Roisin Kiberd interviews CurrencyFair CEO Brett Meyers.
A long time ago, back in 2013, I used to write blog posts for CurrencyFair. It’s always weird going back to visit an old workplace, weirder still when they’ve doubled their staff, moved to an office 10 times bigger than the previous one and have just announced a €10 million funding round.
CurrencyFair was the first platform in the world to break the $1 billion barrier in money-matching transfers early last year. Since then, their growth has accelerated month-on-month across their main currency corridors between the UK, Europe and Asia-Pacific.
But that’s just how CurrencyFair rolls, as an award-winning peer-to-peer marketplace for currency trading while outwitting the fees charged by banks – it works out 90% cheaper on average. During this last year the landmark achievements have rolled in: they announced 30 new jobs in 2013, along with €600 million in transfers. Then they were processing €5 million per day. And now this: news of €10 million in investment from Octopus Investments and Dublin’s own Frontline Ventures.
The day after the big announcement, I spoke to Brett Meyers, CurrencyFair’s Australia-born, Dublin-based CEO and co-founder, at their Ranelagh HQ.
First things first, congratulations! Is the race on now to accelerate?
Definitely. We’d already started the push with some bridge funding, but we weren’t been able to hire as fast as we wanted. It’s hard to get tech people, and we’re very selective. We have some new starters this month though.
In Ireland, or all over?
They’re coming in from all over – we’re quite multicultural. We’re even doing some remote positions, so it’s really a mix. We had some new starts in Newcastle today (CurrencyFair also have branches in Surrey in the UK and in Newcastle, Australia). The office there will probably double in size now. In general we’re going to double staff in Dublin and Australia.
Will they all fit in the current Dublin office?
No! At the rate we’re planning to hire, we only have fourteen or fifteen spare desks in here now. We’re going to run out of space by about June. I think before then we’ll have to figure out some way to make it a bit more hot desk-y. We already have some desks in the kitchen…
Is the product itself changing?
It has changed, to an extent. We’ve introduced some new products. But the list of things we want to do is really long, and the rate at which we’re getting through it isn’t fast enough. So we’re going to triple the size of the tech team, at least, in the next couple of months. We want to hire a lot of people, but not compromise on the quality of them. What we’ve added so far product-wise is a standing order function, which allows people to set up recurring transactions. That suits people who might need to transfer the same €2000 every month – they can just set it up with their bank to happen automatically.
Where’s the biggest market for CurrencyFair? Are you going after customers in new countries?
It’s still the same big three markets as before: the UK, Ireland and Australia. Australia is our fastest-growing market, mostly among the Irish in Australia. We’ve a real brand there among them, particularly in Perth, where I’m from.
I remember you sponsored the Paddy’s Day parade there.
We did it again! And this time we had a beer tent set up, and we were giving out five dollar bills in envelopes with a note saying “We’re giving you five dollars to make a point: you’re giving your bank far more than this every time you make a transfer!” I was going around asking people if I could take the time to tell them about the company, and they were like “Oh, is it CurrencyFair?”. I reckon about three quarters of the people there knew us already, at least.
It’s really interesting thinking of CurrencyFair having a kind of hybrid identity as an Irish company, but also a global one.
It’s kind of a unique position to be in, for us, because we target mainly expats, so Irish expats were the people to start with. We figured they’d think if it’s an Irish company, then maybe they’d be more likely to trust us. And the loyalty was there, from the start. It’s amazing.
Do you find that being an Irish company changes how people view CurrencyFair, even among non-Irish people?
I think it can do. I think Irish people are respected around the world. And particularly in the US, there’s such a large portion of the population with Irish roots.
Is FinTech is an exciting area to be in right now, in Ireland? It seems like it’s really taking off.
I think generally it is, not just in Ireland. Even in just the last six to twelve months alone, there’s been a lot of investor interest, which has generated a lot of media attention. So it’s become a hot area. It wasn’t so much two years ago.
Do you think the interest was born out of a sense of consumer antagonism towards the banks?
In terms of consumer FinTech, I think it’s been consumer-led. I think we’ve reached a boom point now, but actually we had a lot of the tech before the crisis. Like with what we do – the tech has progressed, but it certainly wasn’t a limiting factor before, you could have done what we do earlier. But it was much harder before the crisis to get consumers to trust a non-bank alternative. And then, when the banks collapsed, that trust in them was shaken. And consumers started thinking “Okay, maybe I don’t trust my banks so much, so it’s not such a big deal to try this other thing”, or else they were so pissed off with their bank they wanted to choose an alternative to deliberately make a point. Either way, their being more open minded to FinTech facilitated all these businesses. Banks being less popular caused it, but only now it’s gathering steam. And there are still, I’m sure, some really conservative customers out there who wouldn’t trust alternatives, but the number is much smaller now.
In terms of younger people, they avoid banks like the plague.
You’re making an impact with older expats too. It’s interesting to see the range of people who are open to using CurrencyFair.
The age range of our customers surprises us sometimes. But then when you think about it, there are groups of retired expats that have more time on their hands, and more money to move around.
People are getting used to running their lives from their phones and laptops in general. Everyone is more mobile now, in that sense.
Yeah. Going to branches for instance. Who even goes into bank branches anymore? The only time you do that is when you absolutely have to go in, otherwise no one would. In terms of younger people, they avoid banks like the plague. And banks are trying to make their branches friendlier places – I just think get rid of them.
Do you intend to keep your Dublin branch as the main office?
We’re committed to Dublin as headquarters. There’ll be fifty odd new people this year, and the new premises, which we’ll announce once it’s all happening. We’ll try and see if we can get the Taoiseach (Irish premier Enda Kenny) to grace us with his presence again – last time he hung around an hour talking to everyone! Obviously we want to build out the Australian office too, because that’s what gives us the 24-hour customer service coverage.
Are you going to move into more currencies and territories?
We’re focusing on just really nailing it in the existing corridors. It’s pretty easy to use CurrencyFair already, but we want to make it even easier; allow people to register with us using electronic verification, for example, so they don’t have to send documents in. The mobile app will be the next big thing, but that’s still a few months away. Even just having it on phones, people on the go will be able to set rate alerts. That’s going to be the next big thing we roll out.