Seven years after helping businesses solve the pain points of cross-border payments, Singapore-based startup Thunes now has bigger ambitions — to disrupt the dominance of SWIFT, the world’s dominant international financial network. “In 10, 15 years from now, it would be really cool if treasurers and CFOs would say, ‘I wire you with Thunes’ instead of ‘I wire you with SWIFT,’ ” Thunes CEO Peter De Caluwe says in a video interview.
Thunes has the right to be bold: the startup has scored $72 million over the past two months from the likes of payments giant Visa, Singaporean government investment vehicle EDBI, U.S.-based Endeavor Catalyst (which has backed the likes of Bukalapak and unicorns Carro and eFishery) and U.K. hedge fund titan Marshall Wace, among others. The Series C round, which closed last month, brought Thunes’ total funding raised to $202 million and boosted its valuation to $900 million.
Unlike SWIFT, which only covers the banking network, Thunes allows businesses to pay out to 132 countries across 4 billion bank accounts and 3 billion mobile wallets. Many of Thunes’ markets are emerging economies with large unbanked populations, including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan.
With its proprietary money-moving infrastructure, Thunes says it reduces costs by up to 90% compared to SWIFT transfers and settles most of the transactions within 30 minutes. Its major clients include leading fintech companies PayPal and Revolut, Southeast Asian ride-hailing and delivery giant Grab, as well as the Commercial Bank of Dubai and M-Pesa, one of Africa’s most popular mobile money platforms.
“Thunes is a fast-growing, emerging leader in cross-border payments for businesses. It also serves as the underlying payment infrastructure for major global players, particularly in emerging markets,” says Paul Ng, CEO of EDBI. “Best of all, Thunes is founded in Singapore and it intends to continue its next phase of growth from Singapore, which is why we thought it is appropriate for us to lend support.”
Armed with fresh capital, Thunes is now bolstering its presence in China, the world’s biggest mobile payments market. In November, Thunes partnered with Tencent to allow money transfers to users of the Chinese internet giant’s popular WeChat superapp. Following the recent establishment of a Chinese subsidiary, Thunes is looking to obtain local licenses and double its team there.
“China is probably the world’s biggest supplier of everything from electronics to goods and services…there’re also a lot of e-commerce players in China who act on a global scale. So everything you do in China is directly 10, 50, 100 times bigger than every other country,” says De Caluwe. “We expect massive growth coming out of China.”
For now, Thunes only handles a fraction of the money transfers that SWIFT does. As of June, Thunes has processed a total of $50 billion in transactions since its inception in 2016 (Thunes was spun off from Singapore payments company TransferTo in 2019). That figure is hardly comparable to the trillions of dollars that flow through SWIFT on a daily basis. Meanwhile, Thunes powers international payments and collections for roughly 700 businesses, which is dwarfed by the 11,500 financial institutions that use SWIFT.
An EY report last year said the volume of cross-border payments will reach $200 trillion in 2027, with wholesale business-to-business transactions contributing most of the share. It also noted that global digital wallet spending will surpass $10 trillion by 2025, citing data from U.K.- based Juniper Research.
De Caluwe expects Thunes to process $20 billion to $25 billion in the next 12 months, and that its annual transaction to grow between 50% to 75% every year in the next decade. He says Thunes has yet to reach profitability, as the company currently focuses on expanding its team across 10 regional offices in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America.
“The cross-border payments market is insanely massive, and we are only scratching the surface,” says De Caluwe. “So we have to continue developing robust processes, technology and scalability, and keep on doing what we do really well to onboard new customers.”
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