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by Thomas Rasmussen

As the first significant deal that adds online payments technology to a legacy payment platform, American Express’s (AXP) recent $300m acquisition of Revolution Money essentially amounts to a shot across the bow of eBay’s (EBAY) PayPal and Google’s (GOOG) CheckOut. The relatively rich purchase of four-year-old Revolution Money also stands as the third-largest alternative online payments buy to date, trailing only eBay’s pickups of PayPal and Bill Me Later. We estimate that Revolution Money, which had taken some $100m in venture funding, was running at around $10m-$20m in sales.

The alternative payments market is both large and fragmented, and is likely to see substantial consolidation in the coming years. It is also a space that has had difficulties in establishing a coherent offering, with early efforts ranging from ill-conceived ’sci-fi-esque’ biometrics offerings to SMS-based payment methods. Until recently, it has mostly been marred by failed startups, poorly executed acquisitions and fire sales. Nonetheless, thanks to the continuing success of PayPal and new alternatives (Google Checkout, among others), as well as the boom in online micro-transactions and an uptick in general online shopping, the sector is again gaining favor, particularly as a way to cut transaction costs.

Looking ahead, we believe Amex’s acquisition of Revolution Money will serve as a wakeup call to other legacy payments vendors as well as financial institutions that might now look to do some catch-up shopping of their own. This inevitable consolidation should serve as good news for some of the established startups in the industry such as mPayy, Moneta, eBillme and Secure Vault Payments, among many others. These firms could well find themselves getting some overdue attention in 2010 as alternative online payments continue to gain currency.

Disclosure: No position

Source: American Express Buys into the Alternative Online Payments Revolution