Greetings, I’m David, CEO and Co-Founder of Helicap. Keeping with the unicorn theme from our previous newsletter, I am delighted to speak with Pratik Gandhi, Chief Operating Officer of Nium, which also owns InstaReM. Nium made it to unicorn status with US$200million raised in July this year, making it one of the fastest amongst Singapore-headquartered startup companies to achieve unicorn status.
Pratik and I had a conversation on a variety of topics ranging from merger and acquisition (M&A) plans, company growth, and the challenges they have faced. The video of our virtual chat is a must-watch for fellow founders. For those of you short on time, below is a brief outline of our conversation with timestamps.
Pratik’s thoughts will no doubt be of great value to you – and please don’t hesitate to let me know what you think!
Nium is the first global B2B payments unicorn from Southeast Asia. The company was founded in 2014, and today, the platform provides banks, payment providers, travel companies, and businesses of any size with access to global payment services via one API. Its modular platform provides services for pay-outs, pay-ins, card issuance, and banking-as-a-service.
In a Nutshell,
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. For your convenience, we have included timestamps at the end of each question to help navigate the video.
I. As the COO of Nium, what is your proudest achievement so far? [0:02:38]
My proudest achievement is seeing Nium become a unicorn and knowing that over the past 6 years in the company, I have been a contributor to this great success. Specifically as the Chief Operating Officer, I am super proud of what we have created as part of the back-end system, which is something that can help us scale to ten times without an issue.
II. When setting up an international cross-border payments company, where do you start? Do you build the technology and then seek regulatory approval in every jurisdiction? [0:04:03]
How we started is a unique story itself where Prajit Nanu, CEO of Nium, had a personal challenge while trying to send funds from a country on a personal trip. It dawned on him that it was a big problem as cross-border payment was troublesome and expensive – when it shouldn’t be. This is not only for retail payments but also B2B payments. This formed the company’s genesis, and eventually, the company morphed itself to be more B2B.
Technology is essential (before seeking regulatory approval in every jurisdiction) because often, the regulators would love to understand the kind of controls in place for each transaction, such as anti-money laundering. I remember one regulator tried some dummy transactions before sending the approval.
Difficulties for a start-up range from funding and talent to rules and regulations.
- Funding & Investments
- We have had our fair share of difficulties but are fortunate to partner with great venture capital firms such as GSR Ventures and GFC. They have stood by us despite uncertain periods.
- Talent Acquisition
- On talent, it has always been interesting. In the initial stage, it can be quite tough to attract talent, but fortunately, we managed to get some good names. With one good name, it tends to attract other good names at the same time. Attracting talent eventually became easier as the company grew, but that was also one of our difficulties.
- Rules & Regulations
- Every regulator is very different, but the underlying focus in almost all cases is to ensure that consumers are taken care of. For difficulties, the de-banking in Australia has been a concern. Banks have regarded us as a form of competition and a risk, but this is not the case. Despite the difficulties from different regulators, it works to Nium’s benefit because our customers feel safe that someone else is taking care of that problem. As the technology and regulation aspects have been taken care of, Nium can easily get a big bank or company started in a new country in a few days.
III. Can you tell us briefly how you will go about sourcing complementary value-adding businesses? [0:12:10]
M&A is one way to shorten the entry time into new markets. One recent example is Ixaris, where we had an issuing business with. This gave us an opportunity into the travel sector and a foothold in Europe. Similarly, we look for opportunities in different geographical areas such as Latin America and Africa. We have sourced complementary value-adding businesses via word of mouth, where we look at the gaps that we want to fill, and spread the word in the market, while remaining open to working with intermediaries. In terms of business, Nium wants to move very aggressively to the whole of America (North and Latin America). Prajit himself has moved himself to the Bay Area, so this will help move that along.
