In April, Bitcoin Magazine reported that global payment provider Align Commerce launched a public beta of its payments platform, the first in the industry to use the Bitcoin blockchain transparently to enable faster and cheaper global payments.
Transactions appear as traditional payments at both the sending and the receiving end, but Align Commerce pipes the transfer through the blockchain instead of using several intermediate banking relays, halving both time and cost of traditional international wire transfers.
Now Align Commerce announced that it has raised a $12.5 million Series A round led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), The Wall Street Journal reports . This is the first investment of the renowned venture capital firm in a blockchain-based fintech company.
Align estimates that small businesses currently pay $50 billion in wire and exchange fees. Forbes notes that, while wire transfers typically incur fees from the initiating bank, intermediaries and the recipient’s bank, plus the foreign exchange fee, Align charges only a low 1.9 percent foreign-exchange rate.
“We were looking for applications of the blockchain for the last couple of years in ways that could build real businesses and add real value that weren’t at the mercy of the currency valuation which will move up and down and all over the place,” said KPCB general partner Randy Komisar, who will join Align’s board, in a statement reported by Forbes . “And of those blockchain companies, we invested in Align, because we believe it’s a market that’s underserved, with a CEO who understood it well and early traction from customers who reinforced that value.”
The Align Commerce platform is targeted at mainstream business-to-business (B2B) payments. The users on both ends don’t have to know that such things as Bitcoin or the blockchain exist; the only thing they have to know is that the platform processes payments faster and cheaper, with a single 1.9 percent fee paid by the party converting the currency.
“The Align Commerce platform is not only a creative and transformative use of the blockchain technology, but a fundamental reimagining of how global payments can and should be done,” said Komisar in an interview quoted by PYMNTS . “We see incredible potential in Align Commerce as a superior digital path to convenient, transparent cross-border transactions.”
If a company located in the United States buys from a seller located in the Eurozone, the seller invoices in Euros, and the buyer pays in U.S. dollars plus the currency conversion fee. The fact that Align Commerce can reduce transaction fees by as much as 50 percent while still making a profit is an indication of the radical change that the blockchain can bring to the financial industry.
Transparency is another important benefit of the Align Commerce platform, which permits real-time tracking of all operations.
“The $24 trillion cross-border payments market is growing at a breakneck pace, expected to eclipse $54 trillion by 2022, despite a highly inefficient and expensive system in which businesses spend over $50 billion on wire and foreign exchange fees, wait up to seven days for transactions to complete, and have no visibility into the process,” said former Western Union executive Marwan Forzley, now founder and CEO of Align Commerce, in April.
“The blockchain offers a ready alternative," Forzley said. "The Align Commerce Payments Platform is the first in the industry to use this global rail to help small and medium-sized businesses quickly collect and receive payments in their local currency while avoiding high wire fees and various hidden fees.”
TechCrunch notes that Align isn’t the only company looking to get into cross-border payments based on blockchain technology and Bitcoin. Uphold -- the re-branded Bitreserve covered by Bitcoin Magazine in October -- also plans to use the blockchain as a transparent layer for cross-border transactions.