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Ebix to invest $120 mln for stake in Indian digital payment provider ItzCash

| NEW DELHI

NEW DELHI May 24 U.S.-based software firm Ebix Inc will pay 8 billion rupees ($120 million) for a majority stake in Indian payment provider ItzCash, the companies said on Wednesday, the latest foreign investment in India's booming digital payments market.

The deal, which values ItzCash at $150 million, comes as digital payments gain traction in India after the government late last year scrapped old high-value currency notes and started promoting non-cash payment modes.

Japan's SoftBank last week invested $1.4 billion in the parent of India's Paytm, which along with MobiKwik competes with ItzCash in the digital wallets business.

ItzCash also offers remittance services, point-of-sale machines and allows customers to use cash to facilitate digital transactions at retail outlets.

Ebix will acquire an 80 percent stake in ItzCash. ItzCash's existing investors - Matrix Partners, Lightspeed Venture and Intel Capital - will exit the company, ItzCash Chief Growth Officer Bhavik Vasa told Reuters.

The remaining 20 percent stake in ItzCash will be held by the company's backers, India's Essel Group. Of the $120 million, Ebix has paid $76 million upfront, with the rest payable over three years.

"Other than payments and money transfers, we will deepen our strength in providing insurance, investment products and loans to consumers and businesses," Vasa said. "These are the growth areas."

ItzCash will look at replicating its model in other emerging markets, as well as tap Ebix's distribution channels to explore markets such as Australia and Brazil, it said in a statement.

Paytm says it has more than 220 million clients using its e-wallet. ItzCash does not disclose a separate number for its e-wallets users, but says it has more than 75 million accounts overall.

Digital payments are seen as a growing opportunity in India as smartphone and Internet use rises, even though millions of people, especially in rural areas, lack access to such services.

Private players such as Paytm and ItzCash also face major competition from state-backed digital tools, which are luring users with facilities such as inter-bank transfers and payment services that can be used with a fingerprint.

($1 = 64.8 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Aditya Kalra)

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