When it comes to financial services in emerging markets, remittances — people sending money to each other across international borders, often not to established bank accounts — continues to be one of the biggest, with the World Bank estimating that $529 billion was sent in and out of lower-income countries in 2018, up 9% over 2017. And today, Remitly, one of the bigger startups providing these services, is announcing that it has raised $220 million in funding to ride that wave.
CEO and founder Matt Oppenheimer said in an interview that the startup will use the money both to help it continue to keep growing that money transfer business, and to catch new opportunities as they appear, in the form of new financial services for the immigrants and migrants that make up the majority of its customer base.
The money is coming in the form of equity and debt, specifically a $135 million Series E led by Generation Investment Management, and $85 million in debt from Barclays, Bridge Bank, Goldman Sachs, and Silicon Valley Bank. Owl Rock Capital, Princeville Global, Prudential Financial, Schroder & Co Bank AG, and Top Tier Capital Partners; and previous investors DN Capital, Naspers’ PayU, and Stripes Group all also participated in the equity round.
Oppenheimer said the equity will both be used to expand its remittance business but mainly to invest in that new wave of services it’s eyeing up. The debt, meanwhile, is to fuel the growth of its “express” fast-send option. “Today we can post funds, but we can also pre-fund for express transfers, and we wanted to have the capacity and the line of credit to be able to fund the pre-funding part, which is growing rapidly,” he said of the debt portion of the financing.
With the equity portion, Remitly’s valuation is now at around $900 million, sources close to the company say. As a point of comparison, that puts Remitly on par with World Remit, another big player in remittances for emerging markets that raised $175 million in June also at around a $900 million valuation. (Transferwise, which focuses on ‘banked’ accounts and mostly mature markets, earlier this year closed funding that valued it at $3.5 billion.)
It’s the biggest round of funding yet for the startup, and for some context, it was valued at just $230 million when it last disclosed the number. (Remitly did not disclose valuation in its most recent funding before this one, a $115 million round led by Naspers that finally closed in the beginning of 2018.)
Today, Remitly’s services cover 16 “send” (originating) and 44 “receive” countries, covering a total of some 700 “corridors” where the company specialises in providing an easy way — either online or by phone — for individuals to send money, with the service localised on the receiving end to come in formats that are most popular in each specific market.
The company said that average annual revenue growth has been at around 100% each year for the past three. Oppenheimer — who coincidentally used to be an executive for one of its new backers, Barclays — wouldn’t break out which markets were growing faster than the others, but that figure includes both Remitly’s more mature corridors as well as those that it’s added in recent years.
The plan for diversification is not surprising. The remittance market is extremely fragmented and — with the rise of smartphones that have untethered users from physical retail locations — getting even more so, with incumbents like Western Union accounting for less than 20 percent of the market today, bigger startups like TransferWise also looking like it’s also increasingly eyeing emerging markets as well, and completely new concepts like using the blockchain to transfer money also potentially disrupting the disruptors.
That means pricing on money transfers for a section of that market that is already price-sensitive — immigrants and migrants — is very competitive, which in turn means a hit on remittance companies’ margins. Remitly itself has varying rates for different markets based on demand: sending money for example to Kenya from the UK currently costs nothing if you’re using MPESA accounts (other corridors obviously have higher costs than this).
Oppenheimer wouldn’t specify what kinds of other financial services it’s considering until they are closer to getting launched.
“We’re still working on that, but you can imagine the immigrant or migrant journey and the challenges that they face as they move to a new country,” he said. “It can have a painful impact not having a credit history: how do you get a loan, or set up a bank account? That is the strategic angle… The idea is to transform the lives of immigrants and their families.”
That mindset has been what helped Remitly raise this recent round. Generation — the investment firm co-founded by Al Gore — has made it a mission to put its money into sustainability. In its case, this means not only planet health but people health, in the form of services that improving the lives. Financial services for emerging markets is an important area for it in that regard.
Lucia Rigo, a director in growth equity at Generation who is joining Remitly’s board with this round, said that Generation had been looking at the remittance market for a while and had honed in on Remitly as a key company within it that ticked all the right boxes in terms of its mission, its journey so far, its numbers, and most importantly its prospects.
“Foreign-born or foreign-resident populations in developed markets is a segment that is just not catered for well,” she said in an interview. “There are a lot of digital means for sending money today, which is definitely driving down the cost of doing so, but we also think that digital penetration is just at its early stages, and new markets will drive differentiation and that will expand the customer base, and Remitly’s services.”