Airwallex breaks into cross-border payment industry in China

When a finance guru had the vision to create a revolutionary cross-border payment platform for trade between Australia and China, choosing to base the operation out of Melbourne’s ‘Silicon Valley headquarters’ was an easy decision.

Jack Zhang is the chief executive and co-founder of Airwallex, a Melbourne-based payment company that simplifies the process of international trade, allowing easy transactions with Chinese payment platforms WeChat Pay, AliPay and Union Pay.

The platform was launched one year ago but is already gathering momentum in a market that sees 230 million foreign exchange transactions take place every day.

“Airwallex is a cross-border payment company. We offer a one-stop shop for payment collection, foreign exchange and payment distribution to other merchant clients, especially in China,” Mr Zhang said.

China is the key market, where cross-border payments can be tricky. Airwallex’s modus operandi is simple, to be faster and more simple than its competitors, which is why it holds one of just 28 cross-border licences and has forged partnerships with two out of the three top travel players in China.

“Airwallex allows any merchant in Australia to transact inbound and outbound in China without any limitations for the commerce and travel industry,” Mr Zhang said.

Melbourne’s thriving innovation hub

The emerging e-commerce sector in Melbourne is already starting to boom, with China’s global giant Alibaba recently opening an office in the city to promote its global e-commerce business. Australia Post could invest as much as A$100 million in the next few years towards emerging local e-commerce businesses in a bid to kickstart innovation. A three-year investment of A$1 million has already been locked down with the University of Melbourne around its Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP).

Mr Zhang has been in love with Melbourne since he moved there to study when he was just 16. And the rise of Melbourne as an innovation hub was an attractive reason to base his business in his adopted hometown.

“I think there are a lot of interesting businesses popping up in Victoria. A lot of the Silicon Valley companies see Victoria as the headquarters for Australia, which is interesting,” he said. “I think Melbourne will be the innovation centre for Australia in the future, all the Silicon Valley guys already chose Melbourne as the ideal hub for them in Australia.”

Melbourne is the home of collaboration

While Mr Zhang had the big idea that got his business off the ground, it was forging strong partnerships that were vital to ensuring it would be a success.

Mr Zhang said government associations like the Trade Commission had been instrumental in setting up the business, along with many government and private organisations based in Melbourne.

“We are working with the Big Four banks, we are also working with Australia Post, we are working with a lot of local logistic companies that are helping to import to do international business, also with some accounting firms and government associations,” he said.

Immediate impact

Airwallex was challenging some pretty big players in the industry when it launched, but it has already carved out a place for itself with 600 SMEs already on its books.

It is only early days, too, and Mr Zhang said there was scope for the Melbourne company to become a truly multinational company. “The traction is great. We are in the process of dealing with more international companies to help us get more clients,” Mr Zhang said.

“We have signed up some of the very largest travel platforms in China so we can help them do cross-border payment to order suppliers or merchants overseas. Out of the travel industry, we have signed two out of the three biggest in China. Out of the e-commerce industry, we are pretty much dealing with every single one of them.”