Airwallex

Airwallex is a financial services platform focused on facilitating cross-border transactions. Having launched in 2016 with the intent to provide a “financial operating system for small businesses”, Airwallex has raised a total of $902 million at a $5.5 billion valuation as of January 2024. Its product offerings, including Global Accounts, Core API, and Embedded Finance services are used by more than 100K customers as of January 2024, including Brex, Rippling, Navan, and AfterPay. Additionally, Airwallex was processing more than $50 billion in global payments annually as of January 2024.

Founding Date

Dec 1, 2015

Headquarters

Melbourne, Victoria

Total Funding

$ 902M

Stage

series e

Employees

1001-5000

Careers at Airwallex

Memo

Updated

January 25, 2024

Reading Time

22 min

Thesis

Businesses are increasingly conducting financial transactions across borders. In 2023, global cross-border payments amounted to $190 trillion and are projected to reach $290 trillion by 2030. B2B cross-border payments represented 98% of the total flow of financial transactions across borders as of January 2023. In 2023, global revenue for businesses facilitating these transactions was estimated at $165 billion.

However, traditional cross-border financial transaction methods, such as bank transfers, foreign exchange brokers, and credit cards come with significant pain points including a lack of transparency, long wait periods, and high transaction costs. During the third quarter of 2022, it cost an average of 11.69% in international transfer fees to transfer money internationally via banks. In a 2023 survey, 37% of SMEs experienced late or failed cross-border payments, while 47% expressed reduced confidence in sending cross-border payments.

Airwallex is a financial services platform focused on facilitating cross-border transactions. Having launched in 2016 with the intent to provide a “financial operating system for small businesses”, Airwallex has raised a total of $902 million at a $5.5 billion valuation as of January 2024. Its product offerings, including Global Accounts, Core API, and Embedded Finance services are used by more than 100K customers as of January 2024, including Brex, Rippling, Navan, and AfterPay. Additionally, Airwallex was processing more than $50 billion in global payments annually as of January 2024.

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Founding Story

Airwallex was founded in 2016 by Jack Zhang (CEO), Jacob (Xijing) Dai (CTO), Max Li (Head of Design), Lucy Liu (President) and Ki-lok Wong (Principal Architect).

A year before the company’s founding, Zhang was working as a solution architect at the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ), and Li was a professional architect. The pair decided to start a specialty coffee shop, Tukk & Co., as a side-project. In an attempt to keep the business cost-effective, the pair imported coffee cups and labels from China. However, they found that traditional methods of cross-border payments, like Western Union or bank transfers, were cutting into their profits with high foreign exchange (FX) rates and intermediary fees. In response, Zhang decided to develop a solution to make cross-country payments easier. In a 2019 interview, he spoke about this decision:

"We wanted to be able to build something a lot more robust, a lot more real time, cost-effective and as well as transparency in pricing to other customers so we could make the life of those businesses easier.”

Dai, who met Zhang while studying computer science at Melbourne University, joined the team to lead the technology stack. Another university friend, Liu, came on board after visiting Zhang and Li at their cafe while on a career break. Before Airwallex, Liu was an investment consultant at China International Capital Corporation. Along with Zhang and Li, each contributing $100K, Liu invested $1 million to bootstrap the development of Airwallex’s initial products.

In September 2016, Airwallex became the first Australian startup to participate in Mastercard’s Start Path accelerator program. The program, aimed at startups supporting SMEs with digital needs, provided Airwallex with access to Mastercard’s innovation team and banking partners, as well as the opportunity to test its product-market fit. Within 18 months of launch, Airwallex secured a $13 million Series A led by Tencent, Sequoia Capital China, and Mastercard.

Product

Typically, a country's payment systems aren't directly linked to those of other countries. Therefore, when transferring money internationally, the actual currency isn't directly moved abroad. Instead, international banks maintain reciprocal accounts with their foreign partners. Money doesn't cross borders; rather, accounts are credited in one country and debited an equivalent amount in another.

