Going direct: a Wise decision

Not every listing on the public markets has the aim of raising fresh capital. For fast-growing international technology company Wise, its Direct Listing on the Main Market of London Stock Exchange provides a way to broaden its ownership while remaining focused on its mission. Co-founder and CEO Kristo Käärmann explains their novel thinking and approach.

Tech in London

We are proud to welcome Wise to the Main Market through its Direct Listing. Over the last 10 years, Wise has helped millions of people transfer money around the world, quickly, cheaply and more transparently. The Wise listing demonstrates the flexible nature of the public markets in supporting ambitious founders of high-growth, innovative companies, enabling them to continue the growth of their businesses in the public realm with certainty while also broadening their shareholder base.

Julia Hoggett, CEO, London Stock Exchange plc

An interactive session with Kristo Käärmann, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Wise

We could have gone public some years ago but equally, we could have deferred this for a few more years as well. It was inevitable that Wise would become a public company – the question was when.

Over the past few years we had been conducting substantial secondary share sale transactions; these were not needed to raise capital for the business but they brought on new investors and provided liquidity for our early employees and investors. It was clear that as these transactions got larger they would become more of a distraction for us as a private company – the infrastructure of the public markets can fulfil this for Wise.

When we established Wise, we wanted to address a very specific problem. Our entire existence is to make money work without borders. We now serve ten million customers worldwide and last year we sent over £54bn across borders. These are big numbers but it’s still only 2.5% of all cross-border transactions. Our future is still going to be around fixing the international aspects of using money for people and businesses.

In broad terms, becoming a public company does not change anything. It does not change how we operate or the economics of our business. But there is one pretty awesome change – it will let our customers become owners to a degree that would not have been possible to achieve as a private company. This is something that we are very excited about.

We have already gifted shares to 1,800 of our oldest and long term active customers – they now comprise the second largest group of shareholders in Wise. Now we have the opportunity to invite more customers to join our shareholder base of like-minded investors. We are planning a customer shareholder programme, OwnWise, which will reward customers joining as shareholders after our admission. It will provide customers with the chance to receive bonus shares in Wise, representing 5% of the value of the shares they buy and hold for at least 12 months.

But let’s be honest: our customers are less concerned about whether our shares are traded on the public markets as they are about whether our products are getting better and our transfers are getting faster or cheaper. Ultimately, how we improve our service to our customers are the most significant milestones.

We are creating money without borders: instant, convenient, transparent and eventually free. There remains a great deal of work to do.

A Direct Listing made a lot of sense. We have taken a sustainable approach to growth and have been profitable since 2017. Our revenues were £421m in our most recent financial year. Our growth strategy has been self-funded by generating capital and cash and reinvesting that back into the business and continuing to lower prices for our customers. So we did not have to raise capital; our main objective was to start to trade our shares in public.

We had been transparent with our metrics and had operated in a similar fashion to public companies for some time. A Direct Listing ensures everyone gets the same opportunity to own a part of Wise. We’re allowing our existing shareholders to sell on their own terms and allowing the open market to set a price in a transparent way that’s fair for all. For us, the listing process would have been a distraction.

A stock exchange is an entry point to global capital markets and so we asked: is any one entry point better than others? London has the infrastructure and provides great access to international capital but it is also a market in which Wise can genuinely stand out as a novel and distinctive high-growth tech company. It also felt like more of a natural home than the North American exchanges.

Dual-class share structures are often seen as US thing but in reality it is more of a fast growth, founder-led thing. To date, we have built up a valuable company very quickly by choosing our shareholders as a private company. Because of the long-term nature of our mission, we’ve always chosen shareholders with an understanding of, and passion for, the problem we’re solving. With those shareholders and our team and our loyal customers, it has really worked for us.

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