Meet the Fastest Growing Unicorn in Australia: Q&A with Airwallex

Ally Feiam By Ally Feiam | 04 Jul 2019

Airwallex began in 2015, with a vision to make international payments easier and bring international payments and foreign exchange rates into the internet age. We sat down with Dave Stein, the Head of Corporate Development at Airwallex to discuss the challenges, achievements and future of the fastest growing Unicorn in Australia.

When Jack Zhang and Max Li were trying to import coffee cups from Hong Kong, they found the foreign exchange fees were too much for a small business to handle. So, they came up with an idea. Meet Airwallex.

Airwallex has been hailed as the fastest growing Unicorn in Australia. How did this come into fruition?

“Airwallex provides a solution to the growing needs of businesses against a backdrop of digitisation and globalisation. Every day, more and more businesses are moving from offline to online. These companies want to replicate their business models in multiple countries but find they can’t because of the lack of payment infrastructure.

Traditional banking systems haven’t kept up with this shift in business practices. This is where Airwallex comes in. We have developed an API (application programming interface) – or in other words a technology layer – with dozens of banks worldwide to provide banking and payment services to customers around the world.

Airwallex solves a pressing business need in a market which is growing significantly year-upon-year, and so from an investor point of view, it is an attractive proposition. We’ve undergone a number of fundraising rounds now, raising over US$200m in the past three years.

We had a major VC investor, DST Global, lead our Series C fundraising round. DST Global has previously backed the likes of Facebook, Airbnb and Spotify, so having them sign up as a lead investor is a true testament to just how significant a role Airwallex is going to play in the future of international banking,” he explained.

Did you have past experience in the finance and tech industries that gave you a leg up in the creation of Airwallex? Is there anything you would have done differently?

“Our co-founders have a lot of experience in finance, including working for large banks like NAB and ANZ. These experiences have helped us understand global banking infrastructure and helped shape how we design our systems and technology,” Stein said.

What were some challenges that Airwallex faced when launching the fin-tech company? How did you overcome them?

“Recruitment. It’s less of a challenge these days, but in the early days, we spent all day every day trying to find the right people and the right fit for our business. We have a fantastic team in place across all eight of our offices around the world – but we are continuing to grow rapidly and recruitment remains a top priority. For us to recruit the best talent, we must build a great culture of teamwork and comradery. We also find partnerships with key recruitment channels, such as Launchvic, help us identify top talent,” Stein explained.

“Airwallex is very much a global business and we have a global mindset. However, each market is unique and it’s critical to know the nuances in each to make sure you are tapping into that country’s specific needs. We start in each market with local teams that understand local business needs and build products to meet customers’ needs.”

Finance and tech are two of the largest and most cut-throat industries to be in. Did you use any special tricks to wiggle your way and compete with the biggest names out there?

Across the co-founders, we have strong networks across banking and finance who have provided valuable advice and introductions that have allowed us to grow so quickly and successfully.

Smart recruitment – a lot of the key hires we made in the early days are still with us and we’ve been able to attract some of the best and brightest in the industry to join in the past twelve months, complementing our already solid foundations.

What challenges do you think faces the Australian finance industry? How can Airwallex create change in this sector?

The Australian finance industry, like all industries, continues to face regular challenges in an increasingly competitive global environment. Airwallex is squarely focused on being the technological payments and global finance infrastructure of choice – an area that has huge unmet demand.

Does Airwallex have any exciting developments underway?

We are constantly working on new products and will be further expanding our product offering later this year. Later this year, we will be launching an issuing product with virtual cards for domestic or international payment needs.

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