Airwallex becomes Australia's latest unicorn with estimated value above US$1B

Written on the 26 March 2019 by Matt Ogg and David Simmons

Airwallex becomes Australia's latest unicorn with estimated value above US$1B

Melbourne-founded fintech group Airwallex has achieved 'unicorn status' following a successful US$100 million (AU$141.3 million) capital raise led by DST Global.

The Series C round, led by a group that has previously backed the likes of Facebook, Airbnb and Spotify, gives Airwallex an estimated value of more than US$1 billion.

Not bad for a company that was only founded in 2015 with the purpose of making global payments easier.

CEO Jack Zhang tells Business News Australia the company is likely to process more than US$10 billion in cross-border payment volume in 2019.

"We started the business with a very large ambition with the right time window, and we worked relentlessly in the last couple years," says Zhang, who co-founded Airwallex with Lucy Liu, Max Li, Jacob Dai and Ki-Lok Wong.

"We recruited one of the best teams to execute this," co-founder and CEO Jack Zhang tells Business News Australia.

The service allows customers to create international bank accounts instantly, access interbank exchange rates and send money through local and international clearing networks.

Zhang notes Airwallex helps people move money through more than 130 countries, but market penetration is currently most significant in the Asia-Pacific region.

He says that since last year's US$80 million capital raise the company has opened nine offices including London, San Francisco, Singapore, Beijing and Shenzhen, while the latest boost in funding is slated for scaling up the business.

"We are keen to achieve success in UK, Europe and North America," he says.

"We do make a lot of payments to Europe and North America; we just don't have many clients in that region; we want to basically build up our operational office in those two regions to start targeting local clients," he says, adding systems can sometimes be complicated to navigate and it's helpful to forge local partnerships.

He clarifies there are regulatory challenges in almost every country, but some of the toughest ones are jurisdictions with capital controls for the inflow and outflow of funds.

"Obviously some of the difficult ones are the countries with capital controls, like China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, these countries are especifically difficult in the Asia-Pacific," notes Zhang.

Some of Airwallex's previous supporters returned to invest in the Series C round including Sequoia Capital China, Tencent, Hillhouse Capital, Gobi Partners, Horizons Ventures and Square Peg Capital.

The money will also go towards further expansion in South East Asia, while he hopes to double the number of staff in Melbourne. 

"We have 260 people globally compared to when we were raising our Series B when we had less than 100 people," he says.

"We have 60 people in Melbourne and we are looking to double the head count in Melbourne...we're looking to hire another 40 to 60 people this year.

"Obviously we founded in Melbourne, Melbourne is our anchor office and we will continue to expand here to contribute to the local economy."

The Victorian city is no longer technically Airwallex's headquarters, but Zhang is not particularly fond of the term HQ.

"We HQ'd in Hong Kong but we only have 20 people in Hong Kong," he says.

"The reason we're using Hong Kong is because Airwallex is such a global business, and the executives actually travel 70 to 80 per cent of the time, so we wanted to be based somewhere that's easier to travel."

After the Series C round the company has now raised US$200 million in total.

In terms of new products, the company intends to focus on the online sellers and SME space, positioning itself as the operating system of global banking.

DST Global managing partner Tom Stafford believes Airwallex is set to be the gold standard of international payments.

"The growing eCommerce industry needs a technology-focused payments network that is reliable, cost-effective and provides data transparency,' says Stafford.

"Airwallex has built such a network and we are excited to partner with Jack and the team as they continue to grow their business".

Square Peg Capital and SEEK (ASX: SEK) co-founder Paul Bassatt says Airwallex's ambition to grow an industry-defining business was "clear from the very beginning".

"In just three years, Jack Zhang, Lucy Liu and their co-founders have assembled a highly capable, experienced and technical team who have built the global digital payment network of the future," says Bassatt. 

"It is a privilege to support their mission as they redefine financial markets for the better of their customers in Australia, Asia and beyond."

Read More: Airwallex primed for North American expansion after $108m fundraising

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Author: Matt Ogg and David Simmons

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