IV. How many countries are the payment rails linked up? [0:14:00]
For pay-outs, we can send it to over 100 countries, and most of them would be in real-time. As far as issuing cards are concerned, we have reach in 40+ countries. We have offices in over 15 locations (India, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, United Kingdom, Lithuania, Malta, US, Africa, Mexico, Hong Kong, Spain, Australia, Middle East).
V. Can you further expand on how you managed to capture and build on this global growth? [0:17:17]
We have always been working on the organic growth aspect, helping to deepen relationships and products. We have also been reinventing ourselves. Starting as a P2P business, we soon realized that B2B is a more significant opportunity in terms of market size. B2B was something that required quick resolutions. Today, our customers consist of some of the largest banks and corporates. Some of our customers asked if we have solutions for the issuing aspect. Hence, Nium started moving in that direction. After which, that was when Covid-19 happened, and we were out there looking for M&A activities. These are some factors that helped with our global growth.
VI. What distinguishes Nium from other payment solution providers trying to capture a slice of this growing market? [0:19:11]
What distinguishes us is our product offering, along with our geographical reach. You could have somebody who focuses very well on P2P payment, somebody who is focused on issuing cards or somebody else who is focused on the B2B aspect. Nium is all of these combined with all the geographical licenses needed. We can get a company to scale up without being bothered by technology and regulations.
VII. Can you talk through how these acquisitions fit into Nium’s overall strategy? Is there a reason you chose to acquire a company in India specifically? [0:21:23]
The acquisition strategy is to cut the time taken to establish global reach and scale. Why India? It is because India’s business is quite different from what we do. Nium is totally digital, but unlike us, businesses in India are more focused on brick and mortar. However, they have a valuable license that allows us to pursue pre-paid forex cards, which has a huge market, especially in India. Despite being a very different business, we are super excited.
VIII. How has Nium’s hiring and talent acquisition process changed from the days you were a fresh start-up to the present day? Does your new unicorn status make it easier to acquire highly sought-after talent? [0:23:29]
It has changed from the time when the company was small. Our recent unicorn status has been super advantageous to us. It helps to provide social proof of what the company has done – it is like a young person who has given his MBA exam and is still called a graduate. The moment his result is out, he is called an MBA graduate. The person is still the same, but his valuation went up, and the world looks at him differently. This is the same case for us. The best part is that the better our talent, the more will follow because good names tend to circulate a lot more.
– End of Fireside Chat –
In this issue of The Heli-Pad, you will find some recent press picks highlighting fintech topics like digital payments and alternative payment in SEA. Happy reading!
Bano and Nium to enhance digital payments for international students in Australia
Australian fintech Bano has partnered with leading global payments platform Nium to expand their digital payment offerings, including access to a range of digital payment and investment services like e-wallets, cross-border payments, multi-currency accounts through the Bano app.
Ant-Backed Ascend Money Becomes Thailand’s First Fintech Unicorn
U.S. investment firm Bow Wave Capital Management LP joined CP Group and Ant in Ascend Money’s $150 million financing round. The fresh capital will be used to improve its mobile payments app TrueMoney Wallet and expand digital financial services across Southeast Asia.
Australia’s Airwallex expands to SEA starting with Malaysia
Airwallex has secured a money services business license from Bank Negara Malaysia, allowing them to offer integrated international payment solutions for Malaysian businesses of all sizes. The expansion took place shortly after Airwallex launched in the US.
Southeast Asia has added 70 million online shoppers since the beginning of the pandemic, report finds
An estimated 70 million more people have shopped online in six Southeast Asian countries since the pandemic. With more purchases being made online, fintech services such as “buy now, pay later,” digital wallets, and cryptocurrencies have also become more widespread.
Data Vantage: SE Asia’s payment firms benefit from surge in transactions
E-wallet adoption experienced a 70% year-on-year growth in Southeast Asian users. Operators have seen huge jumps in transaction volumes over the last year, citing sanitation concerns and incentives from e-wallet operators as encouragement for consumers to go digital.