We do mass-payouts for thousands of Grab drivers: Thunes CEO Steve Vickers

The startup locked in USD 10 million in Series A funding last month. With a long history in cross-border payments, it’s one to keep an eye on.

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We do mass-payouts for thousands of Grab drivers: Thunes CEO Steve Vickers

Thunes, a Singapore-headquartered payments company recently completed a USD 10 million Series A funding round led by GGV Capital. While the name Thunes is new to observers of Southeast Asia’s fintech space, the company has a long history.

It’s one of the two entities created after TransferTo split and rebranded in February. The other half kept the business of the original company, which had roots in the telco industry as an airtime trader.

Thunes–the word is a French slang term for cash–split off to focus entirely on cross-border money transfers.

The company is already planning for its Series B financing in the first quarter of 2020. It estimates that 1.7 billion adults worldwide are still excluded from the global economy, lacking access to financial services—and that’s where it wants to step in.

It’s also applying for an e-money license in Singapore. KrASIA sat down with Thunes’ CEO, Steve Vickers, as he charted out the company’s future.

KrASIA (Kr): Can you tell us more about the history of Thunes? Why did the company choose Singapore as its headquarters?

Steve Vickers (SV): The original founder of TransferTo, Eric Barbier, was based in Singapore when he first set up the company in 2005.

In addition to where the founder was initially based, Singapore is a great financial hub, particularly when you are looking for a base, especially as we pushed funds primarily into emerging economies. We are big in Asia-Pacific and Africa, and sizable in Latin America. Therefore, it makes sense to be headquartered in Singapore to reach emerging markets.

Thunes is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in the United Kingdom. We have also applied for an e-money license in Singapore and expect to receive approval in early Q3 of 2019.

TransferTo, the name of the company before it was rebranded, dealt with mobile operators and was trading airtime cross-border. In 2015, the company started looking at pushing money cross-border as mobile operators built mobile wallets and asked whether the company has the capability to send money internationally as we are already trading air-time between countries. Thunes’ current business is cross-border real-time payments.

Kr: What are the key areas where cross-border real-time payments come into play?

SV: We focus on three core areas of business—international remittance, corporate mass payout, and B2B corporate payments.

For international remittance, we send money on behalf of conventional money transfer operators, such as Western Union, as well as newer digital operators, such as PayPal, into e-money wallets and bank accounts in emerging economies. We are seeing triple-digit growth in the (international remittance) market, where we are growing in terms of the number of money transfer operators that we are working with and with the existing money transfer operators that we are in partnership with today. We are also expanding the corridors that money transfer operators are using us for.

The second area of focus that Thunes offers is mass payout for companies that need to pay thousands of individuals instead of a single individual. An example of this is ride-hailing unicorn Grab, where we undertake the processing of all their drivers’ payouts. We are certainly expecting growth in the gig economy payout capability. We are seeing significant growth just from Grab and will be pursuing multiple additional deals with other gig economy companies. We are expecting step change growth as we sign on new customers in that vertical.

The third area of growth is in B2B corporate payments, where we worked primarily with our existing partners in emerging economies who are looking for alternative mechanisms for sending funds out of the country. Today, they may be using SWIFT for those B2B payments, but that is neither real-time nor efficient. We believe that we have a better solution for them. We expect this to be a significant part of our business going forward.

Our revenues have more than doubled year-on-year.

Kr: How have Thunes’ products improved the payments market?

SV: Our products have helped to deliver real-time capability for emerging economies. We like to think of ourselves as creating the next generation SWIFT network for emerging economies. So, we tie in many alternative payments networks—such as mobile wallets—into our platform and we offer real-time fund transfer between those mechanisms.

Real-time is vital, especially for international remittance. There is this question of trust, and real-time capabilities deliver that trust. For example, if you are a relative newcomer in the international remittance space, you can grow your customer base by ensuring that cash is sent across countries almost instantly. That promise creates trust, and it helps individuals and organizations grow their customer base.

Most of the time, we take it for granted that we can make real-time payment when we look at domestic transactions. However, it is quite often not the case internationally. Having that real-time capability especially for B2B invoicing has that huge potential to improve global trade and trust between different intermediaries—exporter and importer.

Kr: What do you hope to achieve with the funding from GGV Capital?

SV: We will use the bulk of the capital to increase our headcount, especially sales and business development staff. By the end of this year, we are expecting to have just under a hundred employees.

The funding will be used to grow our sales and business development coverage. We currently have sales and business development staff in five regions—the Asia-Pacific, North America, South America, Europe, and Africa.

Aside from that, we are also looking at adding more mobile wallets to strengthen our services in territories where we already have a presence. In most places, we have established banking partnerships. Currently, we operate in 80 countries. We plan to introduce our presence in another ten to 15 countries over the next 12 months.

Kr: What would you consider to be your biggest growth markets?

SV: In terms of regions, I see opportunities in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, but especially Africa as we are more advanced than other companies there. In Asia-Pacific, our biggest growth in the next 12 months will come from China.

In 2018, we processed just over USD 2 billion worth of payments, and plan to hit USD 4 billion this year. The growth is expected to come from new customers, the opening of additional corridors with our existing customers base. For the likes of Grab, it’s just an incremental month-on-month growth as their driver network expands.

Other Asian markets that we are seeing growth in are the Philippines, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. We do have a presence in those countries and are growing our volumes pretty well, where mobile use is much more dominant compared to traditional bank accounts. These represent significant opportunities for us.

Kr: Do you have any plans to raise additional capital? If so, what will you use this for?

SV: We plan to do a follow-on Series B funding round in the first quarter of 2020. We will use the capital raised to continue building our technology stack and further drive growth in both B2B payments on a real-time basis and strengthen our receiving partners network.

Kr: What makes you and Thunes’ employees wake up in the morning to come to work?

SV: We made it our mission to solve one of the world’s most pressing problems: making financial services globally accessible to everyone. We are also helping to drive mobile wallet usage, especially for the financially disadvantaged in emerging economies. For our employees, that’s an aspect that is of interest—and why they get out of bed and come to the office each day.