Fintechs focused on payments have matured more quickly than their peers in any other sub-sector of financial services over the past five years, with new entrants achieving household name status and stratospheric valuations. But some of the fastest-growing businesses in payments are flying under the radar: Singapore-headquartered Thunes is one of them.
“We don’t have the DNA of a consumer-facing business and we’re focused on B2B transactions,” CEO Peter De Caluwe says of the company’s profile. “But actually, a number of those large well-known businesses are using our network.”
Founded in 2016, Thunes – the name is French for pocket money – is on a mission to connect up the global economy. De Caluwe and his colleagues have spent the past five years criss-crossing the globe to sign up partners in more than 100 countries, building a payments infrastructure that enables customers in any one of those markets to make payments – or receive them – in any of the others.
“Think of us as like a railway network,” Thunes says. “We provide the rails over which payments pass – and the more stations we add, the more people we can help to send and receive those payments.”
Thunes started out by spotting an opportunity to solve a problem facing businesses and individuals in developing markets. Huge numbers of people in these markets have opted not to use traditional banks to secure the banking services they need, opening accounts with new entrants instead. In much of Asia, for example, the electronic wallets offered by ecommerce providers negate the need for a bank account; in Africa, telecoms providers are playing a similar role.
That is fine, says De Caluwe, until it comes to making international payments, for which these new providers are simply not set up. “The result is that these consumers and businesses are being excluded from the global economy.”
Thunes set out to change that. Its technology, based on APIs that partners use to connect seamlessly to its network, provides the international payments infrastructure from which so many have previously been excluded. Businesses around the world that need access to an international payments network can simply plug into the Thunes network and get started.
The company is focused on two solutions in particular. It offers payments, so that customers can make payments to recipients in more than 100 countries. It also offers collections, enabling customers to pick up money through close to 300 different methods around the world.
Importantly, while Thunes was originally conceived as a business aimed primarily at those lacking access to conventional international payments networks, the infrastructure it has built gives it the opportunity to challenge long-established incumbents. “We solve three problems for customers,” says De Caluwe. “We’ll tell you what the cost of your payment is upfront, with no further charges to pay. We’ll move your money instantaneously. And we’ll confirm receipt.”
In each of those areas, the traditional banking system is letting customers down, he argues. Charging structures are often opaque, with customers facing a variety of hidden fees; instant transfers are difficult to secure; and there are no systems for acknowledging receipt.
On this basis, Thunes believes it can compete with the Swift network that banks use to move money around the world. Of the $50 trillion or so of transfers made via Swift each year, around $15 trillion is accounted for by the smaller transactions in which Thunes has specialised, he points out.
The company’s growth to date has come from a variety of different types of customers. Thunes works with digital money transfer operators such as Worldpay, MoneyGram and Western Union, to support their payments services. It also supplies digital banks such as Revolut and Commercial Bank of Dubai with international payments facilities. Mobile wallet operators are another key constituency, and the company has a growing share of the gig economy platform market, with customers including as UberEats, Grab and Deliveroo.
This roster of customers has helped Thunes attract significant support from investors. The company has raised $130m to date with its latest round of $60m of Series B capital secured in May 2021, led by Insight Partners. Other notable investors include Checkout.com and GGV Capital.
That funding has enabled Thunes to build out its services and to recruit. The company now has offices in 20 locations worldwide and employs more than 200 people. With such a huge market to aim at, De Caluwe says Thunes will need to pick its opportunities carefully, but he is certainly ambitious. “My dream is that in five years’ time, there will be CFOs saying ‘I did five Thunes today, rather than five Swifts’.”