IPO
As well as further deals, Papara's leadership is already planning to take the company public, with an initial public offering (IPO) earmarked for between 2 and 4 years away.
Kenci told AltFi: “We are preparing to IPO and we want to have the option to IPO in multiple markets. We have three options — Nasdaq, the London Stock Exchange, and Bursa Istanbul."
“If you’re a Turkish company, we believe it is better to be on the Turkish stock exchange and have a value in Turkish lira."
Some Turkish companies like HepsiBurada have struggled to stay afloat in the US markets due to currency fluctuations, HepsiBurada failed to meet its minimum bid requirements of $1 per share and faced being delisted. The company subsequently banned discussions on the share price.
Papara is keenly aware of that risk, telling AltFi that because of the fluctuations in the Turkish lira, even if a company is growing well per local standards, being listed on the Nasdaq might not reflect such due to the dollar conversion. As such, the company is leaning towards choosing Bursa Istanbul, if not a multi-listing strategy.
“If we can manage to grow our international businesses really fast, then we might decide to do it [list] somewhere else,” Kenci said.
Funding and profitability
To-date Papara has been funded entirely by its founder, Ahmed Karslı, from with an initial €5m back in 2016 and has never received venture capital funding. Karslı is now chairman of the company.
“Fintechs in emerging markets have never had access to large amounts of funding, as in the case with the West,” Kenci remarked, saying that founders instead have to think about being profitable from day one or shortly after as they lack the venture capital funding to put off worrying about their balance sheet.
“That, I think, is a strength because that makes the company a lot more resilient to shocks."
Kenci said that in the run-up to an initial public offering, the fintech might host a friends and family round for those who “are already part of the Papara story.”