Alphabet and Salesforce back $75 million funding for UK online payments start-up GoCardless

Key Points
  • London-based GoCardless processes direct debit payments on behalf of businesses.
  • The fresh capital will be used to help GoCardless expand its payments product to the U.S.
  • CEO Hiroki Takeuchi voiced his frustrations with Brexit, labeling the current situation as a "joke."
Hiroki Takeuchi, co-founder and chief executive of online payments start-up GoCardless.

British online payments start-up GoCardless has landed a $75 million investment backed by U.S. tech giants Alphabet — the parent company of Google — and Salesforce.

The funding round was co-led by Alphabet's venture arm GV and private equity firm Adams Street Partners. Existing investors Accel, Balderton Capital, Notion Capital and Passion Capital also contributed.

London-based GoCardless processes direct debit payments on behalf of businesses. These are recurring transactions withdrawn directly from a customer's bank account.

"We focus on what we think of as the recurring payments market — subscriptions, invoicing, installments — and each of those markets is super broken," Hiroki Takeuchi, co-founder and chief executive of GoCardless, told CNBC in an interview.

"Overall, we think these kinds of recurring payments make up about 18 percent of total payment volume globally. So it's quite a big chunk of all the payments that are going on around the world."

The firm's clients include newspapers like The Guardian and the Financial Times, as well as tech firms like Box and Sage. It says it now processes payments for more than 40,000 merchants, handling more than $10 billion worth of transactions every year.

GoCardless was set up in 2011 by Takeuchi and fellow entrepreneurs Tom Blomfield and Matt Robinson. Blomfield went on to create mobile bank Monzo, while Robinson left to start up digital estate agent Nested.

The fresh capital will be used to help the company expand its payments product to the United States, Takeuchi said, with a view to cover about "70 percent of recurring payment volume globally" by the spring. It currently only has offices in Europe and Australia.

"We'll be opening up an office in Spain later this year, and we're opening up an office in the U.S. and increasingly going after companies with more of a global footprint," GoCardless' boss said.

The company counts the likes of multi-billion dollar payment firms Stripe, Adyen and Square — all of which have a strong presence in the U.S. — as rivals. Although, Takeuchi noted, they differ in that they are more focused on taking card payments instead of bank-to-bank transactions.

"GV invested in GoCardless because it is the only global payments company focused on recurring payments," Tom Hulme, general partner at GV, told CNBC.

"The advantage of a pull mechanism through bank debit to receive these payments is that it is lower cost and far less prone to failed transactions versus using cards."

Brexit a 'joke'

Takeuchi voiced his frustrations with Brexit, labeling the current situation a "joke."

"It's crazy that we still don't know what's going to happen and apparently the deadline's in just over a month's time," he said.

"I'm sitting in meetings where great people are doing huge amounts of work and effort preparing for every eventual possibility just on the off chance that it goes one way or the other."

GoCardless has put a contingency plan in place, he said, to ensure there's no discontinuity in its service and that no disruptions occur for its customers.

Britain is set to leave the European Union on March 29. Whether it leaves smoothly with a divorce deal has been complicated by a lack of support for Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal in the U.K. Parliament.

U.K. and EU negotiators are set to meet for further talks next week, but the lack of certainty surrounding Britain's exit from the bloc has proven difficult for businesses.

Brexit is bad for fintech, EBF CEO says
Brexit is bad for fintech, EBF CEO says

Though he was critical of the uncertainty surrounding the withdrawal from the EU, Takeuchi said that there was an "opportunity" to build bridges between the U.K. and Europe by making cross-border payments simpler.

"The more different the U.K. is from Europe, the harder the challenge is so the more value we can provide," he said.

"I hope it doesn't go in that direction, I think it will be really bad for our country if it does."

He added: "We're well prepared, begrudgingly."

Despite the cloud of Brexit overhanging, investors have been ploughing cash into the country's fintech sector. In recent weeks, a number of British companies — including online lenders Starling Bank and OakNorth — have announced substantial funding rounds.

According to a report from industry group Innovate Finance, the U.K.'s fintech industry attracted a record $3.3 billion in venture capital and private equity deals last year, up 18 percent from 2017.