TransferWise’s debit card launches in Australia and New Zealand, with Singapore to follow

International money transfer startup TransferWise’s debit card is now available in Australia and New Zealand, with a Singapore launch expected by the end of this year as the company expands its presence in the Asia-Pacific region. TransferWise’s debit card, which features low, transparent fees and exchange rates, first launched in the United Kingdom and Europe last year before arriving in the United States in June. Since its launch, the company claims the debit card has been used for 15 million transactions.

Australian and New Zealand customers will have access to the TransferWise Platinum debit Mastercard (a business debit card is also available). Cards are linked to TransferWise accounts, which give holders bank account numbers and details in multiple countries, making it easier and cheaper to send and receive multiple currencies. The company says that over the past year, customers have deposited more than $10 billion in their accounts.

TransferWise’s debit cards allow users to spend in more than 40 currencies at real exchange rates. In an email, co-founder and CEO Kristo Käärmann told TechCrunch that TransferWise decided to launch its debit card in Australia and New Zealand because its business there has already been growing quickly. “In addition to responding to customer demand, launching the card in Australia and New Zealand was also driven by the fact that Aussies and Kiwis are being overcharged by banks for using their own money abroad. It is expensive to use debit, travel and credit cards for spending or withdrawals,” he said.

Käärmann added that “independent research conducted by Capital Economics showed that Australians lost $2.14 billion last year alone just for using their bank issued card abroad. This is because banks and other providers charge transaction fees every time someone uses their card abroad, plus an inflated exchange rate. Similarly, in New Zealand, Kiwis lost $1 billion simply for using their card abroad.”

One of TransferWise’s competitive advantages is that unlike most legacy banking and money transfer services, its accounts and cards were designed from the start to be used internationally. “While there are existing multi-currency cards that exist in Australia and New Zealand, they are prohibitively expensive to use. For example in Australia, the TransferWise Platinum debit Mastercard is on average 11 times cheaper than most travel, debit, prepaid and credit cards,” Käärmann said.

TransferWise cards don’t have transaction fees or exchange rate markups and cardholders are allowed to withdraw up to AUD $350 every 30 days for free at any ATM in the world.

The company is currently talking to regulators in several Asian countries, a process that can take up to two years, Käärmann said. It was recently granted a remittance license in Malaysia and plan to make its remittance service available there by end of this year.

Remitly raises $220M to expand from money transfers to financial services, now at ~$1B valuation

When it comes to financial services in emerging markets, remittances — people sending money to each other across international borders, often not to established bank accounts — continues to be one of the biggest, with the World Bank estimating that $529 billion was sent in and out of lower-income countries in 2018, up 9% over 2017. And today, Remitly, one of the bigger startups providing these services, is announcing that it has raised $220 million in funding to ride that wave.

CEO and founder Matt Oppenheimer said in an interview that the startup will use the money both to help it continue to keep growing that money transfer business, and to catch new opportunities as they appear, in the form of new financial services for the immigrants and migrants that make up the majority of its customer base.

The money is coming in the form of equity and debt, specifically a $135 million Series E led by Generation Investment Management, and $85 million in debt from Barclays, Bridge Bank, Goldman Sachs, and Silicon Valley Bank. Owl Rock Capital, Princeville Global, Prudential Financial, Schroder & Co Bank AG, and Top Tier Capital Partners; and previous investors DN Capital, Naspers’ PayU, and Stripes Group all also participated in the equity round.

Oppenheimer said the equity will both be used to expand its remittance business but mainly to invest in that new wave of services it’s eyeing up. The debt, meanwhile, is to fuel the growth of its “express” fast-send option. “Today we can post funds, but we can also pre-fund for express transfers, and we wanted to have the capacity and the line of credit to be able to fund the pre-funding part, which is growing rapidly,” he said of the debt portion of the financing.

With the equity portion, Remitly’s valuation is now close to $1 billion (specifically between $950 million and $1 billion), sources close to the company say. As a point of comparison, that puts Remitly roughly on par with World Remit, another big player in remittances for emerging markets that raised $175 million in June also at around a $900 million valuation. (Transferwise, which focuses on ‘banked’ accounts and mostly mature markets, earlier this year closed funding that valued it at $3.5 billion.)

