Blockchain payments firm Circle scores $60m, sets sights on China

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Social payments firm Circle has scored $60m in fresh funding, announces that it’s created a new subsidiary in China and prepares to enter Spain as its next European market. The Boston-based firm, which started out as a bitcoin wallet back in 2013, launched its Circle Pay app last year to make sending money to contacts as easy as sending a message. News of its latest raise come hot on the heels of the company’s UK launch in April.

“We want to connect consumers using dollars, pounds, euro and renminbi the same way that the web, email and other protocols have connected consumers globally,” say co-founders Jeremy Allaire and Sean Neville, who have the 2bn consumers in Europe, China and the US in their crosshairs. They say the company will exceed $1bn transaction annually soon and that its customer base globally has grown 300% in the last 12 months though does not share numbers.

The funding comes from Beijing-based IDG Capital Partners, Breyer Capital, Catalyst Partners and a syndicate of high profile Chinese investors that includes Baidu, CICC Alpha, China Everbright, Wanxiang and CreditEase. Angels also include former IBM chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano and Silverlake co-founder Glenn Hutchins. This latest funding takes the firm to $136m, making it one of the world’s best-backed blockchain businesses.

Read about how Circle works in our interview with European MD Marieke Flament.

Circle 2

 

Circle China

The firm’s raft of Chinese partners will likely play a pivotal role in helping the firm bring take its product live in China. Based in Beijing, Circle China was set up six months ago according to the founders, who say they took a lot of inspiration from the evolution of social payments in the country – alluding no doubt to the growth of services like Tencent’s WeChat.

“We have taken great inspiration from China in our thinking about the future of banking and consumer finance,” say the founders in a blog post announcing the . “Social payments as a category started in China, and has enormous scale, unlike in the West. The first private banks in China are run by Alibaba and Tencent. Messaging and payments, p2p lending and novel forms of saving and investment, powered by the internet and software, are accelerating at an incredible pace in China, outpacing the West. We all have a lot to learn from innovators in China.”

Looking ahead to the future, the firm’s founders say Chinese consumers will play a much bigger role in the global economy and that means the RMB will become a much more important currency in the world. They envisage Chinese professionals in the US or Europe wanting to send money home in dollars, sterling or euros and their family then receiving it in RMB. The firm says it’s still working on getting through the regulatory hoops and compliance and it’s here that its roster of Chinese backers will likely be invaluable.

 

European push

Circle has an e-money license to support pound sterling and claims it was the first digital currency player to get one from the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK. This means that it can ‘passport’ its service into other countries in the EU and will be opening shop in Spain next “as part of a broader European-wide rollout” in the coming month.

“Between the US, Europe and China, there are 2+ billion consumers who will share value, and we want to enable that experience in the same way that these consumers share messages and content today.

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