When banks don’t have direct connections with each other, they need to transact using one or multiple middlemen, called “correspondent banks,” which offer accounts to both banks. The more middlemen involved in an international transaction, the slower and costlier it becomes. Transactions between currencies with high volumes of interchange, like the US dollar to the Euro, typically have fewer steps.

However, for currency exchanges with a lower volume of exchange, more correspondent banks are needed. This means longer transaction times and higher costs at each step, particularly as every additional bank involved can charge fees of up to 3.5%, on top of their set foreign exchange (FX) rates.

Airwallex built its own cross-border payments network to underpin all its product offerings. This network, founded on an infrastructure of 50+ banking licenses, is designed to offer faster and more cost-effective cross-border payments. As of January 2024, Airwallex’s payments network allowed customers to open accounts with local bank details in 60+ countries, accept payments in local currencies, and convert currencies at rates better than those of banks.

Business Accounts

Source: Airwallex

Airwallex’s business accounts serve as a hub for receiving domestic and international funds, as well as collecting payments in the customers' preferred currencies. With a business account, customers can create Global Accounts (essentially local bank accounts, complete with bank and branch codes, and unique account numbers) in 60+ banks. Customers can also accept payments from 180+ countries, and make transfers to 150+ countries at interbank rates, 70% of which arrive within 24 hours as of January 2024.

As of January 2024, business accounts have no opening fees, monthly maintenance fees, or minimum transaction requirements. Business accounts also allow customers to automate domestic and international bill payments, issue multi-currency corporate cards with a 1.5% cashback, and come with an expense management tool. Other features include:

Core API

Source: Airwallex

Airwallex offers a set of APIs intended to integrate smoothly with customers’ existing workflows through developer tools that require no coding experience, clear documentation, and prebuilt integrations. These APIs can be used for payments, payouts, and issuing.

Payments: Users can integrate with Airwallex’s APIs to collect one-time or recurring payments from their customers in the customer’s preferred currency and local payment method. There are multiple integration paths available, including no-code ecommerce plugins, hosted payment pages, and pre-built UI components. Users can also choose to build directly via Airwallex’s API in the back end or accept payments in their iOS or Android app via Airwallex’s mobile SDKs.

Payouts: Users can automate payments to suppliers, employees, contractors, and other bank accounts using SWIFT or high-speed local transfers. They can conduct instant fund transfers from their Airwallex account to other Airwallex accounts. Lastly, users can integrate Airwallex with their centrally managed finance systems to automate account payables and invoice payments.

Issuing: Airwallex allows users to issue multi-use or single-use multi-currency Visa cards in 36+ markets. These cards are connected to the user’s Airwallex wallet and incur no international card transaction fees. Users can also set rules around how and where cards may be used, including limiting payments around merchant categories, currencies, time period, and amount spent. Card options include virtual cards, physical cards, Apple Pay, and Google Pay.

Airwallex offers two kinds of foreign exchange (FX) services via API:

  1. MarketFX: Allows users to conduct currency conversions at the prevailing market rate through a selection of global liquidity providers. This service is geared towards businesses that need to conduct multiple transactions in a short period at the best possible rate at the point of conversion.

  2. LockFX: Allows users to lock conversion prices for a given period, mitigating the impact of market volatility on FX rates. Businesses can configure settlement times – same-day, immediate, or future – to determine when the currency conversion will be executed to and from their account.

As of January 2024, Airwallex had 99.9% API system availability and handled 54+ million API requests per day.

Embedded Finance

Source: Airwallex

Airwallex offers a suite of embedded finance tools, enabling users to create customized payment and financial products for their customers. These tools include:

Global Treasury: This tool combines Airwallex’s Global Accounts and Payouts solutions. With it, customers can collect, store, and disburse funds internationally using Airwallex’s multi-currency wallet. Below are the features included in Global Treasury:

Banking-as-a-service (BaaS): This tool allows users to embed global banking capabilities into their products. These include Airwallex’s Global Account, Card Issuing, and Payouts solutions. Additionally, users can extend lines of credit to their customers, assess customers’ creditworthiness on an ongoing basis and set up programmatic debt collection.

