Q&A with Nick Briscoe at Currencycloud

In December 2021 VISA added Currencycloud to its list of strategic acquisitions.  Currencycloud is a global API platform with over 600 clients and strictly operates on a B2B2X model. The platform allows smaller players like fintech and neo banks to go to market with crossborder payments, multi-currency wallets and global collections solutions.

Currencycloud is licensed in the United Kingdom, Europe, North America, Canada and Australia.  It has a huge network of banking relationships and provides conversions across 37 different countries in both spot and forwards. It supports SWIFT, local and RTP schemes in more than 180 countries.

Payments Consulting Network Associate caught up with Nick Briscoe, Country Manager, Australia at Currencycloud, to discuss how they are helping smaller banks and fintech companies with crossborder payments. They also discuss the VISA acquisition, de-banking, remittances, RTP, crypto, CBDCs and the early days of banking.

Read the highlights of the conversation below.

PCN: When was the business established and when did you become part of VISA? 

NB: Currencycloud was established in 2012 as a more traditional foreign exchange brokerage firm.  Over ten years,the products evolved from very manually driven processes to automated API driven solution that enables Banks, Brokerages and Fintechs to provide their downstream customers a complete multi currency wallet and cross border payments product.

This smart technology solution has been highly successful globally and Visa obviously saw the value in both the technology and the people that have been driving the growth of the business and the product. The Visa Inc acquisition of Currencycloud completed in December 2021.

PCN: Visa also acquired Earthport recently.  How do you fit in?  

NB: Earthport and Currencycloud are different, but adjacent businesses and I think many of the synergies are still being realised for the broader business.

Ultimately it will be about utilising the smartest possible routing across the entire business in order to optimise for a client’s desired outcome for any particular payment, be this cost, time or a balance of the two.

PCN:  What’s your value proposition for your clients?

NB:  Firstly, speed to market with an exceptionally capable multi currency wallet and cross border payment solution, for our customers who service either corporates or individuals themselves.

In a world where funding pressures and profitability are key drivers for both bottom and top line driven organisations, Currencycloud offers a low risk and highly capable way to deliver this product suite without excessive upfront investment or the unknown unknowns of starting a build from scratch. Clients can literally be integrated in a matter of a few months which is absolutely critical in the current environment.

All of this is of course now backed by the technical and financial resources, and scale of Visa Inc, so it is an incredibly attractive proposition for both small and large financial institutions.

PCN: In Australia, there are a lot of immigrants sending money back home.  Is that a segment you serve? 

NB:  We do service the remittance sector globally but it is not presently a key segment for us here in Australia, we are predominately servicing Fintech and medium to large financial institutions in Australia.

PCN:  Gazing at the horizon, what are you seeing?

NB:  Inside Currencycloud the big growth trajectory for us is expansion into APAC more broadly. Australia is the first leg of the intra-APAC expansion but being regionally headquartered in Singapore, much of our banking hub infrastructure will be based there and we have      formed banking relationships across 180 countries to assist with not just west to east flows, but also     East-West and intra-Asia flows so expect this banking network to continue to grow to facilitate more efficient payment flows for our clients.

Outside Currencycloud I think the world is getting accustomed to real time domestic payments and frankly, the expectation is growing that cross border payments should look and feel like a domestic payment, i.e be instant and free!

Whilst nothing is ever ‘free’, cross border payments can certainly be sped up and the costs reduced so I think the pressure will remain on the industry to achieve as close to ‘instant and free’ as possible.

The good news for Currencycloud and our clients is that this requires scale and a huge global network, both of which we have and continue to grow.

PCN: What issues/concerns keep you up at night?

NB:  De-banking concerns me because it affects our customers.  Frankly, I don’t think it’s a positive thing from an innovation standpoint.  It will be difficult to solve for a range of reasons and at the present moment at least, there does not appear to be a single silver bullet to this industry problem.

The other obvious concern for everyone right now is both the rising interest rate and general economic environment. To say it has been a while since the last genuine hiking cycle is an understatement! This is clearly a more challenging time for growth oriented Fintechs but at the same time,I also think that Fintech in general is not as easy as people assume from the outside and founders are used to dealing with adversity and uncertainty – the current environment is just another challenge to be overcome.

Otherwise, I’m always anxious about making sure that we meet or exceed the targets we set for ourselves. We set ourselves ambitious targets in Australia and in the APAC region and it is important we reach those.

PCN: Can you describe to us your work culture? 

NB:  Currencycloud has built up a unique culture. We have an ultra-supportive work environment whilst at the same time, hold each other accountable.

Currencycloud is frankly an excellent place to work with an amazing team in place. One of the really interesting things I have seen over the last ten months has been the cultural alignment that is naturally there between Currencycloud and Visa – the acquisition makes a lot of sense when viewed through this lens and I can see why both executive teams gelled so well and the deal was done.

PCN:  On a different topic, what are your views on Crypto?

NB:   The crypto market looks a lot like the current financial system right at the beginning.  You have these big central exchanges.  Except they don’t have the regulation of the ASX or the CME, the capital requirements, or the infrastructure built around that.

They also generally don’t have the intermediaries on either side of these exchanges such as the brokerages and the financial services firms.  That system of intermediation evolved for a reason.      It evolved with all the collapses, all the fraud, and all the things that occurred.  Certain counterparties do not want to face each other directly.

I think we’ll end up with a similar intermediated system if the Central Bank Digital Currencies come in.  Personally, I find CBDCs more interesting than crypto.  They raise so many questions from a privacy perspective, foreign exchange, administration and onwards.  There will be at least a handful of central banks launching CBDCs.

PCN:  ANZ is saying it will issue a stable coin. This is pretty much the same as reading in The Argus in 1860 that ANZ is going to issue pound bank notes.  Back then the government said, this is just infrastructure, like roads and rail.  Better if we print the money rather than private companies.

Do we need Crypto for CBDCs?

NB:  I don’t think so. Crypto promised quick and easy crossborder transactions. But it’s actually not happening. It’s slow and very expensive.

Today real-time payments are effectively free and instantaneously available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  I think crossborder payments will be the same with RTP. You will be able to complete the payment and the foreign exchange in 15-20 seconds, completely, seamlessly and transparently.  You will receive confirmation that the beneficiary received the funds.  I don’t think crypto can compete with that, at least not yet.

PCN:  I totally agree.  The whole thing about crypto is that it has taken an asset path rather than a payment path. As a financial instrument, it’s more similar to a bill of exchange than it is to a check. 

I can’t predict the future, but I think there are some interesting applications with things like provenance, licensing, and proof of ownership.

NB:  I’m with you.  Was it Yogi Berra who said “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future”.

Author: Ross McIntyre, Associate, Australia, Payments Consulting Network 

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