Argentina’s mobile payments startup Ualá was valued at nearly US$1 billion in the latest financing round that was led by Chinese internet giant Tencent, according to people with direct knowledge of the transaction.
Tencent increased its bet on Ualá, leading a US$150 million Series C funding round where it was joined by Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group Corp and others. The Buenos Aires-based firm was valued at between US$850 million and US$950 million, said the people, who requested anonymity because the details are private.
Ualá plans to use the funds to triple its team to over 500 employees by the end of next year, expand its loans product, and develop new business units, said founder and chief executive officer Pierpaolo Barbieri. Some of the company’s earlier heavyweight investors, including Soros Fund Management LLC, Goldman Sachs Investment Partners and Jefferies LLC, are among other participants in the funding round.
The announcement comes two weeks after the company rolled out a new investing tool in a low-risk mutual fund through the app. Ualá has issued 1.3 million prepaid cards since it started operating in October 2017, as part of a bet on long-term growth in a country in which less than half of the population has a bank account. Barbieri declined to comment on plans to expand outside of Argentina or the company’s valuation.
“It’s by far the largest investment we’ve received,” Barbieri said in an interview. “We want to continue to partner with other players on financial services.”
Tencent first announced in April that it was taking a stake in the company, without disclosing the amount. Tencent and SoftBank will each have a representative on Ualá’s 7-person board of directors. The investment also marks SoftBank’s first venture in Argentina, Barbieri said.
SoftBank’s Marcelo Claure reiterated that the deal is the firm’s first direct investment in Argentina. “We believe in their passion, talent and vision to resolve financial inclusion and to become a relevant regional player,” he tweeted. SoftBank is investing from a $5 billion fund focused on Latin America.