Ripple, a San Francisco-based company that uses cryptocurrency to move money across borders, announced a massive funding round on Thursday that values the company at $10 billion.
The $200 million Series C funding round, which was led by global investment firm Tetragon, could help validate Ripple’s claim that more banks and money transmitters will embrace the cryptocurrency XRP for international transactions.
Ripple controls an enormous reserve of XRP, which is the world’s third most valuable cryptocurrency, and emerged in 2011 as an early competitor to Bitcoin. In recent years, the company has bet its business on persuading financial institutions to use XRP as a “bridge currency” on cross-border transfers.
In an interview with Fortune, CEO Brad Garlinghouse said Ripple currently has more than 300 customers. He expects Ripple’s customer base to grow 30-40% in 2020, and says transaction volume on the company’s network will increase more than 600%.
The $200 million investment, which was also backed by SBI and Route 66 Ventures, may help Ripple refute skeptics who say its technology is a solution in search of a problem and question why banks should adopt it.
According to Garlinghouse, XRP helps customers free up capital that they would otherwise have to park as reserves in local banks. Ripple’s customers include Moneygram, which Garlinghouse says now uses XRP for 15% of its transfers into Mexico. Ripple purchased a stake in Moneygram last summer.
Garlinghouse says Ripple clients also use significant volumes of XRP to facilitate transfers of Australian dollars and Philippine pesos, and that the company is testing transfers of Brazilian real.
As for the new funding round, Garlinghouse cited a high level of investor interest in Ripple, saying the company did not need the money, though the funds will provide “balance sheet flexibility.” A Ripple spokesperson said its plans for next year include hiring up to 150 new employees and adding overseas offices.
Garlinghouse declined to disclose details of Ripple’s revenues or operating profitability, but said the company is adhering to its core strategy of promoting the adoption of XRP. While Ripple earns money from licensing its money transfer software, its priority is XRP, since widespread adoption of the cryptocurrency would boost its price—and allow the company to profit from selling its reserves.
One unit of XRP is currently selling for around 18 cents and, like other cryptocurrencies, has slumped in the last year.
A place for XRP in an age of digital dollars?
While XRP may be more efficient than traditional methods (like wire transfers) of moving money across borders, skeptics question whether there will be a role for Ripple in the future.
Currently, China is on the cusp of issuing a digital version of the renminbi, while centrals banks in Canada, England, and elsewhere are experimenting with digital versions of their own currencies. Meanwhile, Facebook is pushing forward with its ambitious plans to use blockchain—the technology that underpins Bitcoin and XRP—to transform global payment systems. And banks like JP Morgan are launching so-called “stablecoins,” which are synthetic versions of the dollar pegged to reserve funds.
If these projects come to fruition, they could potentially undercut Ripple’s business model.
Garlinghouse says he’s not concerned, noting that the central bank experiments are focused on domestic currencies, not moving money across borders. And he says banks and private companies are unlikely to embrace a stablecoin backed by one of their competitors, suggesting the path is clear for XRP to grow as an instrument of cross-border money transfer.
“Historically, the number of times governments or big companies have been able to come together and execute something on this scale is rare,” he says. “Bank of America or Citi is not going to use a JP Morgan coin.”
Garlinghouse is similarly unfazed by the sagging price of XRP, which is down nearly half from the start of the year. Some on social media have blamed the price sag on Ripple founder Jeb McCaleb dumping his holdings—an allegation Garlinghouse refutes by noting McCaleb is contractually obliged to sell only a small amount at a time.
Even as critics carp about the performance of XRP, and as many in the cryptocurrency industry regard 2019 as a bruising year, Garlinghouse remains ebullient.
“It’s been a tremendous, tremendous year for Ripple,” he says, adding that the company will be disclosing more numbers and major announcements in early 2020.
This story has been updated to clarify Ripple’s transfers of Brazilian are at a test stage.
More must-read stories from Fortune:
—How blockchain will shake up the financial world
—Crypto’s crown prince survived “the craziest bubble ever.” Now he’s ready for a second act—How fintech’s third wave will change how you bank
—Should “fintech” fear big tech’s push into banking?
—A digital dollar for a strong United States financial system
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