TransferWise has begun drawing up secret plans for a blockbuster stock market flotation that would crystallise its status as one of the most valuable technology companies ever established in Britain.
Sky News can exclusively reveal that TransferWise, which has become an international payments giant less than a decade after it was founded, has asked investment banks to pitch in the new year for roles on an impending initial public offering (IPO).
Key details of the company’s prospective public markets debut have yet to be finalised, although London is said to be the preferred listing destination of its founders, Taavet Hinrikus and Kristo Kaarmann.
Goldman Sachs is understood to be well-placed for a leading role on the deal.
News of the imminent appointment of bankers will spark renewed overtures from US exchanges keen to lure one of the world’s fastest-growing fintech ‘unicorns’.
A special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) is also likely to be an option for TransferWise given that tens of billions of dollars have been raised by such vehicles this year to take fast-growing tech companies public.
TransferWise was valued at $5bn (£3.7bn) in a secondary fundraising just five months ago, and an IPO is unlikely to take place until well into 2021.
Insiders said its valuation was likely to be in excess of the figure achieved in July, even before any new funds are included from the sale of new equity.
It could rival the float of THG Holdings – owner of the online beauty retailer The Hut Group – in size, following its bumper autumn debut.
The London Stock Exchange and Downing Street are desperate to convince TransferWise’s founders to list in the UK.
On Friday, Boris Johnson hosted a session with the bosses of some of the UK’s most prized tech companies – including Deliveroo, Oxford Nanopore and Revolut – as part of a charm offensive to sell the City’s credentials to the sector.
Mr Kaarmann, TransferWise’s chief executive, was among those in attendance.
Some of those who joined the call, such as Darktrace, Deliveroo and Trustpilot, have already hired bankers in preparation for going public
TransferWise is seen as a particularly important company to persuade to float in London because of its rapid international growth and record of innovation in key areas of financial services.
The business employs well over 2000 people, boasting more than 9m customers and £4.5bn in monthly cross-border transaction volumes.
It has also issued a total of more than 1m debit cards.
In July, D1 Capital Partners, which has placed substantial bets on some of the world’s biggest tech companies bought a $200m stake from other TransferWise investors.
That deal came in the wake of TransferWise securing a licence from the Financial Conduct Authority to offer investment products, a move that it says will enable customers’ cash balances to earn a more attractive return.
It has, however, no plans to become a fully-fledged bank that would – in the UK – compete with the likes of Monzo, Revolut or Starling.
Mr Hinrikus and Mr Kaarmann, who were born in Estonia, set the company up amid frustration about the cost of sending money overseas.
A flotation would make them both paper billionaires if estimates of the size of their shareholdings in TransferWise – they are thought to own roughly 40% between them – are correct.
While they have been open about the idea of an IPO being a natural long-term option for the company, they have made it clear that there has been no pressure on them to accelerate their plans.
In a blog post in 2017, Mr Hinrikus – the first employee of Skype – wrote: “In a few years it will be time to think seriously about becoming a public company like the strongest and most trusted financial institutions are.
“But when we do that we will explore that through our own lens – how will it help our customers? How will it help us achieve our mission faster?”
However, the surge in tech flotations, particularly in the US, is said to have persuaded the founders and some of their shareholders that it is an optimal time to go public.
Long-standing TransferWise shareholders include Sir Richard Branson, and IVP, a Silicon Valley fund which has backed Snapchat parent Snap and Twitter.
The company became a “unicorn” – a tech start-up worth at least $1bn – in 2015, and is more richly valued than other British fintech champions such as Oaknorth, the digital bank, which has raised hundreds of millions of pounds from SoftBank’s Vision Fund.
TransferWise has launched a series of products in recent years, including a borderless account enabling people to move money between dozens of currencies.
It has successfully tapped into a frenzy of international interest in the global payments industry as new technology drives down costs and improves speed and efficiency for customers.
TransferWise provides exchange rates to users which are more competitive than traditional competitors.
In aggregate, it claims to have saved customers £1bn compared to undertaking the same transactions with their bank.
A TransferWise spokeswoman declined to comment this weekend.