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Adyen: the Dutch disruptor perfecting payments

Hamish Maxwell, Investment specialist

Key points:

  • Disruptive Dutch payments company Adyen is making our lives simpler through its single global processing platform
  • The firm has grown rapidly through point-of-sale payments and risk management tools
  • Its visionary founders have instilled a culture of innovation that looks set to support growth for years to come

All investment strategies have the potential for profit and loss, capital is at risk. Past performance is not a guide to future returns.

© Adyen

Baillie Gifford’s International Concentrated Growth Team is focused on finding the top 20–35 exceptional international growth companies that can harness innovation to disrupt their industry.

These rare companies are the ones reimagining and building the future. Each quarter, we spotlight one of these holdings to articulate its vision and map its road to the future. 

Adyen is a Dutch payments processing company aimed at solving complexity in our daily lives. It was founded nearly 20 years ago in response to existing payments technology which consisted of a patchwork of systems built on an outdated infrastructure. 

The opportunity for Adyen was to create something neater and more cohesive, which global consumers would rationally choose over the frustrating service offered by incumbents. 

Adyen's big idea was to develop software to connect card networks and local payment structures into one unified global platform with greater data integrity. Chief Technology Officer Alexander Matthey calls this the “foundational principle of a single platform”.

In a nutshell, Adyen is the archetypal disruptor.  

Soon after foundation, the company won its first global enterprise merchant, Groupon. Since then, it has rapidly expanded its offering, with point-of-sale payments, platform payments, and risk management tools, all supported by a global range of licences. These help its clients to turn payments into a competitive edge which can even help to boost revenues.   

Adyen processed nearly €800bn of payments in 2022 for tens of thousands of merchants, including Microsoft, eBay, Spotify, KLM and McDonald's. I'll abandon the third-person narration here to reflect that within the last week, I have personally benefitted from Adyen's systems several times. (Just to be clear: I haven't feasted on multiple Big Macs within the last seven days.) But they are so seamless that I confess to nearly taking them for granted. You may have had similar experiences.  

An example of archetypal disruption execution, then? So far, yes. But there's potentially much more to come, as the global digital payments market could soon be greater than $20tn a year. 

The next steps will require more of the je ne sais quoi that got Adyen going, but which most businesses find elusive. After all, it's one thing to identify a valuable disruption opportunity, but when it comes to seizing it, Richard Oldfield's term “simple but not easy” springs to mind.  

If creating a simpler global payments infrastructure were easy, it would have been done already. Cue the arrival of an exceptional business. 

Adyen exhibits numerous characteristics of that category. Its competitive advantage comes from forcing the industry away from seeing payments as a strictly financial problem, towards seeing it as an engineering problem solvable with software. Adyen helps to grow its own market by making it easier for entirely new businesses to emerge and for established businesses to grow. It has been led by visionary founders who have created a culture of innovation. As Adyen's co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Pieter van der Does put it: “We ask leaders to spend time on the smart people in their team [and] let them have freedom. It’s a whole different organisation if you run it for smart people”.

Today’s customers have come to expect a continued march towards zero friction in payments, one that Adyen is built to lead. Finally, its healthy margins mean that the returns potential is fantastic. All of these arguments support a compelling five-times-return case. If the market was able to look beyond short-term news, such as items concerning marginal headcount spend, we believe it might recognise an incredible value offering. 

When we at Baillie Gifford recently spoke with Pieter van der Does and Chief Financial Officer Ingo Uytdehaage, what continued to come through strongly was their absolute focus on the quality of the customer proposition – de-commodifying payments – and the belief that their digitally-native approach leaves them well-positioned to grow with existing and new clients for many years. Our interactions with its management bolster our belief that Adyen is one of those rare companies helping to build the future. 

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Hamish Maxwell

Investment specialist

Hamish joined Baillie Gifford in 2017 and is an international equities investment specialist in our Clients Department. Just prior to joining Baillie Gifford, he achieved an MBA from Cass Business School and was recipient of the EU Award. Earlier in life, Hamish also completed post-graduate Law at the University of Sussex, but a well-known economic event in 2008 encouraged him to pursue a different interest professionally, i.e., join the Royal Navy as a Commissioned Officer. Hamish served in aircraft carriers, mine-hunters and trident nuclear submarines and was awarded top-of-class by HRH Prince Edward.

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