Aspire, the Singapore-based neobank that wants to become an “end-to-end financial operating system” for Southeast Asian businesses, is moving closer to its aspirations with a $158 million Series B. The round consisted of $58 million in equity and $100 million in debt, and was led by an undisclosed growth equity investor, with participation from DST Global Partners, CE Innovation Fund, B Capital Partners, and returning investors MassMutual Ventures, Picus Capital and AFG. The debt capital was provided by hedge fund Fasanara Capital.
The round also included angel investors from some notable fintech startups, like Wise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus; Qonto co-founders Alexandre Port and Steve Anavi; Uala founder Pierpaolo Barbieri; Xendit co-founder Moses Lo; Payfazz co-founder Hendra Kwik; Clara co-founder Gerry Colyer; and Varun Mittal, the global emerging markets fintech leader of EY.
Aspire was founded in 2018 to provide working capital loans for small- to medium-sized businesses, but at the beginning of this year, it began to take a multi-product strategy. Its portfolio of services now include bank accounts for cross-border businesses, corporate cards and automated invoice processing, all of which are connected to financial management software. The company also operates an incorporation service for Singaporean companies called Aspire Kickstart.
About 10,000 business accounts have been opened on Aspire, and in total they transact about $2 billion annually.
“What we’re trying to do is connect traditional banking services with software because we realize the biggest problem is that these two are completely disconnected,” co-founder and chief executive officer Andrea Baronchelli told TechCrunch. “So you have access to accounts, cards, but those are not powered by software. By putting them together, our vision is to move beyond the concept of digital banking and basically create an operating system where this banking product and software will co-exist.”
In addition to Singapore, Aspire also operates in Indonesia and Vietnam and is laying the groundwork, including regulatory, to expand into other Southeast Asian markets, though Baronchelli said it’s too early to announce what markets Aspire is focused on.
Based on the company’s product research and interviews with businesses, Baronchelli said that the average SME uses seven providers for their bank accounts, credit solutions, foreign exchange, invoice and payroll management and accounting. Aspire’s goal is to become a one-stop, end-to-end solutions for SMEs. Most of Aspire’s customers sign-up when they need their first business account or corporate card, and then start using its other products as they grow.
For larger SMEs that already have business accounts, Aspire tries to capture their attention with value-added products, like its expense management software or credit solutions.
Aspire’s working capital loans usually start at around $50,000 and can go up to $300,000, but can be customized as businesses grow. “We had to do that because we realized our segment is a moving target by definition,” Baronchelli said. “We cannot be extremely tied with amounts because our businesses and clients grow.”
The company’s plans to build an end-to-end ecosystem is how it differentiates from other fintechs that offer business accounts, like Volopay, Wise and Revolut. Aspire is currently working on building out its payroll system, because many of its clients have employees in different countries. It is also adding more features to its invoice management tool to make reconciling payments with account balances easier.