Stevan is the Co-Founder and CTO of CurrencyTransfer.com – an international payments marketplace. Although many banks and currency brokers proudly boast “Zero fees!” on their advertising materials, hidden costs still proliferate. CurrencyTransfer.com have developed a marketplace, updated in real time, where you can compare fees and rates from a range of brokers. We spoke to Stevan Litobac, the Co-Founder and CTO of CurrencyTransfer about his work, and the challenges of building a transparent currency marketplace.
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Why do you think it has taken until now for someone to provide a transparent comparison market for business foreign exchange?
In order to provide a true transparent marketplace, we’ve had to overcome some real challenges. Some FCA regulated brokers operate in the stone age, offering a phone based service. Most don’t have API’s we can build on top of. So too, the ability to offer live rates (rather than guide rates) & streamline the compliance and onboarding process for multi-broker aggregation has taken a lot of strategic negotiation with rate contributors, product development and investment.
However, it’s worth it. We passionately believe that in any industry where there is inefficiency, a marketplace will disrupt. We’ve seen it in flights, hotels and now with the launch of CurrencyTransfer.com – the ‘‘SkyScanner of Currency’’ international payments is simply next on the list.
The foreign exchange space has typically been very opaque and dominated by hidden fees and high transaction costs. In recent years, we’re seeing a huge explosion in FinTech startups who are looking to transform traditional personal and business banking services, and building a better customer experience than you would get from a bank or legacy broker direct.
What was the largest challenge you faced convincing currency specialists to give an honest account of their rates, or actually capturing streaming data?
Streaming data and breadth of choice is an ongoing challenge. Strategically, we want to build out the sell side of the marketplace, and there are a limited number of FCA authorized and regulated currency specialists who have the capability to contribute rates via API. Luckily, the ones who do are typically top tier and the brokers we want to aggregate rates from. Our infrastructure partnership with The Currency Cloud has certainly helped
We also definitely had our work cut out to tell currency specialists they need to effectively pull down their trousers, open their API’s and publish rates in competition on a third party site. We do see a positive correlation though between being x10 cheaper, x10 faster, x10 slicker UI / UX and a remarkably scalable business. The rate contributors, whilst keeping them 100% honest for our customers, get significant benefit, namely: operational efficiency and client acquisition.
What technologies are involved in providing a real-time view of transfer rate from various providers?
Generally rates are pulled via a REST or SOAP API at set intervals, say every x minutes or hours. It’s also possible to get a ‘stream’ for rates, but this is generally used for speculative trading. We pull in the data via REST and SOAP from our providers when the user pulls in a quote.
You combine a background in computer science and development with experience in growth, social media and UX. How have these three distinct skill areas complimented each other in your career?
Steve Jobs once said “You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” I think that applies here. For example; UX, it’s all around us. Just noticing nuances in other apps (mobile and web) and taking time to consider/appreciate their creator’s work and decisions primes you for future UX considerations of your own.
Social media is trial and error – what do people react to best? It’s inherently psychological and the same thing applies to growth tactics.
Mixing all of these successfully into a cohesive story is the real trick, and your knowledge in these individual elements is quickly tested before you’re forced to learn new things.
These disciplines will be a lot more common, especially social media and growth, as it’s predicted there will be more freelancers in the future – so people will be naturally pushed to adapt, learn and compete for attention in those areas.
The rapid rise of data science has allowed startups to disrupt virtually every industry in one way or another with powerful value propositions. Do you see any other industries or areas where this is needed?
Everything will. One way I like to look at it is to imagine I’ve just woken up 30-50 years into the future. What does the world around me look like? The bedroom, kitchen, office, and so on.
I imagine windows will become screens and display data, adjust dimness according to sunlight levels. Will paper still be popular for receipts and invoices? If not, what will replace them?
If I had to name 3 industries due for a refresh – I’d say:
- Home appliances. More automation, more sensors.
- Personal computing. Health trackers, wearable computing like Google Glass (but better ☺)
- Travel. Self driving cars, already started. Tesla’s cars are more computer than mechanics. What can we build on top of them?
There are plenty more however – that doesn’t even scratch the surface!
Other than the service you offer, how are you using data to impact your business development?
We try and learn a lot by our customer’s behavior. What they do on the platform and how they interact with it is important for us to understand. Doing so can help us cut down the amount of time required to do what they commonly do on it. We don’t assume we know everything, so we try and let the data lead us in the right direction.
You’ve previously mentioned banks as your main competitor, has anyone else entered the scene with a similar offering to yours?
International money transfer is a very hot space at the moment, with a large amount of VC funding being ploughed in to clean up an inefficient and expensive industry. However, we haven’t seen anyone who offers live aggregation plus instant execution.
What are your goals for expansion and fundraising in 2015?
We would like to be live and trading clients virtually anywhere across the world, corporate and private, by the end of the year. We’re actively working on integrations that will allow us to do so.
The business has been 100% bootstrapped to date by my Co-Founder Daniel and I. We are in regular conversation with top tier institutional investors, who are closely tracking our progress. Watch this space!
(Image credit: Francisco González, via Flickr)