“I think the most important thing to learn is to be able to look at a problem, in whatever field, think through different possible solutions, come up with the best and most practical answer and then deliver on it.”
That’s exactly what UWA graduate Brett Meyers did when, while working in Ireland, he was struck by the 'horrendous' bank exchange rates for sending money home.
"I had a friend who had moved to London, who had Aussie dollars and needed Sterling,” says Brett, who was 35 at the time. “I had some sterling and so we organised our own trade, using the inter-bank rate that banks give each other. We both saved a fortune because we made local transfers using online banking."
From there, the idea for Currency Fair was born. "Basically it’s that personal trade on steroids,” says Brett, “a huge, online marketplace where individuals and businesses get an amazing exchange rate and fast transfers of cash."
In early 2014, the currency-exchange disrupter became the first platform in the world to break the $1 billion (€916 million) barrier in money-matching transfers.
I built and scaled it up from concept stage in 2008 to a business that has helped individuals and small businesses transfer more than €5 billion internationally, and saved them collectively more than €180 million, compared to bank charges.
"As founder and CEO I was responsible for all areas of the business, including design and build of the original technology, marketing, strategy, hiring, and fundraising."
The former Bull Creek boy did a combined Bachelor of Science (Physics) and Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical) at UWA over five years. He has fond memories of working on his honours thesis until 4am in the gravity-wave-detection lab below UWA’s Physics building, and of games of pinball in the Ref.
We asked Brett’s advice for other start-ups in the tech space, and also how he got around the challenge of operating in an industry dominated by the big banks.
“I set up Currency Fair originally in order to solve a problem that I had myself – high charges and poor exchange rates when sending money home. I think it’s important that you are passionate about solving a particular problem and not just in it to make money or keep yourself occupied.
"I also believe that to challenge incumbents as powerful as the big banks you can’t just be a little bit better – you have to be 10 times better. Otherwise most people won’t get over their inertia and switch (I’m the same myself!).
“In the case of sending money overseas, individuals and small businesses were (and still are) routinely being charged, by major banks, at least a three per cent fee built into the exchange rate. Australian banks are even worse, typically at five per cent or more.
"Our solution at Currency Fair is able to deliver a better and faster service for less than 0.5 per cent fee, and with much lower fixed charges on top. This allowed us to present a compelling proposition that encouraged people and businesses to actually make the move.
"Never underestimate the amount of work required to get new customers, no matter how amazing you think your product or service is. Trust is incredibly important, especially when it involves people’s money, and that takes time to build.
“It’s also important to have great and responsive customer service – the customer is the reason your business exists. Luckily for us, the big banks have a history of poor customer service, with automated lines and big queues, and often when you finally get to speak to someone they don’t understand your problem anyway. That sort of thing is easy to do much better, particularly early on, but you need to maintain that high bar as the company grows, and that isn’t so easy.
“Overall I’d say that challenging an established industry is incredibly difficult, and at the beginning seems daunting, but if you break each challenge down into smaller steps and maintain focus on the most important thing ‐ your customer – it’s possible and a hell of a lot of fun.”
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