Revolt Against Bank Fees Mints a $3 Billion Fortune for Fintech Founders

Loathing bank fees made Kristo Kaarmann and Taavet Hinrikus two of the richest people in finance.

The pair are among the biggest winners from the direct listing of Wise Plc, the U.K. digital-payments provider they started after becoming fed up with banking costs for global money transfers. The company began trading at 800 pence in London on Wednesday, giving Chief Executive Officer Kaarmann and Executive Chairman Hinrikus stakes worth about $2 billion and $1 billion, respectively, based on data from Wise’s prospectus.

It’s a rare instance of mega-fortunes tied to public fintech firms in the U.K., where industrialists and aristocratic land owners such as Jim Ratcliffe and Hugh Grosvenor dominate the top ranks of the ultra-rich. While the valuations of U.K.-based digital banking startups including Revolut and OakNorth have surged in recent years, Wise is one of the first from the nation’s fintech sector to go public.

Revolt Against Bank Fees Mints a $3 Billion Fortune for Fintech Founders

A representative for Wise declined to comment.

Hinrikus and Kaarmann, both 40 and Estonia natives, started Wise around a decade ago after moving to London. While working in the English capital, they grew frustrated with the high fees banks charged on money sent between the U.K. and their homeland. The two discovered while chatting one day that they were each about to send equivalent amounts in opposite directions and realized they could arrange the transfers between themselves, bypassing banks altogether.

“We were both sick of losing money to our banks,” Kaarmann said in Wise’s listing prospectus.

Other winners from Wise’s direct listing Valar Ventures, an investment firm co-founded by billionaire Peter Thiel, and U.K.-based investor Baillie Gifford.

While direct listings are a novelty in London, they have gained traction in the U.S. with hot technology startups. Firms including cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase Global Inc. and website-hosting service Squarespace Inc. choose that route to public markets in New York this year. Direct listings were pioneered by Spotify Technology SA in 2018, followed by Slack Technologies Inc. the next year. In 2020, Palantir Technologies Inc. and Asana Inc. did the same.

Wise -- known as TransferWise until earlier this year -- opted for a direct listing “to avoid speculation around our valuation,” Kaarmann previously told Bloomberg. “The artificial price-setting in an IPO is necessary for those that have to raise capital, but we fortunately don’t have to.”

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