Airwallex is a fintech phenomenon. Founded in Melbourne in 2015, the company’s technology helps businesses manage payments and expenses across borders. Its success is global. By late 2021, Airwallex had a market valuation of over US$5 billion.
In this case study, Craig Rees, Senior Vice-President and Global Head of Platform at Airwallex describes:
- Australia’s amazing fintech ecosystem, and how it sparked Airwallex’s early growth
- the opportunities for fintech in today’s global digital economy
- how expertise in payments systems powers trade for businesses.
Australia’s deep pool of fintech talent
Airwallex was founded by four friends from the University of Melbourne in 2015. The company started by providing online payments services to businesses. Then it began offering cross-border payments services and overseas bank accounts.
Sales rocketed. At one stroke Airwallex had removed one of the biggest barriers to the global ambitions of entrepreneurs: making overseas payments seamless.
Within six years, the company has grown to over 1,000 employees in 19 locations across the world. The company is now jointly head-quartered in Hong Kong. But Australian ingenuity laid the foundations – and Airwallex still relies on home-grown fintech talent.
‘Melbourne was our first engineering hub,’ says Rees. ‘We began to develop many of our products in Melbourne. Some of our pivotal corporate moments took place there.’
‘The ecosystem around us played a key role in Airwallex’s growth,’ he adds. ‘With operations in Melbourne and Sydney, we see the richness and depth of talent available in Australia.’
Fintech powers digital innovation
Airwallex taps into a core shift in global commerce. Today, much of the dynamism in trade comes from small businesses. They use online tools to reach new customers and transact overseas sales. But differing national payments systems and financial regulations create barriers to overseas growth.
‘The shift towards a borderless, contactless and cashless world has opened up tremendous opportunities for all businesses – from small enterprises to large-scale enterprises,’ says Rees. ‘They need financial tools that facilitate international commerce. And they need to offer overseas customers a seamless payments experience.’
This challenge was Airwallex’s opportunity.
‘Our online payments, treasury and cross-border capabilities allow businesses to operate without traditional constraints,’ says Rees. ‘With technology at its core, our digital financial infrastructure can help businesses manage their finances more efficiently.’
The digital revolution in trade
Rees says that fintech is transforming prospects for businesses. The core financial functions of many companies have evolved as they conduct more business online. Technology is powering that change, he says. This creates huge opportunities for fintechs.
‘Fintech unlocks new revenue streams and growth opportunities,’ says Rees. ‘It helps business and financial operations become more efficient. Most importantly, it can help businesses survive and thrive in challenging times.’
Airwallex also demonstrates that fintech is a game-changer in international trade.
‘Fintech can help unlock value from a global and digital economy,’ says Rees. ‘Fintechs have an important role to play in helping businesses remain viable. They contribute to the global economy.’
Investing in Australia’s startups
Airwallex’s founders have benefited from Australia’s amazing fintech ecosystem. Now, they are investing in it. In 2021, they set up Capital 49. This is a new venture capital fund that aims to raise US$200 million.
Rees says that Capital 49 will work at a grass-roots level with early-stage technology companies.
‘The Australian ecosystem helped Airwallex to grow quickly,’ says Rees. ‘With Capital 49 we aim to do the same for innovative start-ups that are currently at a nascent stage but have high-growth potential.’