This Founder Helps Small Businesses Expand Overseas By Solving Their Biggest Headache

By Lee Williamson

Lucy Liu’s fintech startup Airwallex makes it easier for small enterprises to grow internationally by making cross-border payments simpler and cheaper. Here’s how

Tatler Asia

Lucy Liu is one of 20 recipients of the Gen.T X Credit Suisse Social Impact Awards. The awards recognise Gen.T honourees who have made significant contributions to Asian society in the fields of social impact, sustainability or innovation.

For small businesses looking to expand overseas, the logistics and expense of cross-border payments are one of the most significant obstacles to success. 

Opaque financial systems often close the door to small businesses, and high foreign exchange rates eat into profit margins. 

It’s a problem Lucy Liu knew all too well—it afflicted the fortunes of a small Melbourne cafe owned by her friends, and future co-founders, Jack Zhang and Max Li. 

In 2015, they founded Airwallex to revolutionise cross-border payment and level the playing field, with Liu taking on the role of president, growing the company between its two key bases of operations, Melbourne and Shanghai. 

“The services offered by traditional banks are complicated and unaffordable,” says Liu of the realisation that sparked Airwallex.

“Our goal is to establish a basic financial infrastructure for the whole world, helping to meet business needs in an increasingly globalised world.”

Above  Lucy Liu’s fintech startup Airwallex makes it easier for small enterprises to grow internationally (Videography: Cheng Zi. Editing: Denise Ng)

Airwallex’s platform enables small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to open an international business account in minutes, allowing firms to easily send and receive payments in more than 23 currencies at competitive exchange rates.  

See also: Crazy Smart Asia: Lucy Liu—Redefining The Founder Stereotype

This means that SMEs are no longer at the back of the queue, or are unable to access favourable rates and services due to their limited scale. “As we are an online platform, we can offer services that treat all our clients equally,” says Liu. 

Airwallex’s rapid growth is testament to the high demand for its services. Within four years of its launch, the startup had reached unicorn status. It now has a valuation of US$1.8 billion, after a Series D funding round of US$160 million in April 2020.

Despite the huge levels of growth, Liu says what drives her hasn’t changed since day one: to empower small business owners around Asia. “Our system provides them a more convenient and transparent service, leaving the entrepreneur free to focus on growing their business." 

To see all winners of the Gen.T X Credit Suisse Social Impact Awards, visit the Social Impact Awards hub

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