It’s the biggest round of funding yet for the startup, and for some context, it was valued at just $230 million when it last disclosed the number. (Remitly did not disclose valuation in its most recent funding before this one, a $115 million round led by Naspers that finally closed in the beginning of 2018.)

Today, Remitly’s services cover 16 “send” (originating) and 44 “receive” countries, covering a total of some 700 “corridors” where the company specialises in providing an easy way — either online or by phone — for individuals to send money, with the service localised on the receiving end to come in formats that are most popular in each specific market.

The company said that average annual revenue growth has been at around 100% each year for the past three. Oppenheimer — who coincidentally used to be an executive for one of its new backers, Barclays — wouldn’t break out which markets were growing faster than the others, but that figure includes both Remitly’s more mature corridors as well as those that it’s added in recent years.

The plan for diversification is not surprising. The remittance market is extremely fragmented and — with the rise of smartphones that have untethered users from physical retail locations — getting even more so, with incumbents like Western Union accounting for less than 20 percent of the market today, bigger startups like TransferWise also looking like it’s also increasingly eyeing emerging markets as well, and completely new concepts like using the blockchain to transfer money also potentially disrupting the disruptors.

That means pricing on money transfers for a section of that market that is already price-sensitive — immigrants and migrants — is very competitive, which in turn means a hit on remittance companies’ margins. Remitly itself has varying rates for different markets based on demand: sending money for example to Kenya from the UK currently costs nothing if you’re using MPESA accounts (other corridors obviously have higher costs than this).

Oppenheimer wouldn’t specify what kinds of other financial services it’s considering until they are closer to getting launched.

“We’re still working on that, but you can imagine the immigrant or migrant journey and the challenges that they face as they move to a new country,” he said. “It can have a painful impact not having a credit history: how do you get a loan, or set up a bank account? That is the strategic angle… The idea is to transform the lives of immigrants and their families.”

That mindset has been what helped Remitly raise this recent round. Generation — the investment firm co-founded by Al Gore — has made it a mission to put its money into sustainability. In its case, this means not only planet health but people health, in the form of services that improving the lives. Financial services for emerging markets is an important area for it in that regard.

Lucia Rigo, a director in growth equity at Generation who is joining Remitly’s board with this round, said that Generation had been looking at the remittance market for a while and had honed in on Remitly as a key company within it that ticked all the right boxes in terms of its mission, its journey so far, its numbers, and most importantly its prospects.

“Foreign-born or foreign-resident populations in developed markets is a segment that is just not catered for well,” she said in an interview. “There are a lot of digital means for sending money today, which is definitely driving down the cost of doing so, but we also think that digital penetration is just at its early stages, and new markets will drive differentiation and that will expand the customer base, and Remitly’s services.”

TransferWise’s new debit card for the US fires the starting gun on a new war for travelers

International money transfer service TransferWise, has made a significant incursion into the US market today, launching a MasterCard debit card alongside a multicurrency account. Mirroring the card it has already launched in the UK and Europe last year, the card will work in over 40 currencies without balance limits, and conversion fees will be competitive with current exchange rates. A similar card aimed at businesses will follow the consumer launch.

Co-founder Taavet Hinrikus told me that the card effectively makes the average person able to act like a millionaire when they are traveling. “Alternative ‘travel’ cards are four times more expensive for every dollar spent and are only available to the top 10% of people who pass credit checks and also pay hundreds of dollars per year,” he said.

He believes this card will democratize the whole market. That means it’s likely that US tourists in Europe or elsewhere will be hugely attracted to this card because they will be charged as if they were a local person, in the local currencies, without all the normal fees.

Transferwise is also pushing an immigration angle to the launch featuring Tan France (pictured), star of “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy”.

Key features of the account and debit card include international bank details for the UK, the US, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, meaning account and routing numbers that are unique to the account holder. Additionally, if a holder swipes a card in a currency they don’t have in their account, the card knows to choose the cheapest option from their available balances. The card is also free to get, with now no subscription, no sign-up fees, and no monthly maintenance fee. Holders can also freeze/unfreeze the card from the Transferwise app and receive push notifications every time they spend. It will also sync with Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay.

