E-commerce and other online businesses are becoming increasingly global in their operations and customer bases, and a startup called Airwallex — which has built a banking solution that addresses the opportunity to provide cross-border financial services — has been seeing a massive surge of activity. To capitalize further on that opportunity, today the company is announcing growth funding.
Hong Kong and Melbourne-based Airwallex has raised $100 million, capital that it will be using to continue building out its banking and payments businesses into more markets, and to invest expanding its products.
The funding — which is being led by Lone Pine Capital and joined by 1835i Ventures (the venture arm of ANZ, the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group) and Sequoia Capital China, all previous investors — is an extension to the company’s Series E that it announced only in September; and it brings the total of the round to $300 million.
The valuation is also being extended with this latest injection: Airwallex is now worth $5.5 billion (compared to $4 billion in September). From what we understand, the company was getting term sheets as high as $7 billion from outside investors (that outside interest was what prompted the round in the first place).
Airwallex today has around 20,000 customers spanning areas like e-commerce, tech/SaaS companies and professional services. It also has 500 large platform customers (Papaya Global and GOAT are two examples) that have embedded Airwallex’s services within their own services to power transactions for their own customers.
That business has seen a big boost of activity as a result of a few key developments in the world.
For starters, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a big shift toward more e-commerce among both consumers and businesses. In turn, businesses have needed to extend their financial infrastructure to accommodate more customers. And because e-commerce has broken down the barriers of where you can do business, they’ve also had to extend their financial reach to touch customers in ever-wider geographies. COVID-19 has also massively disrupted supply chains, so businesses have also had to become more enterprising in how they manage these: They may now have to work with more partners and potentially be agile enough to pay different people month-to-month.
All of these present the kinds of use cases that speak to the kinds of services that Airwallex offers. Jack Zhang, Airwallex’s co-founder and CEO, said that revenues at the company grew 100% in Q3 over Q2. Its annualized revenues in that most recent quarter were $100 million. “We had a target to achieve that at the end of the year, but we delivered it a quarter earlier,” he said.
It also means a number of other companies are also looking to serve this need: competitors to Airwallex across its different services include Stripe, PayPal, Revolut (via Revolut Business) and more.
Airwallex built its company originally around business banking — its thesis was that companies had a lot of banking options when it came to doing business in their own markets, but for those who worked across borders, it offered domestic and international accounts that worked as easily as domestic ones, along with card issuing, transfers and foreign exchange, payouts and so on. More recently, the company has moved into payments to complement that. The plan will be to add more services natively to that stack, as well as integrate with third-party providers by way of an app store that it is now developing. That will launch potentially next year.
Zhang also said some of the funds will be used for M&A, as part of the inevitable consolidation that we’re going to continue seeing in fintech.
“We’ve now raised $800 million in the last 6 years, with $600 million in the last two years, and we still have $600 million in the bank right now,” he told TechCrunch. “A very large part of that is going to be used for M&A purposes.” Features that Airwallex wants to have as a native part of its stack it might buy instead of building itself include subscription payments; software to automatically calculate stamp duty depending on the market where items are being sold; and more data analytics to help customers analyze their revenues better. “I think there will be consolidation in the next period. But it won’t be just two players. The [fintech] space is big enough for a dozen winners.”
And it looks like Airwallex is setting itself up to be one of those winners. Zhang confirmed to me that Stripe — which today is a key competitor of Airwallex’s — approached the company to acquire it around 2018/2019, when Airwallex was significantly smaller but already developing a strong presence in Asia Pacific, which is still its biggest market, even as Airwallex moves deeper EMEA and North America. (It would have been a big step for Stripe into the region, which has instead taken on its own steam.)
Zhang said that another big fintech, currently valued at around $20 billion, also approached Airwallex more recently. Nothing has come of that, either — partly because Airwallex is now too expensive, he said.
“I think we are probably too big for others to buy us,” Zhang added.
As for what is coming next on the liquidity front, an IPO “is not on the agenda,” but is something that the company will think about potentially for 2023 or 2024.
“Airwallex’s achievements in the last quarter alone showcase the strength of the company’s business model and its unique ability to meet their customers’ evolving needs in a competitive digital payments market,” said David Craver, co-chief investment office at Lone Pine Capital. “The future is bright for Airwallex, and we look forward to helping its team unlock greater growth opportunities.”
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