Aussie ‘unicorn’ Airwallex makes US launch with leg up from local BaaS developer

Photo of golden gate bridge over San Fransisco

Australian cross-border payments provider, Airwallex, has made its debut in the US, with the fintech announcing it has launched its “full suite” of services for America’s SME market.

US-based businesses will now have access to Airwallex’s products, supporting “fast, transparent and secure” cross-border payments, the company said.

The fintech currently offers international payments collection and transfer services for SMEs, as well as APIs for larger enterprise businesses requiring embedded payments and financial services.

The much-hyped Aussie ‘unicorn’, reportedly valued at AU$3 billion, is targeted primarily at small businesses, enabling SMEs to quickly and cheaply send money to 130 countries in 23 currencies.

Airwallex said its entry into the US market was supported through a partnership with local brick-and-mortar bank and Banking-as-a-Service (BaaS) provider Evolve Bank & Trust.

Evolve’s company brief notes it is “recognised as a global leader in the payment processing industry delivering ACH [automated clearing house], debit/credit sponsorship, card issuance, and unique technology strategies to clients around the world”.

As part of its full entry into the US market, Airwallex said it has also secured money transmitter licenses in various major states, permitting it “to provide money services business in almost all the states across the US, including those that have traditionally been difficult to secure licenses, such as California, Texas and Florida”.

The company said it would progressively introduce its suite of products and services to businesses in the US, including multi-currency cards and an online payment acceptance solution that will allow businesses to collect payments from customers around the world.

The Melbourne-headquartered fintech, founded in 2015, has established global engineering hubs in Sydney, Shanghai and Amsterdam. The hubs, it said, further drive digital innovations, with a focus on research and development of global payments products and services.

While the fintech first established its US presence in 2019, setting up its global engineering hub in San Francisco, this is the first time it has offered its services to US-based customers.

Its current US team consists of more than 30 members across product and engineering, legal, risk & compliance, partnerships and sales, which it will look to expand “over the coming months”.

Airwallex co-founder and chief executive, Jack Zhang recognised the US “as a major hub for technology innovation… [and] at the forefront of bringing traditional banking financial services into the new age”.

The creation of Airwallex, Zhang said, was inspired by challenges his fellow founders had experienced, as small business owners, with global payments providers as well as the impact of high FX fees and banking costs when sourcing for supplies.

“We wanted to build out a better financial and payment solution for businesses operating across borders, and ensure they are empowered to grow,” Zhang said.

“Fast forward to where we are today, Airwallex’s tech platform provides businesses of all sizes with easy access to a robust global infrastructure, enabling them to grow their offerings and global operations.”

Airwallex currently operates across 12 offices globally with more than 900 employees.

Since 2017, the company has had an agreement with ANZ to provide transactional services. Its venture capital arm ANZi Ventures has also made separate investments in the company across two separate funding rounds.

Fellow big four bank NAB was also reportedly a key service partner of the fintech, though this relationship has since ended.

NAB had reportedly terminated its key banking services with the Airwallex in 2018 “due to red flags around [its] customers and suspicious transaction patterns”, Nine Entertainment mastheads The Age and SMH revealed in April.

Airwallex denied any wrongdoing and strongly defended its compliance processes, the report added.

The fintech has secured upwards of US$500 million (AU$684 million) in equity funding through four separate capital raises. Alongside ANZi, its investments partners include Salesforce Ventures, Grok Ventures, DST Global, Tencent, Sequoia Capital China, Hillhouse Capital, and Horizons Ventures.