Hinrikus added: “Our goal is to offer bank details for every country in the world through one account — the world’s first global account — and we’re starting with five of the world’s top currencies. The 40-currency debit card completes the package, so we’re excited to be releasing the card in the US.

Earlier this year TransferWise said it was now valued at $3.5 billion after closing a $292 million secondary funding round. In November it reported an annual post-tax net profit of $8 million for the year ending March 2018. At the time it said it had five million users transacting $5 billion across its platform a month.

While Transferwise competes with the smaller Revolut and WorldRemit, as well as incumbents like Western Union and MoneyGram, with the launch of this new card it will also be breathing down the neck of Paypal.

Its investors include Old Mutual, Institutional Venture Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Lead Edge Capital, Lone Pine Capital, Vitruvian Partners, BlackRock, Valar Ventures, Baillie Gifford, PayPal founder Max Levchin, and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, among others.

TransferWise’s new debit card for the US fires the starting gun on a new war for travelers

International money transfer service TransferWise, has made a significant incursion into the US market today, launching a MasterCard debit card alongside a multicurrency account. Mirroring the card it has already launched in the UK and Europe last year, the card will work in over 40 currencies without balance limits, and conversion fees will be competitive with current exchange rates. A similar card aimed at businesses will follow the consumer launch.

Co-founder Taavet Hinrikus told me that the card effectively makes the average person able to act like a millionaire when they are traveling. “Alternative ‘travel’ cards are four times more expensive for every dollar spent and are only available to the top 10% of people who pass credit checks and also pay hundreds of dollars per year,” he said.

He believes this card will democratize the whole market. That means it’s likely that US tourists in Europe or elsewhere will be hugely attracted to this card because they will be charged as if they were a local person, in the local currencies, without all the normal fees.

Transferwise is also pushing an immigration angle to the launch featuring Tan France (pictured), star of “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy”.

Key features of the account and debit card include international bank details for the UK, the US, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, meaning account and routing numbers that are unique to the account holder. Additionally, if a holder swipes a card in a currency they don’t have in their account, the card knows to choose the cheapest option from their available balances. The card is also free to get, with now no subscription, no sign-up fees, and no monthly maintenance fee. Holders can also freeze/unfreeze the card from the Transferwise app and receive push notifications every time they spend. It will also sync with Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay.

Hinrikus added: “Our goal is to offer bank details for every country in the world through one account — the world’s first global account — and we’re starting with five of the world’s top currencies. The 40-currency debit card completes the package, so we’re excited to be releasing the card in the US.

Earlier this year TransferWise said it was now valued at $3.5 billion after closing a $292 million secondary funding round. In November it reported an annual post-tax net profit of $8 million for the year ending March 2018. At the time it said it had five million users transacting $5 billion across its platform a month.

While Transferwise competes with the smaller Revolut and WorldRemit, as well as incumbents like Western Union and MoneyGram, with the launch of this new card it will also be breathing down the neck of Paypal.

Its investors include Old Mutual, Institutional Venture Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Lead Edge Capital, Lone Pine Capital, Vitruvian Partners, BlackRock, Valar Ventures, Baillie Gifford, PayPal founder Max Levchin, and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, among others.

Unraveling the “Secrets of Sand Hill Road” and the VC thought process, with Andreessen Horowitz’s Scott Kupor

Extra Crunch offers members the opportunity to tune into conference calls led and moderated by the TechCrunch writers you read every day. This week, TechCrunch’s Connie Loizos sat down with Scott Kupor, managing director at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz to dig into his new book Secrets of Sand Hill Road, discuss his advice for new founders dealing with VCs and to pick his brain on the opportunities that excite him most today.

Scott gained inspiration for Secrets of Sand Hill Road after realizing he was hearing the same questions from different entrepreneurs over his decade in venture. The book acts as an updated guide on what VCs actually do, how they think and how founders should engage with them.

