Flywire: Why Going Global Requires A Local Focus


“People always say, ‘Think global, be local,’ but very few understand how big a challenge that is,” Flywire’s Head of Operations for Southeast Asia Andrew Ong told PYMNTS’ Karen Webster in a recent conversation about the opening of Flywire’s new, expanded Asia-Pacific (APAC) regional hub in Singapore.

Ong and Flywire CEO Mike Massaro told Webster that Flywire’s larger presence in Singapore speaks to the company’s ambitions to be in a region of the world that drives 65 percent of their payments volume. Just as vital is the fact that Singapore has become a key player on the global FinTech stage.

Massaro remarked that even as recently as five years ago, Hong Kong would have been a natural choice for Flywire to set down roots as part of its mission to serve the APAC region. But a confluence of events has elevated the city-state of 5.3 million people’s profile.

Singapore’s government has allocated tens of millions of investment dollars into building out the region’s financial services infrastructure by bringing more firms into the area and investing heavily in educating and developing its largely English-speaking, highly educated and cosmopolitan workforce.

Massaro said this makes Singapore a natural fit for a business in the business of moving money across borders in support of a variety of verticals, including education, healthcare, agriculture and trade. He noted that Flywire’s business in the Asia-Pacific region has seen 100 percent growth over the last year and is the firm’s largest market for payers who come largely from China, India and South Korea.

“It’s a massive market that is still growing,” Massaro emphasized, adding that Flywire’s APAC operation could easily double in the next 18 months.

An operation that size, Massaro said, couldn’t be operated remotely, or even through something like a small satellite of their Boston headquarters, because to truly offer global services to their partners all over the planet, it was critical to operate on a very local level.


The Importance of Being There

Enabling payments across borders, particularly large payments made by students or parents for education, patients or caregivers for healthcare or CEOs or founders in business, Ong said, all boils down to trust. It’s why he and Massaro believe enabling global payments like these requires boots on the ground to give access to locals who speak their language and know their culture — in the right time zone.

“We offer a one-stop shop for our clients in the region that is driving more than half of our revenue,” Ong said, “and the relationships with banks that support handling those payments in real time.”


The Flywire Flywheel

Though Flywire initially focused on servicing two very specific verticals — education and healthcare — Webster noted that its expanded global reach and momentum generated by its network of senders and receivers suggest there’s an opportunity to create an ecosystem of not only other players in that sender/receiver value chain, but also value-added service providers that could be integrated into the payments flow.

“Yes, but …” Massaro said in response.

Flywire’s platform is agnostic to currency or payments methods — whether money is moving domestically or internationally. Its global collection network makes it possible for the payer to know precisely how much they must pay in their domestic currency, so the receiver can reconcile those payments precisely in their domestic currency.

And that service, he noted, is both valuable and sticky for the certainty it provides. It’s why those who have been paid via the Flywire platform often reach back out to find out how they can become payers within the Flywire network. In that sense, Massaro said, the firm fully understands the power of being a matchmaker in the global payable/receivable system.

But, he said, unlike players who operate under the more explicit marketplace designation, Flywire does not force anyone to sign into their platform to accept a payment.

“We have never seen that as the best way to do things,” Massaro said. “We let someone who is using our system invoice in ways that are more convenient and make it easier to make a payment, but we don’t make signing up a requirement to receive that payment. That allows us to solve 100 percent of the receivable problem that businesses accepting cross-border payments present.”

Plus, Massaro added, in some cases, Flywire can let people sell in markets they haven’t been able to serve before — which is a service that induces sign-up all on its own.


What’s Next

Massaro summed up his goals for the next 11 months in one word: growth.

Growth in physical terms.

Flywire will open its new London headquarters by the end of this quarter, and it will be roughly three times the size of what exists today. The move comes as part of Flywire’s 2018 commitment to build their business to better address “regional centers of excellence” and growth in adding capabilities that leverage its global collection network.

Flywire also plans to add to its portfolio of solutions along the lines of its recently announced acquisition of healthcare and tuition payments platform OnPlan and the acquisition last year of PACE Invoice, the international invoicing platform headquartered in the U.K.

For Flywire to do what it set out to do — move high-value, low-frequency payments globally for tuition and healthcare payments in a transparent, compliant and secure way — the company had to build something that didn’t exist: a closed-loop receivable collection network that helped money move globally but respected the local payments methods and currencies of the market in which payers lived and had their financial services relationships.

Adding capabilities through the acquisition of OnPlan and PACE Invoice reveal important strategic moves for the business because of the opportunity to adapt them to the localized use cases that reflect Flywire’s global customer base, who possess the same points of pain.

It’s what Massaro said makes Flywire not just scalable, but defensible.

“Imitating something like this at scale would be incredibly difficult,” he remarked.