Payments for Platforms: This solution allows users to integrate a payment system into their platform or marketplace. Payments for Platforms combines Airwallex’s Payment Links, Payouts, and Issuing products. It includes pre-built components for deployment, and the ability to set pricing controls for end customers. This tool was not publicly available as of January 2024.

As of January 2024, Airwallex handles compliance requirements for all its embedded finance products, including KYC, AML, sanctions screenings, and identity verification. Airwallex has 60 licenses and registrations globally.

Market

Customer

Airwallex primarily targets companies that conduct cross-border transactions as part of their operations. These range from SMBs and high-growth startups to enterprises. As of January 2024, Airwallex had 100K+ customers, including Brex, Rippling, Navan, Papaya Global, and Afterpay.

Airwallex is licensed to operate in multiple geographies, including Australia, Canada, parts of Asia, the European Economic Area, the UK, and the US. As of 2023, the company was focused on expanding its reach into “markets where we see opportunities and demand including across Canada, Japan, Latin America, and the Middle East.” For example, Airwallex signed a definitive agreement to acquire Mexico-based payments provider MexPago in October 2023. MexPago is an Institution of Electronic Payment Funds (IFPE) license-holder; the acquisition, subject to regulatory approval as of January 2024, would help Airwallex expand its financial infrastructure into Latin America.

In February 2023, the company also identified “building a healthy partner ecosystem” as one of its goals for the year. These partnerships, which include platform, ecosystem, solution, and channel partners, complement Airwallex’s products and services. For example, as of January 2024, the company partnered with Visa for its card issuing service. In November 2023, Airwallex partnered with JP Morgan to add a high-yield investment account to its product offering. The company also partners with businesses such as Slack, AWS, and Klarna to offer its customers benefits when utilizing these services.

Market Size

Airwallex operates primarily in two verticals: cross-border payments (through its Business Accounts) and embedded finance (through its Core API and Embedded Finance offerings.)

In 2023, worldwide cross-border payments amounted to $150 trillion and were estimated to reach $250 trillion by 2030. In 2022, B2B payments represented 98% of the total cross-border payment flow; global revenue for businesses facilitating cross-border payments was estimated at $165 billion69% of the total.

In 2023, the global embedded finance market was valued at $73.8 billion. A 2023 report projected the market would grow at a CAGR of 24.3% between 2024 and 2032, reaching around $523 billion by 2032. A 2022 report, however, estimated the embedded finance market would reach $291.3 billion by 2033.

Competition

Within each of the verticals Airwallex operates, its suite of products has distinct competitive dynamics and primary competitors. Below is an overview of the company’s competitors in different segments of its business, followed by an examination of its primary direct and adjacent competitors:

Direct Competitors

Wise: Wise is a UK-based fintech company specializing in cross-border financial services. Founded in 2011, Wise offers international money transfer services for individuals and businesses, facilitating both B2B and C2C transactions. The company went public in July 2021 via direct listing, being valued at $11 billion and having raised a total of $1.7 billion in funding before that. As of March 2023, Wise had 16 million customers and operated in more than 80 countries. Wise reported revenues of almost £846 million, with a 51% annual growth rate for the fiscal year 2023. Like Airwallex, Wise built its own banking network.

Both Wise and Airwallex offer cross-border payment solutions, but Wise is more focused on individual and small business customers through its Personal account. Wise Business directly competes with Airwallex’s Business Account product, offering global payments, expense cards, and platform API integrations.

Revolut: Revolut is a global neobank. It was founded in the UK in 2015 and has a post-money valuation of $33 billion as of its $800 million Series E in November 2023. As of January 2024, Revolut had raised a total of $1.3 billion. The company had 30 million retail customers and operates in more than 35 countries as of June 2023. While Revolut has a broader customer focus than Airwallex, its Revolut for Business service competes directly with Airwallex through features such as expense tracking, multi-currency accounts, and corporate cards.