Scott offers Connie his take on why, despite the influx of available information on the venture world, founders still view VC as a black box. Connie and Scott go on to shed some light on the venture thought process, discussing how VCs evaluate new founders, new market opportunities, future round potential and how they think about investments that aren’t playing out as expected. 

“[Deciding on the right amount of money to raise] is one of the areas where I think people will rely on convention too much, rather than figuring out what makes sense for them. And what I mean by convention is, they say, “Hey, my friends down the street just raised a $7 million A round, so $7 million must be the right size for an A round.”

The way we try to help entrepreneurs think about it is think about the pitch that you’re going to give at the next round of financing. Let’s say you’re raising a Series A, imagine sitting here 18 or 24 months from now doing the Series B financing, what’s the story you’re going to want to be able to tell the investor then, as to what you accomplished over that last 18 to 24 months?

And then, almost work your way backwards to say, “If that’s the story that I want to tell, and we all agree that’s a compelling story where somebody will come in hopefully, and fund it at a valuation that’s higher to reflect the progress of the business, then let’s work our way back, and say “how do we de risk that?””

Image via Getty Images / Heidi Gutman/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Connie and Scott also dive deeper into Andreessen Horowitz’ investing and post-investing structure, and what the future of the firm and its key investments may look like down the road.

For access to the full transcription and the call audio, and for the opportunity to participate in future conference calls, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Connie Loizos: Hi, everyone. It’s time to kick off today’s call with Scott Kupor, a managing partner at the venture firm, Andreessen Horowitz, and more recently, the author of the book, Secrets of Sand Hill Road: Venture Capital and How to Get It. Thank you so much for making time for us today.

Scott, I’m still in the process of reading the book, but I have to say, much like your colleague, Ben Horowitz’s book, and this is really true, I’m really enjoying it.

Scott Kupor: Well, thank you.

Connie: It doesn’t really feel remotely like work, which I find to be true with the vast majority of business books.

Scott: Well, I appreciate that. I had great help from Ben [Horowitz] in terms of inspiration from his book. So I’m glad to hear that. Thank you very much.

Line teams up with Visa to boost its mobile payment service

Messaging app Line has partnered with Visa to bring traditional financial clout to its mobile payment service.

The deal will see Line Pay become compatible with Visa’s 54 million merchant partner locations worldwide, boosting the service outside of its native Japan, where it has been pitched heaviest so far and where Line claims 80 million users.

The tie-up will allow Line users to use the app’s payment system even where Line Pay isn’t accepted. That’s through a ‘virtual’ visa card that’ll show up in the chat app.

Beyond that, the two sides said they will explore “ways for merchants to interact with the Line Pay service” and its digital wallet. That’s pretty lukewarm, and it’s hard to imagine that it’ll make much of a dent outside of Japan. Line’s three other major markets, in terms of users, are in Asia: Thailand (44 million), Taiwan (21 million) and Indonesia (19 million.)

One intriguing element of the deal involves blockchain, which Line has jumped into with its own crypto token (Link) and a blockchain investment arm. Line said it’ll work with Visa around “new experiences based on blockchain” that could include international money transfers among other things.

Finally, as is often the case with Japanese tech deals, there’s also an Olympics focus — with Tokyo scheduled to host the summer games in 2020.

Mobile payments are one of the Japanese government’s big focuses ahead of the games — organizing its taxis through tech, is another — and, thus, Visa and Line said they plan to heavily promote their ‘cashless’ alliance ahead of 2020.

Line and Visa are far from the first to combine traditional and new payments. Paytm and Uber rival Ola in India have both launched cards in partnership with banks, while cross-border payment companies like TransferWise, Monzo and others have tie-ups with Visa and Mastercard to enable spending.

How to avoid An IPO

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

We’re back to our old, weekly cadence. Which is all well and good but after a run of doubling up episodes to keep up with the news cycle, showing up just every seven days nearly feels like vacation. But hey, we’re here for you (you follow us both on Twitter, right?).

There was a lot to go over, so please enjoy the following:

An IPO update: First up we checked in on our favorite children, the recently public. Uber and Lyft are still down. Fastly is still far up while Luckin Coffee is losing air like a pinched balloon. Also, Slack has a new ticker symbol, and we have thoughts about it.

