Singapore fintech Nium turns unicorn, topping US$1 billion in valuation

Nium's unicorn status marks a milestone in Singapore. PHOTO: NIUM.COM

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - Singapore's Nium, a payments start-up serving businesses, became a rare fintech unicorn in the city-state after raising more than US$200 million (S$272 million) in fresh funding.

The company said on Tuesday (July 27) its value topped US$1 billion (S$1.36 billion) after a Series D round led by United States-based Riverwood Capital. Other backers included Temasek, Visa, Vertex Ventures, Beacon Venture Capital and Rocket Capital. Singapore's sovereign wealth fund GIC also joined the round, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be named.

Nium plans to use the funds to expand in the US and Latin America before pursuing an initial public offering in the US in 18 to 24 months, chief executive Prajit Nanu, 39, said in an interview with Bloomberg. He said the company may pursue a secondary listing in Singapore later.

It will remain on the lookout for acquisition targets in those markets as well as in Australia, he said. The start-up has bought London-based Ixaris as well as Wirecard Forex India this year.

Nium's unicorn status marks a milestone in Singapore, an affluent island nation of 5.7 million people that is trying to position itself as a vibrant fintech hub. There are more than 1,000 fintech start-ups in the country, mainly focusing on payments, lending, investment and personal finance.

Pine Labs, a payments platform for merchants in India and South-east Asia, is one of the most valuable fintech start-ups based in Singapore, valued at US$3 billion.

"There has been a glass ceiling for South-east Asian fintech start-ups" with much investor focus placed on richly funded consumer tech giants such as Singapore's Grab Holdings as well as Gojek and other Indonesian unicorns, Mr Nanu said. "That ceiling has been broken and we're likely to see more unicorns, largely in fintech, coming out of Singapore."

Nium, which means "rules" in Sanskrit, was co-founded as a cross-border remittance service in 2014 by Mr Nanu, who was neither an engineer nor financier. After growing up in Mumbai, he got a taste of what it is like to build fast-growing businesses during his 12-year career at firms including Adventity and WNS Global Services.

Mr Nanu came up with the idea after trying to send money from India to Thailand to organise a bachelor's party for a friend in 2013. He ran into a problem as a Thai resort refused to take his credit card and insisted on a bank transfer, while his bank in India requested an extensive list of documents for transferring US$640.

Today, Nium counts Thailand's Kasikornbank and Singapore Telecommunications among more than 200 clients. Similar to Stripe, Nium's software helps businesses to accept online payments. It also allows businesses to send money and issue physical and virtual credit cards.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.