Managing cross-border payments in business can be challenging, especially for small and medium enterprises. “Let’s say you run a Singapore-based company, and you have to pay employees in Indonesia, and suppliers in the US: You struggle with cross-border payments every month and it can be expensive,” Wallex co-founder and COO Hiroyuki Kiga told KrASIA in an interview.
Aware of the problem, Kiga and his business partner Jody Ong, in 2015, created Wallex Technologies. Ong was involved in electronic arbitrage trading between Japan, China, and Indonesia, when he had the idea to build a forex platform that helps businesses trade internationally in a more effective manner.
From Singapore, Wallex expanded into Indonesia in 2018 after it obtained a fund transfer permit from Bank Indonesia, the central bank. The firm works in the country with SMEs, as well as larger outlets such as Ismaya Group, which is active in hospitality and entertainment, and the travel tech company PegiPegi. Wallex allows customers to convert and pay in 40 currencies, collect via virtual accounts, and hold funds in a wallet.
Remittance fintech is a crowded space in Indonesia and Singapore, with other players like Nium (formerly InstaRem), Transfez, and RemitPro. However, Wallex does not worry too much about them, focusing on a different set of customers. “Our infrastructure and the whole product has been built around servicing the B2B segment,” said Wallex CEO Jody Ong. “Therefore, we’re able to process larger transactions than other remittance providers who serve retail customers.”
Ong added that B2B remittance is a relatively untapped market in Southeast Asia as most businesses still rely on banks for cross-border payments. Wallex’s customers can already send payments to 180 countries and it is regularly adding new countries and currencies. By connecting directly to a network of payment partners around the world, customers don’t need to go through middlemen, so they can have faster processing times and avoid unnecessary fees. They will also get better rates than those offered by banks.
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The platform is currently serving close to 5,000 customers in Singapore and Indonesia. Wallex raised an undisclosed amount of Series A funding in early June, led by Ant Financial-backed BAce Capital, SMDV, and Skystar Capital.
“I think this Series A investment validates our initial thesis that the B2B remittance market is huge in the region,” said Ong. “Dealing with retail customers is different from dealing with companies. Businesses like to negotiate their rates and they want to feel like they have an upper hand whereas retail customers just want something that is mobile friendly and convenient.”
Eyes on Hong Kong
Wallex is using the new funds to enhance its presence in the existing markets while planning an entrance into Hong Kong. The startup already obtained a license there in December 2019, but experienced some delays due to COVID-19.
“The business has slowed down in April and May, but we are starting to see volumes coming back as we speak,” said Kiga. “The current situation has actually encouraged companies and SMEs to adopt digital solutions more than before. Manual cross-border payment requires you to go to the bank and fill in some forms. With the COVID-19 pandemic, more businesses are aware of the importance and the convenience of digital remittance service like ours.”
Wallex says its revenue is now growing 20% month-on-month, and that it has achieved an annualized gross transaction value of USD 1 billion in 2019, or about USD 100 million per month. The revenue comes exclusively from commissions: The company charges IDR 100,000 or nearly USD 7 for its Indonesian clients. Going forward, the firm aims to build a more sustainable business and plans to hit profitability by the end of this year.
“In terms of strategy, our roadmap has not changed,” Ong concluded. “We want to roll out new services related to forex, and hopefully, the travel restrictions will get better so we can start operations in Hong Kong by the end of 2020.”
This article is part of KrASIA’s “Startup Stories” series, where the writers of KrASIA speak with founders of tech companies in South and Southeast Asia.