Found somewhere in Melbourne (circa 2015) the Aussie-born globe-trotting fintech-shaped Unicorn Airwallex has snuck beautifully into another layer of China’s (greater) payments world, by snapping up a local firm and securing a licence to flog its bag of online payment services.

The payments platform this week revealed it’d secured the license through the 100% takeover of the Chinese online payment services firm Guangzhou Shang Wu Tong Network Technology Co.

It’s the latest win for a local global payments financial technology play which boasts an impressive strategic track record and has the confidence of big-hitting backers like Grok Ventures, Tencent Holdings and Horizons Ventures the capital venture plaything of legendary Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing.

Other headline Airwallex’s investors include San Francisco-based Greenoaks Capital, the Singapore’s Hillhouse Capital Group and Sequoia Capital China.


The relevant regulatory organs are in place

All the heaving regulatory organs in China – the ones which still have any relevance – have green lit the deal, Airwallex says, allowing the Unicorn to go have fun operating as a third-party payment provider in China.

Needless to say, the access the license provides to China’s local market is profound and could dwarf Airwallex’s existing licenses in in Australia, Honkers, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK, and the states.

“Looking ahead, we can now significantly enhance our capabilities to empower entrepreneurs and modern businesses to leverage technology and grow without borders,” saidsays Kai Wu, chief revenue officer and GM of the Asia-Pacific.

Airwallex’s products allow businesses to accept online payments, conduct foreign exchange transactions, manage cashflows, make domestic and international fund transfers and issue virtual payment cards to staff and suppliers.

Mainland China’s gone digitally nuts

China’s online in ways John Snow knows zip about.

The mainland research firm Daxue Consulting has previously pegged the Middle Kingdom’s cumulative digital payments at circa US$3.5 trillion by the end of 2022. China is an absolute world leader in this regard all but doubling, the next biggest which is their old mate, the US with a wee US$1.8 trillion.

The uptake per capita is extraordinary. During the pandemic China UnionPay reckoned some 65% of the China entire population (of 1.4 billion) made a mobile payments,.

People living in many of China’s major urban centres on average paid 80% of their monthly costs online via mobile payments UnionPay estimates.


Off we go

Its financial platform covers over 150 nations, handling some US$50 billion of transactions annually.

In November 2021, the company said its valuation soared to US$5.5 billion following its US$100 million Series E1 fund-raising round. It has raised US$902 million in total.

“To better address the pain points encountered in cross-border transactions between China and the rest of the world, our team will work towards integrating our platform,” Wu said. “This means we can (deliver) products and services in China for businesses of all sizes in their global expansion plans.”

Airwallex built its initial competitive advantage by establishing a foothold in Hong Kong, where it obtained key financial licences and gained traction processing foreign exchange transactions for businesses out of China. Now, it’s got its sights set on a western expansion.

It’s been a busy little Unicorn too. Since December, the fintech’s secured deals with American Express, corporate online travel firm Navan and financial sector data transfer network provider Plaid.

In 2021, it did a Visa thing which offered a “borderless” virtual card in Hong Kong to compete in the B2B payments market.