Cross-border payment is a term referring to transactions involving individuals, companies, banks or settlement institutions operating in at least two different countries. As the world continues to be a global village, there is always a constant need of transmitting financial transactions across one country to another. One such company that is providing such seamless transactions is Thunes, which enables smart transfer solutions.
Sandra Yao is the SVP Africa for Thunes, responsible for leading the Africa region where she has played a key role in building key partnerships and business opportunities while strategically outlining smarter transfer solutions for cross-border payments.
With 15 years of experience in the payments industry in Africa, Sandra continues to make a positive contribution to shape the industry into a more inclusive ecosystem. Passionate about Cross-Border Payments in Africa’s Landscape.
Previously, Sandra was the Director of New Business Development at The National Bank of Kenya, where she set up two departments for the bank: the Chinese Business department, and the Innovation & Digitization center. Capital linked with Sandra in order to better understand the specifics of running a technological financial firm. Excerpts;
Capital: Please provide a short introduction of Thunes in the African context, and what it offers in the financial space.
Sandra Yao: Established in 2016 and headquartered in Singapore, Thunes also has offices in London, Shanghai, New York, Dubai and Nairobi, where I head up our Africa region. Thunes operates a global B2B cross-border payments network that enables corporates and financial institutions to move funds seamlessly and provide financial services in emerging markets.
Similarly to how the SWIFT system connects traditional banks, Thunes connects mobile wallet providers, banks, fintech companies, payment platforms and money transfer operators, allowing them to process cross-border payments in a cheaper, faster, more transparent and secure way. Essentially, one connection to Thunes gives you access to our entire network in over 100 countries, as well as our 400 network members.
Capital: What do you feel are the main factors and trends that are leading to the adoption of Fintech?
Sandra Yao: Thus far, I have noticed that the adoption of Fintech is largely driven by market needs. The need for cutting-edge technology in the financial space is to create solutions for market gaps, solve problems that exist.
There is a strong need for solution providers in cross-border payments to navigate the complexity in the payments landscape, the high cost and slow speeds of sending money across the border, the difficulty in obtaining Central Bank approvals, and the “lack of transparency” by current traditional payments providers.
In addition, with the signing of the Africa Free Trade Agreement, this continent will see billions of dollars’ worth of trade, increasing the demand for ease of payments. Fintech companies like Thunes provide our partners with high efficiency in terms of go-to-market, as well as secure & reliable and compliant payments rails.
Capital: What are the challenges facing the Fintech industry, specifically in Africa?
Sandra Yao: The existing payments ecosystems are fragmented and complex; especially in emerging markets, lack of harmonization among different countries’ regulations. Most of the payment methods lack interoperability – no connection with each other domestically, or to international payment systems. While consumers have a great deal of choice with multiple payment methods like e-wallets, mobile money accounts and bank accounts, most of these payment methods lack interoperability. This can result in slower, more costly, and at times, unreliable ways of moving money, particularly in emerging markets.
Thunes fills these connectivity gaps. Through a single platform, Thunes connects different payment players in more than 100 countries and 60 currencies, providing solutions to complex cross border payments. With our platform, we aim to connect financial technology companies, providers of mobile wallets and payment services, money transfer operators, and banks so both businesses and consumers can easily and conveniently perform transactions domestically and internationally.
Thunes’ focus is to meet market demand by accelerating its network growth and expansion in Africa, Asia and Latin America; to be in more countries, and to go deeper into each country and add more partners, expand product offering which facilitates business payments and collections from and to emerging markets.
Capital: Thunes recently raised $60 million for cross-border payments in emerging markets. Kindly elaborate for us on how Thunes is going to pull together this fragmented ecosystem?
Sandra Yao: Thunes’ differentiating point is its strong focus on emerging markets, with a projected growth opportunity of US$45 trillion. These markets have high barriers to entry, and Thunes has a first-mover advantage in most of these markets.
Thunes also owns the largest partner network, with a strong presence in emerging markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Thunes’ proprietary technology also significantly reduces the time needed and the amount of transaction fees partners need to pay. The platform provides real-time payments processing in real-time in-house, with upfront costs and no hidden fees or intermediaries involved. It is also cloud-based and fully compliant with the General Data Protection Regulations. The platform also undergoes rigorous and real-time compliance screening and boasts advanced capabilities in transaction monitoring and cutting-edge technology to combat money laundering, fraud and other financial crimes.
The Series B funding will be used to drive the continued development of Thunes’ global network and accelerate its expansion and growth in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In addition, the company will work to increase product offerings and continue developing more solutions, increase transaction volumes, increase the number of countries they are in and in existing countries, to add more partners to their network.
One of the unique innovations that Thunes offers for African clients is the PayPal – MPESA integration. This is the first collaboration PayPal has with a non-banking institution that connects mobile wallets within the region and across countries for convenient, fast cross-border transactions at lower costs.
With this service, users in Kenya can seamlessly move money between their M-PESA and PayPal accounts, making it easy for consumers and businesses to access global e-commerce via the largest cross-border payments network in the world
In 2020, Thunes also opened over 40 new intra-Africa transactional corridors to facilitate money transfers across African countries at lower rates.
Capital: Can you explain to us how Thunes’ technology is helping advance other financial companies or the industry as a whole?
Sandra Yao: Thunes network can be used for companies who want to get paid, collect a payment, or pay someone.
The underlying transaction can contain a business payment, a consumer payment. For example – Grab uses Thunes’ platform to move money; instantly paying their drivers across SEA daily. About 5 billion people and businesses in emerging markets have become more and more connected to each other and there is growing trade amongst countries. Thunes network solves the cross border payment flows – making it seamless and instant at a better rate.
Thunes is not disintermediating anyone here, they are building something that simply does not exist.