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Philly banker Betsy Cohen leads billion-dollar investment in payments firm Payoneer

A group headed by Philadelphia banker Betsy Cohen is taking global-payments platform Payoneer public.

Betsy Zubrow Cohen at center, with sons (from left) Daniel and Jonathan and husband, Edward E. Cohen, in their Rittenhouse Square offices.
Betsy Zubrow Cohen at center, with sons (from left) Daniel and Jonathan and husband, Edward E. Cohen, in their Rittenhouse Square offices.Read moreED HILLE / Staff Photographer

A “blank-check” investment group set up by veteran Philadelphia banker Betsy Zubrow Cohen, plus a group of allied investors, has agreed to pump more than $1 billion in New York- and Tel Aviv-based global-payments company Payoneer, and list it as a publicly traded company.

“It’s like a PayPal for small and medium-sized businesses, instead of consumers,” said Cohen, 79. She raised $750 million last year through her new company, FTAC Olympus Acquisition Corp., and will use that money to fund most of the Payoneer investment. The companies will merge, making the cash available for Payoneer to grow, and allowing investors to buy shares in Payoneer on the Nasdaq stock market.

Payoneer, founded in 2005, runs an online business platform that helps clients send payments around the world. The company moves money among network members at no charge but collects fees when money moves off the platform to bank accounts. Payoneer also sells tax-calculation and compliance services.

Cohen’s FTAC Olympus is a “SPAC,” or special-purpose acquisition company, called a “blank-check” firm because investors are voicing faith that its founders will use their money to somehow turn a profit.

The inflated stock market has attracted a rush of SPAC investors in the last year, and Cohen and her family investment group have started several SPACs as an attractive way to raise capital to buy businesses. She picked Payoneer because she had watched it grow over the previous decade and saw potential, she said in an interview. A different Cohen-backed SPAC is taking public the investment bank Perella Weinberg in another $1 billion deal, and yet another has been looking for an insurer to buy.

Besides the $750 million that Cohen raised, investors on Wednesday committed $300 million more to Payoneer. Those investors include Wellington Management Co., a Boston- and Radnor-based firm that manages mutual funds for Malvern-based Vanguard Group and others.

Founder of Bancorp Bank and the former Jefferson Bank, Cohen is also matriarch of a family that has been building financial, oil and gas, and real estate companies, starting on Rittenhouse Square in the 1970s, though they now work more frequently from New York and from a beachfront family compound near Sarasota, Fla.

Cohen’s son Daniel, her frequent partner in financial ventures, and her cousin Jan Rock Zubrow, were part of the team that joined Cohen in setting up FTAC last year. Her husband, Edward, and their son Jonathan focus on energy and pipelines. There’s another generation on the way: Daniel’s 24-year-old son Solomon, one of nine Cohen grandchildren, is a rising banker in the family investment bank, Cohen & Co.

The investment implies a total value of Payoneer at $3.3 billion, about 7.6 times its expected sales this year of $432 million. That’s a high price, compared with sales, and a sign that investors believe there is rapid growth ahead.

Payoneer says it has five million users. Cohen says it has been attracting larger business customers who can save money using the system, compared with what they pay for banking transaction services.

Previous Payoneer investors included Susquehanna Growth Equity, which invests profits from the Bala Cynwyd-based investment trading company founded by Jeff Yass and his partners, and Wellington. Those investors will sell up to 15% of their shares as part of the deal.

“We are thrilled to partner with Betsy Cohen” and her financial expertise, and the team she built last year to make the investment, Scott Galit, Payoneer chief executive and a former MasterCard executive, said in a statement. The company’s founder is Yuval Tal, an Israeli Army and payment industry veteran.

Cohen started Jefferson Bank in Downingtown in 1974 and moved it to Philadelphia, where it helped finance Center City’s Walnut Street “restaurant revolution” by using restaurant investors’ real estate holdings as collateral for loans. Jefferson also backed the redevelopment of Manayunk’s Main Street into a chic shopping and residential district.

She took Jefferson public and sold it to Hudson United Bank in 1999 for $337 million. Cohen also started Wilmington-based Bancorp Bank, a payment-technology deposit platform and regional lender now chaired by her son Daniel.

The investment should leave Payoneer with a cash hoard of $563 million to build its business and buy other companies, the investment group said in a statement.