TransferWise, the international money transfer company and one of Europe’s better-known unicorns, has announced $280 million in new investment today.
The Series E round is led by asset management firm Old Mutual Global Investors, and Silicon Valley VC firm IVP, and I understand also includes some secondary share dealings, meaning that not all of the cash will register on its balance sheet.
A source close to TransferWise, which has been profitable since early 2017, tells me the new funding values the seven-year old company at $1.6 billion.
Also joining the round as new investors are Silicon Valley’s Sapphire Ventures, Japanese company Mitsui & Co, Ltd, and U.S.-Japan venture firm World Innovation Lab. Existing backers Richard Branson, Andreessen Horowitz, and Baillie Gifford participated, too, bringing total raised by the company to $397 million.
Regarding how much of the new investment is newly received capital and secondary investment, TransferWise, which makes a virtue of its transparent fees to customers, declined to break out the exact split.
A much earlier Sky News report says that the round also sees early company employees permitted sell a portion of their stake in TransferWise, including founders Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Kaarmann. Separately, Seedcamp recently cashed in the rest of its stake in TransferWise as part of selling its first two funds to London VC Draper Esprit. The pre-seed and seed investor had already sold a minority of its holding in January.
All of which would suggest that a potential TransferWise public offering is a long way off yet.
In a call with Hinrikus, who was speaking to TechCrunch from Peru where he is taking a rare vacation, he confirmed that the new investment includes some employees partly cashing in but said that the main aim of what is undoubtedly a very big round is to provide TransferWise with a healthier balance sheet as it pursues existing and new opportunities.
These include continued global expansion, with a particular focus on the APAC region, where the company now has a dedicated hub, and further development of its Borderless account.
The latter launched in May and is aimed at businesses, sole traders and freelancers who need to conduct business across borders and in multiple currencies, and who want to take advantage of TransferWise’s low exchange rate when doing so.
A consumer version, including a TransferWise debit card, is set to launch in the U.K. and Europe in early 2018. That will undoubtedly give further rise to TransferWise being compared to newer fintech upstarts, such as Revolut or a plethora of bona-fide challenger banks.
However, as I’ve noted before, that’s almost certainly getting a little over excited, even though there is undoubtedly a creeping amount of feature parity with other fintech startups that offer banking accounts coupled with low exchange fees. “Focus is key,” says Hinrikus when I mischievously make the comparison to Revolut. He then underlined that TransferWise’s core business is moving money around the world i.e. international money transfer.
In fact, the company is entirely agnostic on how that happens: the more money moving via its infrastructure, the better. This can be done directly via the TransferWise app and service for both consumers and SMEs, via third-party integrations, or via the company’s own Borderless account. In all three cases, Hinrikus says the company generates revenue, regardless.
In the context of the challenger bank comparison, I suggest that one way to think about TransferWise’s Borderless account is that a multi-currency account is a feature of its core international money transfer business, whereas for challenger banks, money transfer and currency exchange is a feature of its bank accounts. Hinrikus doesn’t disagree, noting that TransferWise is already partnering with banks, including challenger N26 and soon Starling.
He also stressed that TransferWise’s direct consumer and business international money transfer offering also has a long way to go yet. He is particularly excited about the plans the company has for India, whilst I understand he recently visited Brazil on TransferWise business.
Meanwhile, the most recent public figures for U.K market share stand at 10 per cent and Hinrikus says that other geographies are following a similar trajectory. The company now serves over two million customers and offers 750 currency routes, seeing customers transfer more than £1 billion every month.