Changes at YC: In case you hadn’t heard, YC has a brand new president by the name of Geoff Ralston. Sam Altman, opting to focus exclusively on OpenAI, is no more.

DoorDash’s capital hunger: We had to record a day early this week, putting us precisely one day ahead of the DoorDash round. Turns out it was a $600 million round at a $12.7 billion valuation. Listen on for our take on the round, the company and its space.

Sun Basket raises: Yet another food delivery — well, meal kit delivery — business raised this week, too. Sun Basket, which sends healthy meal-kits to its customers, closed in on $30 million in Series E funding.

TransferWise’s not-an-IPO: What do you call a company more than doubling its valuation through a huge, sanctioned secondary transaction? Weird flex, but ok. Anyway. TransferWise is now worth $3.5 billion, up from its now-passé Series E valuation of $1.58 billion. If you want to dodge an IPO this is one pretty good way.

Finally, TransferWise actually makes money. Quelle surprise, literally.

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

The startup behind that deep-fake David Beckham video just raised $3M

The recent global campaign showing Malaria survivors speaking through David Beckham to help raise awareness around the Malaria Must Die initiative spooked a lot of people:

The campaign has already exceeded 400 million impressions globally.

But a behind-the-scenes video explains how the video was made:

The campaign was a joint collaboration between RG/A, Ridley Scott Associates and the clever video startup Synthesia, for Malaria No More.

And it turns out there’s a huge commercial imperative over this cool technology.

Video production today is highly unscaleable. It’s a physical process with many cameras, many studios and many actors. Once a marketing, product or entertainment video has been shot it’s very difficult to quickly and affordably edit the creative or translate into different languages.

As co-founder Victor Riparbelli Rasmussen tells me: “We believe generating semi or fully artificial video is more efficient. This digital creation process is already the industry standard with images through applications like PhotoShop. We’re enabling the same for video.”

Synthesia says it can reduce the need to go on set to produce video content. Rather than shooting a new video, it can edit existing assets to create derivative international and personalized videos.

Rasmussen says: “Our solution allows companies to 10x their video output for a tenth of the costs of conventional production. A simple interview-style video can easily involve many people and extensive production costs across the organization. With our solution, a marketing manager at an Advertising Agency, a Fortune 1000 company or small business can create a new video from behind her screen and have it delivered back within 48 hrs.”

The UK based startup has now raised $3.1 million, with the financing led by LDV Capital, early investor Mark Cuban, and new investors MMC Ventures, Seedcamp, Martin Varsavsky’s VAS Ventures, TransferWise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus, Tiny VC, and advertising executive Nigel Morris.

“Video production is exponentially increasing but it is extremely challenging to internationalize and easily personalize advertising, marketing, and e-learning videos across cultures,” says Evan Nisselson, General Partner at LDV Capital. “Synthesia is leveraging computer vision and artificial intelligence to revolutionize video production for brands and creators.”

Synthesia was founded by a team of researchers and entrepreneurs from UCL, Stanford, TUM and Foundry. Notably, Prof Matthias Niessner, one of the co-founders of the company, is behind some of the most well-recognized research projects in the field Deep Video Portraits and Face2Face.

The London based startup came out of stealth in November 2018, airing their first public demo with the BBC, showcasing Synthesia technology by enabling newsreader Matthew Amroliwala speak three different languages.

Their customers already include global brands such as Accenture, McCann Worldgroup, Dallas Mavericks and Axiata Group.

But what about deep fakes and the potential for disinformation?

Synthesia says it has strong ethical guidelines and aims to ensure that all the content created is consensual and that actors are in control of their likeness.

So this is not software that you can just download from the web and apply to Bernie Saunder’s face.

Rasmussen says the company is actively working with governments and media organizations to create public awareness and develop technological security mechanisms to ensure that society gets to harness the benefits and reduce potential negative effects from synthetic media technologies.

Well, let’s hope so…

Singapore fintech startup Instarem closes $41M Series C for global growth

Singapore’s Instarem, a fintech startup that helps banks and consumers send money overseas at lower cost, has closed a $41 million Series C financing round to go after global expansion opportunities.

