Exclusive: ‘FXing problems’ – Hardik Shah, Currencies Direct in “The Paytech Magazine”
Currencies Direct has been smoothing rough edges off the crossborder transfer experience for 25 years. Now, it’s responding to unprecedented world events by developing a slew of new tools, as Head of Product, Hardik Shah, tell us here
Founded in 1996, Currencies Direct can truthfully claim to be a financial industry trailblazer: the first non-bank crossborder payment provider to offer a solution to the growing demand for affordable global transfers. It launched as Europe’s first money transfer provider and has expanded to employ 500 people across over 20 locations including London, Spain, France, Portugal, the USA, South Africa and India.
Known for its award-winning customer service, Currencies Direct offers an omnichannel experience, operating a retail presence and phone service alongside online and mobile apps. Winning MoneyAge’s Money Transfer Provider of the Year award several years running, the serial innovator has so far helped 350,000 people manage their payments. And, as head of product, Hardik Shah, tells us here, they ‘don’t
just involve instant, one-off payments’. The multiple ways in which individuals, small businesses and corporate customers want to use and manage their foreign exchange (FX) constantly changes, which is why the Currencies Direct portfolio of services is evolving alongside them.
Macro-economic developments have played to the company’s strengths, with the increasingly global economy, an explosion in worldwide e-commerce triggered by COVID-19, and market volatility related to both the pandemic and Brexit increasing demand for competitive and innovative FX solutions. Such volatility has seen rates fluctuate significantly. The GBP/Euro exchange rate, for example, swung between €1.10 and €1.15 from January to March, 2020, a value difference of €10,000 on €200,000 bought at either end of that range. In response to such volatility, Currencies Direct offers multi-currency wallets; providing customers with the ability to buy and store currency when the rate is favourable. It’s also launched a batch processing platform for corporates making multiple transfers. Large or small, in all cases, it partners with Apply Financial’s Validate to verify the recipient’s payment details in real time.
TPM: So, what industry problem was Currencies Direct originally built to solve, and how has that evolved over the past two decades?
Hardik Shah: We were the first specialist, non-bank international payments provider. Over time, a lot has changed within the competitive landscape, as have customer expectations, but the reason for our existence stays the same – to provide a better experience for consumers to move and manage their money across borders. We’ve continued to evolve the business to meet changing expectations, and to differentiate ourselves by offering an unparalleled customer experience and service proposition, using market-leading technology.
As a result, our Trustpilot score, at 4.8, is among the highest in the industry. Unsurprisingly, customers just want to send their payments as quickly as possible, with the least amount of effort, to the right destination. However, with the increase in fraud, money laundering and unethical behaviours, we’re seeing enhanced regulations across the globe, which vary by country and currency. For example, to send a Canadian dollar, you need to have the recipient’s address, whereas, to send a payment to India, you need to have a specific reason code, and this makes the transaction journey more complex than we would like. To make these transfers and varying customer journeys as frictionless as possible, we’re working with third parties like Validate.
TPM: Have customers’ expectations changed and, if so, how do you continue meeting them?
HS: A few years ago, customers were solely after the rate and you’d get their business if you provided the most competitive one. While this is still a core requirement, they now also want transparency around any fees involved and when their payment will be sent and received, and a feeling of being in control, with the ability to send the payment when they want, with multiple settlement options, whether that’s debit card, credit card, PayPal, etc. Also, lots of newer banks are mobile-only, but we continue to invest in an omnichannel strategy as our target customers want to trade via their channel of choice, whether that’s mobile, online, offline, telephony or branch.
Customers also want reassurance. A recent industry report found that 39 per cent of those sending international payments, worry about entering the wrong details and losing money. That’s huge, considering all the new technology available today, and something we’re actively working on addressing. For example, for years, customers, in both our own research and industry research, have been saying they want to track their payments. It’s funny that you can track a pizza delivery, but not a £500,000 payment sent across the world. So, we’ve recently introduced a payment-tracking feature allowing customers to follow their payment, from initiation to it being accepted by the corresponding bank.
We’ve got some way to go before we can provide end-to-end tracking functionality in real time, where customers can see the money land in their recipient’s account, but we will continue to work with the industry, and our partners, to get to that end goal.
TPM: With that in mind, where in your payment flow do you use Validate?
HS: We use Validate in our online transaction journeys, for both mass market consumers and corporates. One of the major anxiety moments is setting up an international payment to a new recipient. Customers worry about the details being incorrect, and payment being delayed. So, we use Validate to verify the beneficiary details prior to making the transfer, and play back the results to the customer so that they can see they are correct, and address any errors.
This saves payments being delivered to the wrong place, or falling into manual repair queues, which creates a burden for operations and internal teams, and results in delayed payments. We’ve introduced a corporate mass payments platform for business customers, which is fairly unique in the market. I couldn’t imagine the pain a customer would have to go through to manually verify the payment details for thousands of payments that need to be made in a matter of minutes. Our platform, launched in 2020, allows corporates to process 1,000 payments per minute. We utilise Validate to verify payments in real time, and process them quickly and seamlessly, with minimum fuss.
TPM: What does the future look like for Currencies Direct, and the crossborder transaction market it serves?
HS: Our goal is to offer customers a richer experience, by continually introducing new products and services, optimising current features and utilising services like Validate further. Events like Brexit and COVID mean global money management is becoming more prevalent than ever. Crossborder e-commerce transactions, salary settlements and funds to support people living and working between different countries, are just some of the aspects we’re actively developing products for.
In the corporate space, we believe the future lies in integration and partnerships, like the one we’ve recently announced with Hargreaves Lansdown, to process FX payments to its customers, and this is where our focus will be over the next year or two. Removing pain points is one of the biggest parts of my role at Currencies Direct. For example, when adding a new recipient, lots of customers think, from previous experience, that they need an IBAN (international bank account number), a SWIFT/BIC (business identifier code) and the bank address and branch name, before they can make a payment. We’ve tried to streamline that transfer journey by utilising services like Validate, where a customer only needs an IBAN, and it’s like a ‘wow’ moment when they come onto our platform, enter an IBAN number, we validate it internally. and then, using Validate, play back the bank information.
That creates a delightful moment in the customer’s transaction journey, because they only have to add one reference point and they can see all the details they would have entered previously, done on their behalf. We’re also evolving our multi-currency wallet offering which allows a customer to buy a currency, store it and then use it at a later date, because we see different examples of how customers want to use and manage their money across borders, and they don’t just involve instant, one-off payments either.
For instance, I was in a research session recently with a lady whose son lives in Australia, and she needed to send him money for student fees. She said she saw a great rate and thought she’d buy the currency and send it to him, but was then worried he might use it all up immediately, so now she sends it in chunks. But since then the rate has dipped. We’re also considering how we could utilise conventional products, like forwards, where customers book a rate then draw down at a later date. This is very technical, but we’re trying to turn it into a customer proposition, using a subscription-based model, in line with current trends.