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.”

Visa and Mastercard could raise interchange fees

According to a report from the WSJ, Visa and Mastercard are considering raising interchange fees on card transactions in the U.S. Visa and Mastercard generate most of their revenue from these small processing fees, and it could have implications for merchants and fintech startups.

When you pay with a credit or debit card, merchants pay a small fee to the bank that issued this card. Your bank then pays an even smaller fee to the company that operates the card network.

In most cases, card issuers and card networks are separate companies. For instance, Chase issues a Visa card, Chase gets an interchange fee on every card transaction, and Chase pays a tiny fee to Visa. Some companies also operate a network and issue cards themselves, such as American Express.

The WSJ says that Mastercard and Visa will raise their fees in April — Visa confirmed the change. While fees on each transaction are nearly unnoticeable, they add up quite rapidly. They generate a ton of revenue for Visa and Mastercard, and they represent significant costs for large merchants.

It could become a consumer protection issue as customers often end up paying higher prices because of those fees. While Visa and Mastercard mostly negotiate with financial institutions, those financial institutions still want a cut on interchange fees. That’s why those fees are passed on to the merchants.

Merchants take into account the fact that a large portion of their customers are going to pay with a card. They end up raising prices for everyone, even if you pay using cash, a debit card or a credit card.

Fees on credit cards are generally higher and are the reason why points and rewards exist. Banks attract customers with advantageous reward systems because they want to get your interchange fees. Interchange fees are also much higher in the U.S. than in Europe because there has been more fraudulent activity — the U.S. has switched to chip-and-pin cards years after Europe.

An increase in interchange fees could also affect consumer fintech startups. Many challenger banks have been relying on interchange fees as one of their revenue streams. That’s part of the reason why European fintech startups, such as N26, Monzo and Revolut, have been looking at the U.S. as a potential market. There’s an entire industry built on top of those interchange fees.

Chat app Line’s mobile payment service is getting its own Visa card

Brown, Cony and the gang are coming to a credit card near you in Japan. Line, the messaging app company behind the cute sticker characters, announced today that it is bringing its payment service to plastic through a tie-in with Visa.

Line is Japan’s largest chat app with an estimated 50 million registered users. The cards will be released later this year and they’ll allow Line Pay, the company’s digital wallet service, to stretch beyond its existing merchant base to allow users to pay at any retailer accepting Visa . In addition, the first year of use will see customers get 3 percent of their spending back in Line’s ‘Points’ virtual currency, which is used to buy stickers and other content.

The partnership is a step up from Line’s own payment cards, which were introduced in 2016 and supported by JCB.

It’s an interesting deal because mobile is generally seen as being the future form factor for payments. In China, for example, using cash or card to pay is considered antiquated — you’ll get glares from other patrons forced to wait while you complete your transaction — but digital payments face a struggle in most other markets.

WeChat and Alipay have become de facto in China, but retailers — and particularly smaller ones — don’t always have the awareness, confidence or resources to add support for Line or other digital wallets. Japan, where cash is still king, is perhaps most emblematic of that struggle. The government is making a sustained push towards cashless — particularly ahead of the 2020 Olympics — and Line, as the country’s dominant chat app, may help that along with this partnership.

Line wrapped up a deal with WeChat last November that allows users of the China-based chat app to make payment via Line Pay points of sale. Tencent’s WeChat and Alipay from Alibaba have spent recent years developing a system that lets Chinese tourists pay while they are overseas.

Flutterwave and Visa launch African consumer payment service GetBarter

Fintech startup Flutterwave has partnered with Visa to launch a consumer payment product for Africa called GetBarter.

The app based offering is aimed at facilitating personal and small merchant payments within countries and across Africa’s national borders. Existing Visa card holders can send and receive funds at home or internationally on GetBarter.

The product also lets non card-holders (those with accounts or mobile wallets on other platforms) create a virtual Visa card to link to the app.  A Visa spokesperson confirmed the product partnership.

GetBarter allows Flutterwave—which has scaled as a payment gateway for big companies through its Rave product—to pivot to African consumers and traders.