Payoneer: Payoneer is an American financial services company. Founded in 2005, it specializes in cross-border payments and online money transfers. The company went public in 2021 after a SPAC merger, valued at $3.3 billion. It had raised a total of $570 million before that. As of January 2024, Payoneer had over 5 million users and operated in almost 200 countries. Payoneer recorded an annual revenue of $627 million in 2022, with a growth rate of 32.6%. Payoneer launched its cross-border receiving account in 2011 and launched a B2B cross-border payment platform in 2014.

Adjacent Competitors

Stripe: Stripe is a developer-focused financial services company. Founded in 2010, Stripe raised $6.5 billion in a Series I round in March 2023 at a valuation of $50 billion (this was down from its peak of $95 billion in 2021.) As of January 2024, the company had raised a total of $8.7 billion in funding. Its customers include both startups and Fortune 500s, such as Shopify, Instacart, Notion, and Figma.

Stripe’s offerings include payment processing, subscription management, fraud prevention, and developer tools. While the company mainly caters to financial infrastructure products, it has expanded into the BaaS space and competes with a few of Airwallex’s products. These include Treasury, Card Issuing, and Payments for Platform. Stripe Treasury, for example, enables businesses to embed financial services directly into its platforms. In a May 2022 interview, Airwallex CEO Jack Zhang compared the two companies and said Stripe Connect is the “only one [other product] that has the same quality” as Airwallex’s products.

Plaid: Plaid is a US-based financial technology platform that lets users connect their financial accounts and share data with other applications. It was founded in 2013 and raised $425 million in April 2021 at a valuation of $13.4 billion. As of November 2023, Plaid has raised a total of $734 million. The company has more than 75k customers as of August 2023, including Venmo, SoFi, Wise and Betterment.

Plaid‘s main offering is its API, which connects consumers' bank accounts and financial institutions with various fintech applications, such as budgeting apps, personal finance tools, and investment platforms. While Plaid doesn't offer the same range of services as Airwallex, the two compete in the BaaS and financial infrastructure space. For example, Plaid Link, which allows businesses to connect with users' bank accounts to facilitate payments, competes with Airwallex's payment processing capabilities.

PayPal: PayPal is an online payment platform for individuals and businesses. It was founded in 1998 and IPO’d in 2002 at a valuation of $790 million. Shortly after this, PayPal was acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion in stock, then was spun out and re-listed as an independent company in 2015. As of January 2024, the company had a market capitalization of $66 billion.

PayPal offers online payment processing, credit service, POS system, business solutions, and cross-border payments among other services. PayPal Payments and PayPal Checkout compete with Airwallex's payment processing solutions. Other Paypal for business products competing with Airwallex include card solutions, virtual wallets, and cross-border payment solutions.

Business Model

Source: Airwallex

Many of Airwallex’s products are free, such as Business Accounts, Company and Employee Cards, and Expense Management. However, the company charges percentage fees, fixed-charge fees, or a combination of both for specific usage of some of its products. Below is a breakdown of these as of January 2024:

Payments:

  • Domestic Cards (Visa, Mastercard, etc.): 2.80% + $0.30.

  • International Cards: 4.30% + $0.30.

  • Local Payment Methods (e.g., Klarna, 160+ other methods): $0.30 + Payment Method Fee.

Transfers & FX:

  • Transfers: Free (some regions may have additional fees).

  • SWIFT Transfers: $15-25 USD.

  • Check Issuance: $1.50 per check.

  • Direct Debit: Free for account top-up and direct debit payouts.

  • FX Conversions: 0.5% above interbank rates for major currencies, 1.0% for others.

Bill Pay & Software Integrations:

  • Free for services like Xero, QuickBooks, and various shopping plugins.

Airwallex’s Core API & Embedded Finance services have customized pricing based on transaction volume, multi-product discounts, and country-specific rates. In 2021, 40% of Airwallex’s revenue came from customers transacting while using the company’s Business Accounts, whereas the Core API and Embedded Finance products accounted for 60% of its revenues.

