Talking disruption with Richard Arundel, Co-founder of Currencycloud
Read time: 7 minutes
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So Richard, tell us about the Currencycloud offering
The Currencycloud platform provides cross-border finance to fintech companies around the globe, enabling these businesses to offer cross-border payments and receipts to their customers.
We’re what we like to call a B2B2X company embedded through APIs. What that essentially means is that we’re not direct to market, so we sell to customers who then sell on to their customers and are the infrastructure that sits behind them. In Europe, some of our customers include people like Revolut, Starling Bank and Monese.
We’re now across five locations. We have a headquarters here in London, along with offices in Cardiff, Singapore and New York – I was out in New York for three years. And now, thanks to Brexit, we also have an office in Amsterdam.
Industry: Financial Services
HQ: London, England
Ownership: Privately Held
Size: 51-200 employees
What inspired the creation of the company?
Both Steve (Stephen Lemon, Currencycloud Co-Founder, Vice President and Strategic Partnerships & Corporate Development Officer) and I came from a deliverable FX background, and the whole process of moving money globally was pretty opaque and still quite laborious. The distribution of these services was relatively contained (to Banks and specialist FX firms) and there were quite high barriers to entry from both a technology and a regulatory compliance point of view. There had to be a better way to do this so the idea was really just born out of frustration.
We were very clear from the outset that we didn’t want to go direct to market. Our approach has always been an embedded one – we knew our target clients were good at servicing the end customer and we saw a gap to be that ‘FX or Payments As A Service’ provider. This was back in late 2008, early 2009, during the middle of a financial crisis, so an interesting time to set up a business (!), but I guess it was the start of a digital evolution in the financial services space. We decided that if we could create a technology or a platform to service early-stage fintech providers, who could in turn service the end customer that could be a pretty smart business model.
What is the Currencycloud mission?
Setting out, our mission was ‘to reimagine the way money flows, to create a better tomorrow for all’. That was true then, and it’s still true now. Having a strong purpose and something people can relate to is something that has always been a huge motivation for me personally, as well as being a firm asset when it comes to hiring. Of course, it means slightly different things to different people in the company, and that’s fine! As long as it resonates.
"For me, ‘better tomorrow for all’ isn’t just about servicing the developing world, as important as that is. It’s also levelling the playing field for everyone – and fintech has been, and will continue to be, a great leveller."
How has funding and investment supported Currencycloud’s growth?
Throughout the process we’ve been really lucky to have such a great set of investors at the table. A couple have been with us since the early days of series A, which is, I think, a great testament to their confidence in our business. From specialists like Anthemis and Notion to investors like Sapphire (SAP), GV, VISA and BNP Paribas, it’s a really good mix.
Our series A started in 2012, and since then we’ve raised over GBP100million as a business. We took quite a considered approach in the beginning, rather than give away too much of the business in order to raise larger sums. I’m not saying that’s the right approach but it was something that worked for us. Our business model hasn’t changed in that time but the market has evolved and we’ve been able to evolve along with it and raise money when needed to support our growth.
What challenges did you face in expanding your business globally?
One of our greatest challenges in scaling up as a business has come in learning how to enter new geographies. This is quite relevant at the moment, especially with UK and European start-ups, because once you get past series A or series B, you’re probably going to have global ambitions. So you’ve got to start thinking about how to scale on a global basis, how to start launching offices, and then building offices.
We’ve been in North America for over five years now and it’s been a huge challenge to understand the landscape, especially when it comes to regulation and compliance. Whilst we’re a fintech company, we’re really in the business of compliance – moving money and keeping people’s money safe. So the challenge comes in understanding the different requirements and restrictions in those different geographies and how to manage that effectively.
I think one of the things we got wrong in the early days was we didn’t really transmit any ‘Currencycloud DNA’ out to our new arms – we set up an office in New York and hired some local people but without any Currencyclouders there. So I went out to America in 2017 to inject a bit of DNA. I’ve since spoken with a number of successful companies who’ve done that same thing, sending someone from HQ to help build out the local office, and I think that proves to be really effective.
How has Currencycloud met the challenges of the current global situation?
As soon as the pandemic hit, we tested a company-wide work-from-home policy. We dropped in and out of it when the UK allowed us to, and a couple of the US team are in and out of the office, because the US lockdown rules aren’t as strict. But pretty much everybody’s been on a remote basis since then.
Like many businesses, this meant we had to learn quickly in terms of ways of working. We’ve had fully remote employees and teams before, so we knew how to operate remotely, but now we’re really embracing that and I think there are huge benefits in doing so.
The other big thing we focused on is our people and in particular their mental health. We introduced a Mental Health Day pretty much straight away where we encourage all employees to just take that time for themselves, not book it as a holiday. We’ve done a bunch of health and wellness workshops as well. We’ve brought people in to offer support tips and start an open discussion in recognition that people are finding it tough.
We also hold a bi-weekly call with our CEO, an ask-me-anything session, so the communication around the health of business and everything we’re doing is also very open. And I think it's a credit to how everybody’s handled it in our business that our employee net promoter score is the best it’s ever been. People are really happy that they feel supported.
How can Currencycloud technology help support businesses through the global crisis?
COVID-19 has been a huge catalyst for a number of businesses to make a move to a more digital way of working, and that’s a space in which we operate. It’s been a real opportunity for us to reach out into new business sectors and spaces with our offering and help organisations to access financial networks beyond borders – something they wouldn’t perhaps have thought about doing before the pandemic. We call these ‘digital transformers’ – people who are going on this journey to transform say, their legacy analogue systems, into a much more digital offering and need the support of services like ours to do so.
There’s also been a surge of really interesting new businesses, and a new approach with businesses in our space. And because we categorise our target market, traditionally at least, as those who are digitally native, these have also presented a great opportunity for us to reach out and service new types of digital product in a whole new variety of sectors.
What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing your sector right now?
We’re fortunate in the industry we’re in that COVID-19 has been quite good for us from a business point of view. I think the main challenge at the moment is supporting people, especially in the UK or anywhere that’s in a prolonged period of lockdown.
"How do we keep our people healthy, when they can’t go out and see friends or family and just live a normal life? How do we support people stuck at home? Working parents with kids not in schools? And just the monotony of another day. It’s like Groundhog Day."
So I think the challenge is less an industry challenge, because we've been quite fortunate in the industry we’re in, with the opportunities afforded to us by the shift to digital. No, it’s the way that businesses respond to the challenges people have faced in lockdown that I think will now separate success from decline.
What advice would you give to tech entrepreneurs looking to follow in your footsteps?
Have values and stick to them. We have three core values in our business that aren’t just values that we put up on the wall, and they don’t come out of a marketing classroom: Be human; Own it; Better together. They’re values that we live by day in, day out; that we hire and we fire by; and that we like to treat our customers by as well.
Those values will be different for other businesses, but for us they’ve been really vital in the creation and scaling up of the business, giving everyone a sense of purpose as we all work together toward the same goal.
Another place these values play a fundamental role is in our hiring process. Obviously, we’re looking for competency and enthusiasm, but that’s the easy part. We’ve had some really smart people with amazing CVs and in the end they’ve not worked out because they just didn’t tick the boxes on those values. So that’s probably the biggest piece of advice I could give. Know your values, make sure they’re the right ones, and be true to them.
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