Airwallex, a cross-border payments startup based in Australia, has managed to rake in $13 million in Series A round, thus making it all set to expand its reach across Asia Pacific and into Europe. Leading the round was Chinese internet bigwig Tencent (making this its first investment in an Australian startup), with Sequoia China, Mastercard, and other undisclosed investors also participating.
Established just last year, Airwallex came in to size up the challenge of cross-border transactions at scale. Based in Melbourne, it has previously raised a separate $3 million last summer. It is different from more consumer-focused services such as TransferWise (which in fact opened an Asia Pacific HQ just last week) in the sense that it targets businesses, enabling them to make and receive international payments at scale much more easily, and at a lower cost. Since its inception, it has managed to transcend its initial objective of convenience in payment and reconciliation, quickly progressing to forming relationships with trading partners to be able to allow its customers to save money on their overseas transactions.
Airwallex mainly allows its business customers an API that can slot into their existing systems to deal with global transfers. It levies a payment-based transaction fee, measured by API usage. However, the company has a manual mass-payout option in the pipeline, according to CEO Jack Zhang. He said:
We’ve made settlement and reconciliation very easy, but our customers can also enjoy institutional FX prices to save a lot of money. We can access the most competitive pricing in the world to facilitate traditional retailers that don’t enjoy that sort of rate.
It has already started to collaborate with Tencent to assist with mitigating backend costs for its WeChat Pay service overseas (which can presumably grow with the emergence of outbound tourism from China, where WeChat is the dominant messaging app). However, according to Zhang, the firm’s main task is with financial institutions, insurance companies and others that “do international payments at scale.” Two undisclosed clients, he said, are slotted to transaction “billions of U.S. dollars” each by the end of 2017, with the company actively looking for more clients in the same bracket. Zhang added:
It makes sense to take strategic investment from Tencent because the WeChat ecosystem and WeChat pay is a big deal. The internationalization will be interesting in the next couple of years, so we want to prepare ourselves for that expansion.
Currently, the startup is focusing on growing its presence in Europe. It opened a London-based office recently, with Zhang saying the team is working on connecting prospective customers in Europe to their business interests in Asia Pacific in a more efficient manner.
Airwallex has around 40 staff and offices in Melbourne, Shanghai and Hong Kong in total, and along with the new London base, it also has its eyes set on a presence in Singapore. According to Zhang, the most common corridor right now is transactions between China and Southeast Asia, but Australia and New Zealand are also significant.