Rave is B2B, this is more B2B2C since we’re reaching the consumers of our customers,” Flutterwave CEO Olugbenga Agboola—aka GB—told TechCrunch.

The app also creates a network for clients on multiple financial platforms, such as Kenyan mobile money service M-Pesa, to make transfers across payment products, national borders, and to shop online.

“The target market is pretty much everyone who has a payment need in Africa. That includes the entire customer base of M-Pesa, the entire bank customer base in Nigeria, mobile money and bank customers in Ghana—pretty much the entire continent,” Agboola said.

Flutterwave and Visa will focus on building a GetBarter user base across mobile money and bank clients in Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa, with plans to grow across the continent and reach those off the financial grid.

“In phase one we’ll pursue those who are banked. In phase-two we’ll continue toward those who are unbanked who will be able to use agents to work with GetBarter,” Agboola said.

Flutterwave and Visa will generate revenue through fees from financial institutions on cards created and on fees per transaction. A GetBarter charge for a payment in Nigeria is roughly 40 Naira, or 11 cents, according to Agboola.

With this week’s launch users can download the app for Apple and Android devices and for use on WhatsApp and USSD.

Founded in 2016, Flutterwave has positioned itself as a global B2B payments solutions platform for companies in Africa to pay other companies on the continent and abroad. It allows clients to tap its APIs and work with Flutterwave developers to customize payments applications. Existing customers include Uber, Facebook, Booking.com, and African e-commerce unicorn Jumia.com.

Flutterwave has processed 100 million transactions worth $2.6 billion since inception, according to company data.

The company has raised $20 million from investors including Greycroft, Green Visor Capital, Mastercard, and Visa.

In 2018, Flutterwave was one of several African fintech companies to announce significant VC investment and cross-border expansion—see Paga, Yoco, Cellulant, Mines.ie, and  Jumo.

Flutterwave added operations in Uganda in June and raised a $10 million Series A round in October that saw former Visa CEO Joe Saunders join its board of directors.

The company also plugged into ledger activity in 2018, becoming a payment processing partner to the Ripple and Stellar blockchain networks.

Flutterwave hasn’t yet released revenue or profitability info, according to CEO Olugbenga Agboola.

Headquartered in San Francisco, with its largest operations center in Nigeria, the startup plans to add operations centers to South Africa and Cameroon, which will also become new markets for GetBarter.

Square loses another key executive as Mary Kay Bowman joins Visa

Square’s management continues to shuffle. One week after the merchant services and mobile payments company tapped Amrita Ahuja to lead finance, replacing long-time executive Sarah Friar who landed the chief executive role at Nextdoor, the company’s head of payments, Mary Kay Bowman, has joined Visa as its head of seller solutions.

The company will promote someone internally to fill the position, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Bowman joined Square in 2015 after more than a decade at Amazon, most recently as the e-commerce giant’s director of global payments. In her new role, Visa says Bowman will lead the credit card company’s “strategy for acceptance products and solutions, driving the design, development and delivery of new services and solutions that will transform the payment experience for both sellers and consumers.”

“This is a critical role, as the point of sale is undergoing dramatic change as it shifts from traditional payment acceptance to digital, cross-channel payment experiences,” Visa wrote in a company announcement released Friday morning.

Cross-border fintech startup Instarem raises $20M for global expansion

Instarem, a Singapore-based startup that helps banks transfer money overseas cheaply, has raised a Series C round of over $20 million for global expansion.

The round is led by MDI Ventures — the VC arm of Indonesian telecom operator Telkom — and Beacon — the fund belonging to Thai bank Kasikorn — as well as existing investors Vertex Ventures, GSR Ventures Rocket Internet and the SBI-FMO Fund.

The money takes four-year-old Instarem to nearly $40 million raised to date, although Instarem co-founder and CEO Prajit Nanu told TechCrunch that the startup plans to expand the Series C to $45 million. The extra capital is expected to be closed by January, with Nanu particularly keen to bring on strategic investors that can help the business grow in new emerging markets in Latin America as well as Europe.

