Rise of Nium to Become a Rare Singaporean Fintech Unicornby Johanan Devanesan October 30, 2023
Known for its thriving financial sector and cutting-edge technological prowess, Singapore has seen its share of successful startups. Yet, Nium is one of the exceptional few among fintech outfits headquartered in Singapore that have managed to attain the status of unicorn, a valuation of over US$1 billion.
Alongside insurtech bolttech, Coda Payments, and digital assets financial services platform Matrixport, Nium is among just a handful to have not only achieved the coveted unicorn status in Singapore – but also reshaped the landscape of fintech in Southeast Asia.
Here’s a deep dive into the journey of Nium, and how it became a rare fintech unicorn in Singapore.
The Beginnings: From InstaReM to Nium
Nium, originally named InstaReM (short for “Instant Remittance”), was founded in 2014 by Prajit Nanu and Michael Bermingham. After joining Nium as Chief Business Officer in May 2016 as the company began building its global business operations, Pratik Gandhi was elevated first to Chief Operating Officer and then to Co-Founder in 2021.
Their vision was simple but revolutionary: create a more efficient and transparent cross-border payments platform. At its inception, the company sought to simplify remittances for consumers, a space often marred by opaque fee structures and prolonged processing times.
Expansion and Diversification
Nium’s initial success with individual remittances provided a robust foundation, but its aspirations went beyond. By 2019, the firm had rebranded as Nium and broadened its focus. The rebrand marked the company’s evolution into a global financial services platform, serving not only individuals but also businesses and enterprises.
Initially catering to individual remittances, Nium soon realized the broader scope in B2B transactions. Businesses, especially those operating globally, often face challenges with cross-border payments – high fees, long waiting times, and lack of transparency.
Nium’s pivot towards this space was both timely and astute. A recent study from Juniper Research has found that the global spend on B2B cross-border payments is set to exceed US$40 trillion by the end of 2024, an increase from the current estimated figure of US$37 trillion in 2022.
Its offerings expanded to encompass card issuance, bank account integrations, and payment collections. This diversification strategy proved pivotal, positioning Nium as a comprehensive fintech solution in an increasingly competitive market.
Robust Technological Backbone
A significant factor behind Nium’s rise is its relentless focus on technology. By developing a proprietary platform that integrates with banking systems worldwide, Nium ensures real-time, efficient, and cost-effective transfers. This technology-first approach enables the company to bypass traditional banking networks, reducing transfer times and associated costs significantly.
Through a single API, Nium provides access to the world’s payment infrastructure, including technologies for payouts, pay-ins, card issuance, and banking-as-a-service. Once connected, Nium’s customers can send funds to more than 100 countries, most of them in real-time, payout in more than 60 currencies, accept funds in 7 currencies, and issue cards in more than 40 countries.
Strategic Partnerships and Regulatory Collaborations
Throughout its journey, Nium has forged strategic alliances that have been instrumental to its growth. Partnerships with global financial giants, including Visa and BRI Ventures, have not only provided capital but also opened doors to vast networks and resources.
In 2021, the year it raised more than US$200 million in a Series D round to join the unicorn club in Singapore, Nium made two strategic acquisitions. Those included the purchase of travel B2B payments firm Ixaris, which added comprehensive virtual card issuance capabilities to the Nium platform, as well as Wirecard Forex India Private Limited, which gave Nium greater reach into India’s booming payments market. In 2022, it acquired alt payments network Socash.
Additionally, collaborations with tech platforms, e-commerce entities, and other fintechs have extended Nium’s reach and influence in the sector. The firm has introduced business corporate cards with Aspire and Visa, launched a Crypto-as-a-Service platform in the US and select Asia Pacific countries, and in 2023 introduced a B2B foreign exchange tool to lock and hold an FX rate for up to 24 hours and settle conversions on a future scheduled date, helping mitigate the risk of currency fluctuations and improving cash flow.
“We believe we can be a global catalyst to increase global commerce, removing some of the payments friction which has traditionally held businesses back.
The Nium platform simplifies the B2B payments experience by enabling critical financial services to be easily embedded – helping today’s local market players become tomorrow’s global giants.”
said Prajit Nanu, Nium’s Co-founder and CEO.
Operating in the financial domain requires meticulous navigation of a complex web of regulations. Nium’s proactive approach to obtaining licenses and working closely with regulators has given it a distinct edge. Today, the company boasts licenses in a multitude of global markets, ensuring seamless and compliant operations.
Singapore, a Springboard to Success
While Nium’s vision is undeniably global, its Singaporean roots have played an integral role in its success. Singapore’s progressive regulatory environment, coupled with its strategic position in Southeast Asia, offered the perfect launchpad.
In 2022, Nium more than doubled its revenue, even while financial filings showed that losses rose year-on-year. The city-state’s commitment to innovation and its status as a financial hub has also provided Nium with access to talent, capital, and opportunities to test and refine its offerings.
The Road Ahead
Nium’s journey from a remittance-focused startup to a global fintech powerhouse is a testament to its adaptability, technological prowess, and strategic vision. As the company continues to expand its footprint, its story serves as an inspiration and a case study for aspiring fintech entrepreneurs and enthusiasts worldwide.
Now worth US$2 billion and with B2B clients including Rippling, Payoneer and Currencycloud, the payments technology unicorn processes over US$8 billion annually for banks and payment institutions. It has expanded beyond Singapore and now Nium has picked London as its European headquarters.
Nium’s meteoric rise as a rare fintech unicorn in Singapore is a confluence of visionary leadership, technological innovation, and strategic decisionmaking. In a world where fintech is redefining traditional financial paradigms, Nium stands as a beacon of what’s possible with the right blend of ambition, technology, and strategy.