(Bloomberg) -- Activist investor Bluebell Capital Partners called on French payments company Worldline SA to shake up its board and replace its chairman to “restore the trust of the market” after the shares plunged almost 60% in a day.
Bluebell, which has an undisclosed stake in Worldline, also asked the company to review Chief Executive Officer Gilles Grapinet’s performance, according to a letter seen by Bloomberg News. A Worldline representative declined to comment.
There is “no excuse to delay the start of a large reshuffle of the board,” the investment firm said. They called for four directors to resign immediately, including Chairman Bernard Bourigeaud, a former head of one-time Worldline parent Atos, along with two other directors with an Atos affiliation, Gilles Arditti and Danielle Lagarde, as well as Michael Stollarz, who has ties to Worldline’s German joint venture.
Bluebell is putting pressure on Worldline in the wake of the company’s surprise announcement Oct. 25 that sales growth would be much less than anticipated this year. The stock fell 59% that day and is down 80% over the past three years.
Worldline has been hit by German financial watchdog Bafin’s move to impose severe restrictions on a subsidiary in the country for failing to prevent credit card fraud by some third parties.
The company only made clear in response to a question from an analyst on Oct. 25 that customer losses resulted from Bafin’s ruling, not from a decision on Worldline’s part, Bluebell said in the letter to Georges Pauget, the company’s lead independent director.
“We believe that the loss of confidence due to the BaFin ruling and the related far-from-forthcoming communication with the market contributed to the value destruction that occurred at the Q3 earnings call,” Bluebell said in the letter.
Worldline rose 0.7% to €15.66 at 3:32 p.m. in Paris.
The management team is made up of former Atos executives, so independent directors with Atos ties should leave the board to ensure proper oversight of management, Bluebell said. Worldline also should reduce the size of its board to nine to 13 members, down from the current 17, the firm said.
Bluebell also said Worldline should divest its mobility & e-transactional services division, calling it a non-core unit.
Investors are starting to lose patience with fintechs, which surged during the pandemic as people conducted most of their daily lives online. Since then, worries over lofty valuations and a broader slowdown in consumer spending have brought the high-flying stocks back to earth.
Bluebell was co-founded by Giuseppe Bivona and Marco Taricco. In recent years, it’s launched campaigns against high-profile companies ranging from French food group Danone SA, Toronto-based cinema chain Cineplex Inc., British drugmaker GSK Plc and German chemical producer Bayer AG.
It helped engineer the ouster of Danone Chairman Emmanuel Faber in the region’s biggest management change of 2021. That came just shy of a year after Mark Langer resigned as chief executive officer of fashion house Hugo Boss AG following pressure from the London-based fund.
In 2020, the firm asked Vestas Wind Systems A/S to take full control of its offshore business. That October, the wind turbine giant said it would buy out its offshore joint venture partner. That year, Bluebell also urged the Canadian government to block a deal between Cineplex and Cineworld Group Plc. Cineworld terminated the transaction in June 2020.
--With assistance from Alexandre Rajbhandari.
(Updates to add stock performance in eighth paragraph.)
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