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UPDATE 4-Fintech Wise to pioneer direct listing in boost to London

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LONDON, June 17 (Reuters) - Wise, the British financial technology firm previously known as TransferWise, said on Thursday it plans to go public with the first direct listing on London’s main market.

The London-based payments app founded in 2010 by two Estonian entrepreneurs, said it is opting to list without raising any funds, in a boost to the British government’s aspirations to attract more technology firms.

Apart from the London Stock Exchange itself, no company has ever listed directly on London’s main market, although the method has been used by Spotify, Coinbase and Slack to go public in New York.

Stock market listings in Europe have had a volatile few months, with at least four initial public offerings (IPO) cancelled in recent weeks as investors have become more selective after a record first-half for floats.

Deliveroo and Alphawave both tanked on their London market debuts, and are still trading well below their listing prices.

“Wise is used to challenging convention, and this listing is no exception. A direct listing allows us a cheaper and more transparent way to broaden Wise’s ownership, aligned with our mission,” its co-founder and CEO Kristo Käärmann said.

The company declined to comment on its possible valuation after sources told Reuters in April it could be worth between $6 billion and $7 billion, making it potentially one of the biggest floats this year.

The listing is expected to be finalised on July 5, with Wise aiming for a freefloat of at least 25%, a bookrunner said.

Wise said that it has been profitable since 2017, with a 54% annual revenue growth rate over the last three years, reaching 421 million pounds ($589 million) in overall sales in 2021.

It added in a statement that it had moved 54.4 billion pounds across borders for 6 million customers worldwide in 2021 so far and processes 5 billion pounds in cross-border transactions every month.

TransferWise became popular by offering a more user-friendly and less costly alternative for international transfers and over the past few years has been expanding the services it offers to include multi-currency accounts.

It has also received regulatory approval to offer investment services in the UK.

DUAL-CLASS

Wise was founded by Käärmann, a former consultant at PwC and Deloitte, and Taavet Hinrikus, who was previously director of strategy at Skype.

They have opted for a dual class share structure which will allow them to retain voting control while bringing customers and “other like-minded investors” into its shareholder base.

“We are here for a long term mission. For the transition period of five years we are setting up this structure so we can focus on this mission,” Käärmann said.

This structure may reignite a debate among investors in Britain earlier this year over Deliveroo’s listing. Unlike Deliveroo, however, Wise will offer all of its existing shareholders -- which includes high-profile business people such as Richard Branson and Peter Thiel -- enhanced voting rights.

All who take this up will have 10 votes for every share; in the case of Deliveroo, founder Will Shu had 20 votes for each share held, a major point of contention for investors.

Dual-class share structures are a common feature of listed technology companies in the United States but are frowned on by some British investors as they can give executives outsized influence on shareholder votes relative to their stake sizes.

At present, London-listed companies cannot have a dual-class structure and gain access to the lucrative FTSE indices at the same time, though that is set to change if recommendations from a recent listings review are put in place.

Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Barclays are lead financial advisers on the deal, with Citigroup acting as co-adviser. ($1 = 0.7151 pounds) (Reporting by Pamela Barbaglia and Abhinav Ramnarayan; Additional reporting by Anna Irrera Editing by Rachel Armstrong and Alexander Smith)

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