“We are a the stage where the color of the money is very important,” he said in an interview. “It is very key to us that we bring people into the round who can add value to our business.”

Nanu added that the company is speaking to large U.S. funds among other potential investors.

Instarem works with banks to reduce their overseas transfer costs, offering a kind of ‘Transferwise for enterprise’ service. Although, unlike Transferwise which uses a global network of banks to send money across the world, Instarem uses mid-size banks that already trade in overseas currencies. As I previously explained, the process is the financial equivalent of putting a few boxes on a UPS freighter that’s about to head out, thus paying just a sliver of the costs you’d incur if you had to find a boat and ship it yourself.

Focused on Southeast Asia primarily, it services over 50 markets with transfers. The company does offer a service for consumers, but financial institutions — which have ongoing demand and higher average spend — are its primary target.

Prajit Nanu founded Instarem in 2014 alongside Michael Bermingham

The company has offices in Singapore, Mumbai and Lithuania and it is opening a presence in Seattle as it begins to look to broaden its business, which already includes three of Southeast Asia’s top ten banks. Nanu said that the company will try to work with banks and financial services such as cross-border services which target users with links to Latin America and Mexico initially. In Asia, it is awaiting payment licenses in Japan and Indonesia which will allow it to offer more services in both countries.

TechCrunch understands that the company is on the cusp of a deal with Visa that will allow its customers to roll out branded prepaid cards, adding another financial service to its offerings. Nanu declined to comment when we asked about a deal with Visa.

TechCrunch has also come to learn that Instarem was subject to an acquisition approach earlier this year from one of Southeast Asia’s unicorns. Nanu declined to name the bidder, but he did tell TechCrunch that the offer “wasn’t the right timing for us.” He is, however, giving increased thought to an exit via IPO.

Last year, when Instarem raised its $13 million Series B, he suggested that it could go public by 2020. Now that target date has shifted back to 2021, with the Instarem CEO telling TechCrunch that the U.S. remained the preferred option for a public listing when the time is right.

Japanese fintech startup Paidy lands strategic investment from Visa

A month after announcing its $55 million Series C, Japanese fintech startup Paidy has snagged a strategic investment from payment giant Visa.

Paidy didn’t disclose how much Visa put into its business, which has raised over $80 million to date, but it did say that it will work with the credit card giant to develop “new digital payment experiences” in Japan.

For those in need of a refresher, the Paidy service is aimed at making it easier to shop online in Japan, where credit card penetration is high but many consumers still opt for cash on delivery.

The startup asserts that cash accounts for some 40 percent of the country’s 16.5 trillion yen ($15 billion) annual e-commerce spend because credit card payments are cumbersome and cash is just more simple. It’s certainly true that whipping out your card and keying in digits is a pain, while Japanese systems layer on other security checks that make the process more tedious.

Paidy’s answer is an account tied to a customer’s phone number or email address that sits as a payment option at e-commerce checkouts. Payment itself requires entry of a confirmation code, and that’s it. Added to the simplicity, Paidy also offers various payback options to effectively give users the features of a credit card.

The company claims there are 1.5 million active Paidy accounts and it is aiming to grow that figure to 11 million by 2020. The main rocket for reaching that ambitious target is onboarding large retailers who integrate the service into their online sales process. That’s a tactic that has worked well for Paidy so far, but it’s also clearly an area where Visa’s network can be massively beneficial, especially if they are joint products on offer.

With Paidy operating like a virtual credit card system that rivals plastic cards, Visa has seen enough to warrant coming on board the project, according to Chris Clark, Visa’s Asia Pacific regional president.

“We have been following Paidy’s progress and the enhanced shopping experience they provide at the time of purchase. In Japan there is enormous opportunity to bring consumers more options to pay, whether all at once or in instalments, especially when shopping across multiple channels,” Clark said in a statement.

Paidy counts Itochu Corporation, Goldman Sachs, Eight Roads — the investment arm of Fidelity — SBI Holdings, SBI’s FinTech Business Innovation LPS, Arbor Ventures and SIG Asia as existing investors.

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