Traction

As of January 2024, Airwallex had over 100K customers. In 2021, the company processed $20 billion in payments annually. As of January 2024, that figure had grown to $50 billion. In September 2022, Airwallex reached $200 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR), a 2x increase from its $100 million ARR in Q3 of 2021.

The company announced in January 2023 a global revenue growth of 120% year over year (YoY), and global transaction volume growth of 77% YoY. In October 2023, Airwallex reported 460% YoY revenue growth in the Americas. Founder & CEO Jack Zhang disclosed in January 2024 that the company had reached $350 million in ARR for 2023.

Airwallex received an Electronic Money Institution (EMI) license from the Dutch Central Bank in 2021, which granted the company access to the ability to offer its products in the European market. In March 2023, Airwallex acquired the online payment services company Guangzhou Shang Wu Tong Network Technology Co. Through this acquisition, Airwallex secured an Online Payments license in China.

The company also signed a definitive agreement to acquire Mexico-based payments provider MexPago, an Institution of Electronic Payment Funds (IFPE) license-holder, in October 2023. Through this deal, Airwallex intends to expand its financial infrastructure into Latin America. As of January 2024, the transaction was subject to regulatory approval.

Valuation

Airwallex has raised a total of $902 million over 12 rounds of funding from investors including Sequoia Capital China, Square Peg Capital, Mastercard, ANZ, Tencent, and Salesforce Ventures. In October 2022, Airwallex raised a $100 million Series E2 funding round at a $5.5 billion valuation. This round was preceded by a Series E1 round of $100 million in November 2021, and a $200 million Series E round in September 2021.

The company received a takeover offer from Stripe in late 2018. The offer was composed of $860 million for Airwallex’s investors, plus $200 million for its founders. The founders rejected the deal, claiming it undervalued the company. Soon after, in March 2019, Airwallex raised a $100 million Series C at a $900 million valuation, led by DST Capital. In January 2024, Founder & CEO Jack Zhang announced that Airwallex planned to “get IPO ready in the next two years”.

Key Opportunities

Continued International Expansion

The total payment value (TPV) of cross-border payments was estimated to grow from $150 trillion in 2017 to $250 trillion by 2027 as of January 2023. Airwallex processed only around $50 billion in cross-border transactions annually as of January 2024.

As of January 2024, the company was licensed to operate in Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Lithuania, Malaysia, the European Economic Area, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK, and the US. One key geography missing in this list is Latin America, where the value of ecommerce payments across the region was $382 billion as of January 2023, and is estimated to reach over $700 billion by 2025.

Airwallex has already taken steps to expand its operations into the region as it did in March 2023 when it acquired Guangzhou Shang Wu Tong Network Technology Co. to secure an Online Payments license in China. In October 202,3 the company signed a definitive agreement to acquire Mexico-based payments provider MexPago, an Institution of Electronic Payment Funds (IFPE) license-holder.

Similarly, in May 2023 Airwallex announced it was expanding to Israel and the Middle East. Speaking on this, General Manager for EMEA at Airwallex Pranav Sood said:

“Setting up local operations in Israel is just the first step in our ambitious plan for expansion across EMEA in 2023. Israel is at the forefront of tech innovation and a global hub for high-growth startups. Israeli technology businesses are ‘default global’ and we have already seen the impact that our payments and financial infrastructure can have for them as they grow across borders.”

If the company continues its expansion into new territories, be it via acquisitions or other means, Airwallex can increase its share of the global payments flow, further securing its position in the market.

Growth Through Partnerships

Airwallex can increase its customer base and expand into new sectors through partnerships. Given the complexities of multi-currency financial transactions as conducted by, for example, companies in the WealthTech sector, there’s a demand for ready-made payment rails on which to conduct these transactions.

