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The Ratings Game: PayPal CEO: Venmo users are ‘clamoring’ to do more than just send money

PayPal Holdings Inc. gave users a small window into its Venmo account numbers on Wednesday, as the company steps up its efforts to make money off of the peer-to-peer platform. Read More...

PayPal Holdings Inc. gave users a small window into its Venmo user numbers Wednesday, as the company steps up its efforts to make money from the peer-to-peer platform.

The digital payments pioneer announced in conjunction with its first-quarter earnings numbers that it had more than 40 million active Venmo accounts, meaning accounts that engaged in at least one transaction over the past year. This marked the first time that the company, which traditionally provides user numbers for its broader suite of services, broke out Venmo users specifically.

Shares PYPL, +0.30%   were up 0.5% in after-hours trading.

The company maintained that it was providing this disclosure in part due to “questions” in the investment community about PayPal’s ability to monetize Venmo and also due to third-party reports discussing app downloads for Venmo and other peer-to-peer services. Investors shouldn’t expect an update on this metric every quarter, however, according to management.

The latest numbers don’t make for an apples-to-apples comparison with Square Inc.’s SQ, -0.63%   Cash app, which disclosed 15 million monthly active accounts just in December, but analysts nonetheless seemed to like what they heard. On PayPal’s earnings call, Deutsche Bank’s Bryan Keane called the 40-million figure “impressive” and presumably “ahead of most people’s estimates.”

Net new active accounts at both PayPal and Venmo accelerated in the latest quarter on a year-over-year basis, the company said.

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PayPal now sees Venmo tracking at a $300 million annual run rate, up from $200 million at the end of the fourth quarter. The company didn’t specifically break out contributions from its various Venmo revenue sources — instant deposits, online shopping or the physical Venmo debit card — though Chief Executive Dan Schulman told MarketWatch that the first quarter was “relatively consistent” with the fourth quarter in that more than half of monetization came from outside the instant-deposit feature.

Schulman said that Venmo users were “clamoring” for new ways to use the service beyond sending money to friends. “We’re beginning to see real traction from the Venmo user base as a result,” he told MarketWatch.

Venmo customers have the ability to use their accounts for e-commerce purchases, via dedicated Venmo buttons on certain sites as well as “smart” buttons that detect whether a shopper is a Venmo user. These smart buttons are driving conversion in other ways, according to Schulman, as they can be rendered into buttons for local wallets, such as iDEAL in the Netherlands, to show international users more familiar payment options.

PayPal recently made an investment in MercadoLibre Inc. MELI, -2.80% , a Latin American e-commerce player, and hopes to sign a commercial agreement with the company that will allow users of the Mercado Pago wallet to see that button when they shop at PayPal merchants.

“Smart-button functionality is probably a more significant capability than most people realize,” Schulman said.

The MercadoLibre investment drove an 8-cent benefit in PayPal’s earnings per share for the latest quarter, helping the company record 78 cents in adjusted per-share profit. Analysts surveyed by FactSet had been expecting 68 cents, though they weren’t modeling for the MercadoLibre benefit.

PayPal’s quarterly revenue rose to $4.13 billion in the period, about in line with expectations, while total payment volume climbed to $161 billion but came in a bit shy of the consensus forecast of $163 billion.

Shares have climbed 28% so far this year, as the S&P 500 SPX, -0.22%  has gained 17%.

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