The four-year-old company announced a first close of $20 million last November, and it has now doubled that tally (and a little extra) thanks to an additional capital injection led by Vertex Ventures’ global growth fund and South Korea’ Atinum Investment. Crypto company Ripple, which has partnered with Instarem for its xRapid product, also took part in the round, Instarem CEO Prajit Nanu confirmed to TechCrunch, although he declined to reveal the precise amount invested. More broadly, the round means that Instarem has now raised $59.5 million from investors to date.

The company specializes in moving money between countries in Asia in a similar way to TransferWise although, unlike TransferWise, its focus is on banks as customers rather than purely consumers. Today, it covers 50 countries and it has offices in Singapore, Mumbai, Lithuania, London and Seattle.

Instarem said it plans to spend the money on expansion into Latin America, where it will open a regional office, and double down on Asia by going after money licenses in countries like Japan and Indonesia. The company is also on the cusp of adding prepaid debit card capabilities, which will allow it to issue cards to consumers in 25 countries and more widely offer the option to its banking customers. That’s thanks to a deal with Visa .

Further down the line, the company continues to focus on an exit via IPO in 2021. That’s been a consistent talking point for Nanu, who has been fairly outspoken on his desire to take the company public. That’s included shunning acquisition offers. As TechCrunch revealed last year, Instarem declined a buyout offer from one of Southeast Asia’s tech unicorns. Commenting on the offer, Nanu said it simply “wasn’t the right timing for us.”

Revolut CFO resigns following money laundering controversy

This hasn’t been a good week for challenger bank Revolut . The company, which offers digital banking services and is valued at $1.7 billion, confirmed today that embattled CFO Peter O’Higgins has resigned and left the business.

The startup and O’Higgins have been under pressure after a Daily Telegraph report that revealed that Revolt switched off an anti-money laundering system that flags suspect transactions because it was prone to throwing out false positives.

According to the Telegraph, the system was inactive between July-September 2018, which potentially allowed illegal transactions to pass across the banking platform. Revolut did not contact the Financial Conduct Authority to inform the regulator of the lapse, Telegraph reporter James Cook said.

O’Higgins, who joined the company from JP Morgan three years ago, made no mention of the saga in his resignation statement:

Having been at Revolut for almost three years, I am immensely proud to have taken the company from £1m revenue to £50m revenue during this time. However, as Revolut begins to scale globally and applies to become a bank in multiple jurisdictions, the time has come to pass the reigns over to someone who has global retail banking experience at this level. My time at Revolut has been invaluable and I’m so proud of what myself and the team have achieved. There is no doubt in my mind that Revolut will go on to build one of the largest and most trusted financial institutions in the world.

In a separate statement received by TechCrunch, Revolut CEO Nik Storonsky said that O’Higgins had been “absolutely pivotal to our success.”

The resignation caps a terrible few days for Revolut, which was the subject of a report from Wired earlier this week that delved into allegations around its challenging workplace culture and high employee churn rate.

“Former Revolut employees say this high-speed growth has come at a high human cost – with unpaid work, unachievable targets, and high-staff turnover,” wrote guest reporter Emiliano Mellino, citing the experiences of numerous former employees.

Those incidents included prospective staff being told to canvass for new customers as part of the interview process. The candidates were not compensated for their efforts, according to Wired. Revolut later removed the demands from its hiring processes.

Revolut is headquartered in the UK, where it launched its service in the summer of 2015. Today, it claims over four million registered users across Europe — it is available in EEA countries — although it plans to extend its presence to other parts of the world are taking longer than expected.

The company said last year it aims to launch in Singapore and Japan in Q1 of this year — so far neither has happened — while it also harbors North American market plans. Entries to the U.S. and Canada were supposed to happen by the end of 2018, according to an interview with Storonsky at TechCrunch Disrupt in September, but they also appear to have been delayed.

Revolut is generally considered to be the largest challenger bank in Europe, in terms of valuation and registered users, but other rivals include N26, Monzo and Starling. Even Transferwise, the global remittance service, now includes border-less banking features and an accompanying debit card.