Open banking — where traditional banks enable payments and other new services by way of APIs that give access to financial data previously locked up in their systems — has led to a rush of startups looking to build the links to make it a reality. Today one of the hopefuls in open banking — Volt out of the U.K. — is announcing a significant round of funding, a sign of growing activity and confidence in the space.
The company has raised $60 million in a Series B round of funding, money it will be using for international expansion and to expand its product. The company currently is active in the U.K., Europe and Brazil, regions that have put some open banking structure in place and are seeing a number of banks moving to build and enable APIs. Altogether, there are some 70 countries that now have open banking, account-to-account structures in place, but there is little in the way of harmonization in standards, giving companies like Volt an opportunity to build out international payments that work across those borders.
IVP, a big investor in fintech — others in its portfolio include Coinbase, Wise, Prosper, Klarna, Brex, Robinhood and many more, along with a long list of non-fintech startups — is leading this round, with new backer CommerzVentures (the venture arm of CommerzBank), and previous backers EQT Ventures, Augmentum Fintech PLC and Fuel Ventures also participating. Volt previously raised just under $30 million in seed and Series A funding.
Volt’s CEO and co-founder Tom Greenwood said in an interview that the company is not disclosing valuation, but a strong source close to the deal tells me that it’s just over $350 million, giving it a dilution in the teens.
Those are strong numbers and dilution especially in the current market, where startups are finding it hard to raise and close rounds, and are often doing so at much higher dilutions.
While “disruption” in and of itself used to be a very strong selling point for startups, these days investors are looking at more concrete evidence of traction and revenues. In these regards, Volt has been sending the right signals (yes, pun intended).
The company currently integrates with some 5,000 banks in the regions where it’s active — currently the U.K., Europe and Brazil — and then signs up customers — online retailers and others doing transactions online — to use its rails to be able to take and make payments and run other services for customers of those banks, as another option to pay for goods or services alongside, say, making a card payment or using a mobile wallet service.
Greenwood tells me that the client base includes the likes of Farfetch, Vestaire Collective and eToro, although some of these are not yet live: they still working through integrations to enable Volt-powered payments, he said. Another big win for the company are deals it’s made with Shopify and Worldpay.
Shopify has made Volt its first open-banking provider, which will make it easier for Volt to integrate with Shopify’s customers. Worldpay, meanwhile, is the world’s largest merchant acquirer (enabling card payments for its customers) and by partnering with Volt it will now have an option for its customers to add real-time payments into its mix.
Again, as with Shopify, Volt will only make revenues out of that deal when Worldpay’s customers integrate the open-banking powered options. But the potential there is huge, since Worldpay not only works with many, many retailers directly, but also has a deal with the world’s largest e-commerce business, Amazon. Greenwood would not comment on which of Worldpay’s customers it is talking with. In any case, you can see why IVP might have been interested in Volt.
And why would a company want to take the time and effort needed to integrate open banking as an option alongside those other methods, you might wonder?
Two main reasons: Greenwood tells me it means lower fees — card payments run by, for example, Visa, Mastercard or Amex, typically involve a long chain of other companies to enable and process transactions, and each of them get a cut, one reason why the margins on payments have always been quite low and so payment companies need vast economies of scale in order to make decent returns (hence giants like Adyen, Stripe and PayPal ruling the payments space, not to mention the Visas of the world).
Greenwood says that currently Volt-powered transactions are yielding gross margins of over 80%.
The other reason is faster payments: The reconciliation process around card networks can take days for money taken from a customer to make its way to the account of the seller. Open banking, with its links directly into banks, promises real-time or near-real-time reconciliation.
All the same, the time and effort it takes to integrate open banking options has been one of the gating factors for companies in this space, and the concept, to take stronger hold. Equally challenging is the fact that in more mature markets, there are a number of already established payment methods, and a push for new approaches that already tie in deeply with consumer habits: For example, Apple Pay and Google Pay as seamless options for payments due to their presence at point-of-sale for physical purchases, and increasingly as an option online amongst a population of smartphone owners.
Other challenges include the fact that there are a number of other big competitors in the same area as Volt. One of the bigger of these, TrueLayer also out of the U.K., raised a big round at a valuation of over $1 billion in 2021.
Volt’s services today include online payments, payments by link and to set up recurring payments. The other products that it provides to its customers include dashboards for managing payments, fraud prevention services, tools to check users’ banking and other account details and products to migrate users to open banking from card payments.
In terms of regions, the plan will be to tap into further markets in the Americas, especially Latin America, and regions in Asia Pacific. There are two opportunities for open banking, ironically at polar ends from each other.
On one hand, there is an opportunity to tap emerging markets that have traditionally had lower card payment penetration — creating an environment ripe for banks to take on the role of providing infrastructure for cashless payments. On the other hand, countries where card payments are very common become markets where consumers are already well-accustomed to making transactions, and being au fait with that, they may be more willing to explore alternative methods if there are other incentives attached to those (such as loyalty schemes).
“True to its name, Volt is creating an electrifying global network for instantaneous, secure and cost-effective A2A payments. The wisdom and experience of the founders accrued at transformative payments companies, coupled with the talented employees at the company, strongly position Volt to give merchants and payment partners the lightning-fast, best-in-class payment solution they’ve wanted and needed,” said Eric Liaw, a general partner at IVP, in a statement.
“As over 70 countries, including the U.S., transition to RTP systems, merchants are experiencing the immense benefits of instant, secure, and cost-effective A2A payments. With the value of A2A payments in e-commerce transactions set to reach $757 billion by 2026, Volt is well-positioned to redefine the future of payments on a global scale,” added Angela Zhu, a partner at IVP.