(Refiled to correct spelling of Transferwise CEO’s surname)
By Alun John
HONG KONG, Oct 19 (Reuters) - UK-based financial technology firm TransferWise plans to nearly double its Asia Pacific headcount and link up with new instant payments infrastructure in both Hong Kong and Singapore, its chief executive said in an interview.
Competition in digital payments in Hong Kong, Singapore and across Asia is becoming increasingly fierce, as traditional financial institutions and new technology firms from around the world vie for dominance both within markets and in cross border payments.
Kristo Käärmann, TransferWise CEO and co-founder, said the cross-border payments firm is currently applying for a stored value facility (SVF) license in Hong Kong so it can connect to Hong Kong’s Faster Payments System, which began operations in September.
“We hope to be the first international money transfer company to connect to the system,” he said.
The Hong Kong scheme, which allows digital payments to be made in real time using mobile phones or email addresses, currently involves 21 banks and 10 SVFs including HSBC and Alipay HK, a joint venture between Ant Financial, Alibaba’s payments arm, and Hong Kong conglomerate CK Hutchison.
TransferWise is also part of a Monetary Authority of Singapore working group, exploring how non-banks can connect to the country’s Fast and Secure Transfers system, at present only available to banks.
The plans are part of the company’s broader expansion in the region. Käärmann said TransferWise aims to increase its headcount in Asia from roughly 80 now to 140 in the next year.
Faster payments systems, which offer payments effectively in real time, are an important driver of change in domestic digital payments, as the ability to receive cash instantaneously makes the platforms more attractive to merchants.
Globally, 40 markets now have active real time payment programs compared to 25 last year, according to a report this month from financial technology firm FIS.
Earlier this year, TransferWise became the first non-bank company with direct access to the UK’s Faster Payments Scheme.
Individual countries’ faster payment networks are separate and do not allow transfers between them. Käärmann, however, said that linking up to the scheme would still mean that TransferWise could enable cross border payments more quickly, as it would speed up processes at either end of a transfer.
Based in London, TransferWise has raised nearly $400 million from investors including asset management firm Old Mutual Plc , British billionaire Richard Branson, venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and PayPal Holdings Inc founder Max Levchin.
It says it transfers 3 billion pounds ($3.91 billion) each month. ($1 = 0.7678 pounds) (Reporting by Alun John; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)