This is Tata’s thirteenth such investment in a internet-led startup, making him one of India’s most prolific individual investors. He has been active in this space since his retirement in 2012 from the helm of the Tata Group, one of India’s largest and oldest conglomerates.
American Express has also invested in this round, which adds to US-based Abra’s Series A fundraise worth $12 million. The app allows customers to transfer funds to each other, and enables merchants to accept digital cash. Some of the biggest names in finance, from Goldman Sachs and Visa to Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange, have previously funded Bitcoin startups.
“These are the first investments in the crypto currency world for both American Express and Ratan Tata,”said a statement by Abra. The company, run by Plutus Financial Inc., offers its services in its home country U.S. and in the Phillippines. Other investors in its series A round include Arbor Ventures, First Round Capital and RRE Ventures.
“As people and businesses transact more globally, there’s a need for more convenient and affordable ways to move money, and we think the blockchain could play an important role in the evolution of money transfer and commerce, especially in emerging markets,” said Harshul Sanghi, American Express Ventures managing partner, in a statement. Blockchain is the technology that powers Bitcoin.
Abra markets itself as the first app that enables anyone store money digitally on their phones and send it to any recipient in the world. The digital money can then be exchanged for cash using Abra’s network of tellers —individuals or small businesses that earn money by transacting in digital cash — or traditional banks. Tellers set their own fees, and Abra charges an additional quarter per cent of the transaction. It currently has such tellers signed up in over 80 countries.
Unlike other peer-to-peer money transfer services like Venmo, the company never actually touches any funds. That means it can save the expenses of regulatory compliance related to transmitting money. Now it will also enable merchants to accept payments from customers through their phones at checkout.
Prior to this investment, Tata has funded some of India’s hottest startups such as Ola, India’s largest taxi-hailing app service, e-commerce major Snapdeal, online furniture retailer Urban Ladder, automobile marketplace CarDekho and One97 Communications, which runs mobile wallet Paytm.