SOUTH PORTLAND – Credit-card processing company Wright Express Corp. said Thursday it agreed to buy 51 percent of UNIK SA, a Brazilian provider of payroll cards, for about $21.9 million in its latest effort to expand internationally.

Wright Express, which has about 900 employees, including almost 600 in Maine, processes credit-card transactions and fuel purchases for fleets of corporate and government vehicles. It has acquired companies to expand its range of products and industries, as well as its international presence.

In the latest deal, Wright Express will enter the Brazilian market with UNIK, which provides payroll cards for under-banked, lower-income workers who lack traditional bank accounts. Payroll cards serve as interest-free wage advances to lower-income workers, who otherwise might not have contact with financial services companies. UNIK serves the retail, government and transportation sectors.

UNIK has about 8,000 corporate clients with 4 million cards, which can be used to make purchases through its network of about 30,000 vendors. UNIK said customers can use a single card to perform a variety of functions such as grocery shopping, paying bills, applying for insurance, and signing up for medical and dental services.

“As a large and growing economy, Brazil is a very attractive market. We see significant opportunity in working with UNIK and leveraging its strong management team and growing product set,” said Michael Dubyak, Wright Express chairman and chief executive.

He said the deal will allow Wright Express to expand UNIK’s products into the fleet market, where Wright Express specializes.

The deal includes the potential to acquire the remaining 49 percent of UNIK over a three-year period. The investment is expected to boost Wright Express’ profits starting in the first 12 months.

The deal with UNIK is the latest in a series of acquisitions by Wright Express, which in May acquired CorporatePay, a London-based provider of corporate prepaid cards for the travel industry, for about $27.5 million in cash. The company also acquired Wright Express Australia in 2010 and rapid! PayCard last year.

Earlier this month, Wright Express said it extended its fuel-price hedging program through the fourth quarter of 2013 in a move to improve the predictability of its future earnings. It previously had hedged 80 percent of its exposure through the second-quarter of 2013, and at lower amounts after that. Now, under the new program, it plans to hedge about 80 percent of its domestic fuel-price-related earnings exposure in every quarter on a rolling basis.

Staff Writer Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

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