Companies involved in cross-border electronic commerce have a new option through startup company Align Commerce for settling payments outside of traditional transactions that can involve multiple banks, each with their own set of fees, says Marwan Forzley, the company’s founder and CEO.
“Say there are four banks in the middle, everyone takes a shot at holding money overnight and earning fees,” Forzley says. “That’s the problem we’re solving.”
Several investors agree, resulting in a $12.5 million Series A round of funding announced on Tuesday and led by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, whose earlier investments have included Amazon.com, Google and Twitter.
Align Commerce uses a payment technology system that is “a fundamental reimagining of how global payments can and should be done,” says Randy Komisar, a general partner at KPCB and former general counsel of Apple Inc. who is joining the board of Align Commerce. Other investors in Align Commerce include SVB Ventures, Recruit Venture Partners, Pantera Capital, Digital Currency Group and FS Venture Capital LLC. Forzley says Align Commerce will use the funding to further develop its technology and market its services.
Align cuts out banks from cross-border payment transactions by exchanging a buyer’s currency into bitcoin, the digital currency, then exchanging the bitcoin into the payee’s currency. It typically charges a fee, averaging about 1.9% of the transaction value, to the party that needs to convert currency; that party can be either the payer or the payee, Forzley says. He figures Align’s fees are usually about half of the amount charged by traditional bank networks.
“By offering a quick, reliable, and inexpensive method of exchanging money across borders, Align Commerce is empowering entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized businesses to expand into global markets without the friction of bank wire systems,” Komisar says.
Forzley says Align is set up to handle a “sweet spot” of transactions valued between $1,000 and $30,000, with the average at $12,000. He adds that Align will cater mostly to companies doing less than $25 million in annual sales.
Nancy Atkinson, a payments industry analyst at research and advisory firm Aite Group, says Align appears to offer a service that may be attractive to some small businesses. “For the right small business, such as start-ups, technology-driven firms and those owned by millennials, Align Commerce’s solution could be appealing,” she says. “Such companies are more likely to trust technology partners than traditional banks.”
But Atkinson cautions that the use of bitcoin involves risk in that the bitcoin market is not open and transparent, which in some cases can leave a payee unsure of what it would receive in its own currency. She suggests that companies engaging in cross-border payments may want to also consider such alternatives as Ripple Inc., a company that provides cross-border currency exchange services for buyers and sellers without necessarily using bitcoin.
Forzley, however, says fluctuating values of bitcoin doesn’t affect his clients because Align gets in and out of bitcoin quickly to use it to translate currency. Align also uses other methods for processing cross-border payments that don’t involve bitcoin, he says.
Both Align Commerce and Ripple use “blockchain” technology, which provides a shared financial ledger, outside of traditional bank networks, that process and record transactions in bitcoins as well as other currencies.Forzley also founded in 2005 the email-based invoice payment system eBillme, which he sold to Western Union. He also joined Western Union, where he worked as a general manager of e-commerce and strategic partnerships for several years until launching Align Commerce in May.
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