Airwallex has seen the value in this strategy. In October 2023, for example, the company partnered with the API brokerage platform Alpaca. Through this partnership, Alpaca aimed to incorporate Airwallex’s technology into its platform to support its payments and foreign exchange (FX) needs. Similarly, in August 2023, Airwallex partnered with Public, a US-based multi-asset investing platform. This partnership was aimed to minimize conversion costs for UK investors wanting to purchase US equities on the Public application by incorporating Airwallex’s financial infrastructure and payment capabilities into Public’s platform.

Additionally, in August 2023, Airwallex announced a partnership with OurCrowd, an Israeli venture investing platform. Before this partnership, OurCrowd’s investors were required to convert their local currency into USD and wire the funds to make a startup investment. With the integration of Airwallex, OurCrowd enables its users to invest using their local currency.

Key Risks

Legacy Banks

Despite the rise of fintech companies, traditional banks still processed 88% of SME-initiated cross-border transaction flow as of 2023. The forecasted decline to 83% by 2024 indicates that while fintech companies are making inroads, traditional banks are expected to retain a substantial share of this market. This suggests that legacy banks remain strong competitors in the cross-border payments sector, posing a challenge to fintech companies like Airwallex.

Source: Citi

Moreover, legacy banks are actively modernizing to compete with fintech alternatives. For example, several banks have launched digital banking subsidiaries. Examples of these include HSBC’s First Direct, Scotia Bank’s Tangerine, and Cambridge Savings Bank’s Ivy Bank. By creating these digital-first platforms, traditional banks are not only retaining their existing customer base but also potentially attracting new customers who might otherwise turn to fintech alternatives. Similarly, a September 2023 survey reported that 50% of banks saw the need to update their front ends to improve client experience, and over 60% planned to update their core infrastructure to compete with new companies in the cross-border payments market.

Fraud and Cybercrime Potential

As a digital financial platform, Airwallex is vulnerable to cyber attacks such as hacking and phishing. For example, global payments processor Payoneer had several of its customers hacked through phishing links in January 2024. In early 2022, neobank Revolut had approximately $23 million stolen by hackers exploiting its Payment System. Of the $23 million stolen, Revolut was only able to recover $3 million.

Fraud is also a constant risk for all digital financial platforms; Airwallex itself had $18 million frozen by the Hong Kong police in a fraud probe in 2019. In 2022, PayPal admitted to having found 4.5 million illegitimate accounts on its platform. Speaking on this issue, former general manager at neobank N26 Georg Hauer said:

“[Challenger bank’s] anti-money laundering (AML) and financial crime detection systems are the same as traditional banks'… These engines are so inefficient that only 1% of suspicious activity is stopped. Overall, 95% of those [accounts or transactions] flagged are false positives.”

While Airwallex might not necessarily characterize itself as a challenger bank, it operates in the same space and is liable to the same risks, especially if its anti-money laundering (AML) and financial crime detection systems are not rigorously maintained and continuously updated. On this, Airwallex has made progress, however. The company announced in December 2023 that it had begun implementing generative AI to enhance the speed and efficiency of its know-your-client (KYC) system. The initiative reduced the rate of ‘false positives’ by around 50% on average.

Fraud is also a major concern when it comes to cross-border payments specifically. A 2022 Mastercard survey highlighted that 45% of SMEs feared they might become victims of fraud while conducting international transactions. This fear is understandable; according to a 2021 report, cybercriminal organizations particularly target cross-border transactions due to their complex and obscure nature, which lacks uniformity and standardization.

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Summary

An increasing proportion of business transactions are being conducted across international borders. Where traditional methods of cross-border payments can be cumbersome, expensive, and unreliable, Airwallex offers a suite of products designed to simplify and reduce the cost of cross-border payments. The company has expanded its geographical reach through a series of acquisitions to obtain new banking licenses to operate in new geographies. It has also complemented its core offering of global business banking with Core API and Embedded Finance products, including banking-as-a-service. Airwallex served more than 100K small businesses and enterprise-level organizations, including Brex, Rippling, Navan, and AfterPay as of January 2024; and processed more than $50 billion in global payments annually.

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