Tidjane Thiam’s Spac in talks with Mexican fintech Credijusto


Tidjane Thiam’s blank-cheque company is in exclusive talks with Mexican fintech group Credijusto and Latin American corporate data provider CIAL Dun & Bradstreet with the aim of merging and listing the companies in New York later this year.

The former Credit Suisse chief executive has targeted Credijusto, a six-year-old banking start-up, because of its fast growth among underserved small businesses in Latin America, according to people familiar with the discussions, which ultimately may not lead to an agreement. 

The rationale is to integrate the lending capacity of Credijusto with data and analysis of CIAL to provide more loans to small and medium-sized enterprises, the people said. If the Spac merger is successful, Credijusto’s founders — 32-year-old David Poritz and 31-year-old Allan Apoj — would continue to lead their business.

The two companies would merge with Thiam’s Freedom Acquisition I, a special purpose acquisition company, and the deal could value the combined entity at around $1.5bn, split roughly evenly, the people added.

Shares in Freedom Acquisition were up 1.87 per cent to $9.81 apiece in New York trading.

Thiam, a Franco-Ivorian citizen who was also chief of the insurer Prudential, raised $345m for his Spac in March through an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange.

The merger is Thiam’s first attempt to refashion his image as a dealmaker following his controversial departure from Credit Suisse last year amid a corporate spying scandal. He is part of a wave of former top bankers to launch Spacs including former Citigroup executive Michael Klein and UniCredit chief Jean Pierre Mustier.

The vehicles are shell companies that list on stock exchanges and raise money from investors, then use the proceeds to hunt for private companies they can acquire and take public through a reverse merger.

Thiam’s Spac is advised by JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and boutique Broadhaven. It counts François Pinault, the French billionaire who founded luxury group Kering, among its investors as well as the fund manager Pimco.

Freedom Acquisition declined to comment, as did Credijusto and CIAL.

The Freedom vehicle is in the early stages of discussions with new and existing investors about investing more money in the deal through a Pipe, or private investment in public equity, the people said.

In 2015, Poritz and Apoj founded Credijusto to improve access to credit for Mexico’s 5m small and medium-sized companies that generate half of the country’s gross domestic product, they told the Financial Times in an interview this week. 

The lender has already raised $400m in debt and equity from numerous high-profile investors, who have been notified of the potential takeover. 

They include Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, Steve Cohen’s Point72 Ventures, QED Investors, ex-Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack and Hernán Kazah, co-founder of Latin America’s biggest venture capital firm, Kaszek.

The start-up claims its proprietary advantage over traditional banks comes from analysing electronic invoice, tax and other data, enabling credit decisions in hours rather than weeks.

However, some regulators and rivals have criticised this business model. They argue it could lead to high losses if credit conditions worsen and interest rates rise, while rapid digital checks without human oversight could fail to spot money laundering and fraud.

Nevertheless, Poritz and Apoj have delivered 250 per cent annual revenue growth since 2015 and this year bought established rival Banco Finterra, which increased its client base to 6,000 and assets to $300m. Credijusto has struck deals with American Express to offer a corporate card and offers loans to restaurants through the Uber Eats app.

The combined Credijusto-CIAL entity would have operations in 43 countries. Once the Spac merger is complete, the plan would be to expand in other parts of the world, such as the US, Africa and the Middle East, the people familiar with the talks said.

Israeli entrepreneur Doron Cohen created CIAL when his family bought the Latin American franchise of Dun & Bradstreet about five years ago. It remains a partner of its US parent.

Additional reporting from Jude Webber in Mexico

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