If your business crosses borders, you’ve no doubt experienced some pain in moving, or changing money. Lots of businesses just end up dealing with their local bank. The problem with this is that often times, for wire transfers especially, the bank requires you to physically present yourself. They give you standard retail exchange rates and can even charge high transaction fees. They often provide no tools to hedge against volatility. You’re usually restricted to one or two currencies in an account. In all, you’re paying more for much less when you’re not dealing with a currency broker for your business.
This time around, we bring you Chris Barlow, a broker from AFEX. Chris is the best broker we’ve encountered in our years of business. Chris and AFEX have not only saved us thousands of dollars over the years, they’ve made our lives much, much easier. Check out our interview for some tips on how to pay less and get more for your international business.
The original publisher of this article is offline. A text transcript of this article follows:
Well Chris, we’ve got to know you pretty well over the last 6 or so years. Can you tell everyone else a little about who you are and where you come from professionally?
I am a native Coloradoan, and moved to California for school. I studied international/intercultural communication, and always liked to promote various events, groups, or causes on campus… this naturally led me into sales. I was actually recruited by AFEX at my University’s career fair. I learned most of what I know about finance and international markets on the job. I really enjoy working in this field because I understand how finance can be a barrier or nuisance to ‘getting on to business’. I love helping companies understand factors about the currency markets that will affect them, and how they can minimize their risk and costs.
Which pain points are the most common for businesses you work with?
1) High fees
2) Cumbersome and slow process
3) Understanding currency exposure and what to do about it
These are just a few, but it is obvious that the banking system, especially the U.S./Canada, is way behind other parts of the world – even emerging markets. This is especially so when it comes to international business. Companies use their bank because that is simply the North American corporate mindset – you go to your bank to send and receive international payments. The combination of these factors lead companies to make uninformed decisions, pay high fees, get bad exchange rates, and undergo a cumbersome process to send international payments. That’s not even going into the lack of currency risk management, ability to have foreign currency accounts, etc.
In your world, what’s the biggest threat to a company’s bottom line?
Usually currency volatility is the biggest threat to a company’s margins. On a major currency pair, a single month can see an increase of 10% in costs due to currency fluctuations alone. For example, in the last 8 years, we’ve seen some of our client’s costs for product in Japan rise 35%, and then drop 40%. That can really hurt if you’re on the wrong side. All it takes is one high-profile announcement to trigger a major move in the market and unless you’re actively involved, you won’t even have a chance to react.
How do you help clients run a more efficient business?
There are several ways we do this. First, we save you the time of worrying, watching, and reacting to market movement by helping you develop a strategy. We have tools that protect you from sudden unfavorable moves (or conversely, allow you to take advantage of sudden favorable moves).
We also have a great online system with payment upload capabilities. For businesses that need to send multiple payments at once, you can upload these from your accounting system and process them all at once through our platform. You don’t even need to call us to handle your transfers, much less step foot into a bank.
Most importantly, we are more efficient because we start with the client. We look at your business, find out what process is best for your needs, and do everything we can to make things as convenient as possible. Banks are more like huge ships; you get on board and it takes a long time to change direction. With a broker, you’re not dealing with a teller. You’re dealing with a dedicated currency specialist who provides you better service and better options that cost your business less.
Which types of business need your help the most?
We work in almost every industry. Importers are usually the main kind of companies who need us, but companies who have subsidiaries and need to fund foreign operations or repatriate profits also find us valuable. With the strong USD at present, a lot of exporters are turning to us to provide them more options to help their international distributors.
You guys don’t do any crystal ball gazing, thankfully, but tell us about the market insight you do offer to clients.
We provide daily market analysis via email and have a weekly video update as well.
Our Relationship Management Team always talks to our clients about upcoming news and market forecasts. Many clients love being able to talk about the market with someone who is a little more in touch than your typical bank staff. As you say we don’t make predictions, but we understand our clients’ businesses to help them make wise decisions. Is the currency moving in a favorable direction? Don’t let greed drive business planning and decision-making – continue to protect margins with forwards but cover a smaller percentage. It’s very important to understand that using tools to manage risk is not speculation, it’s taking control. Speculation is waiting and hoping that the currency will move in your favor tomorrow. Watching the markets can become an excuse for taking action.
You’ve saved our skin before with a currency forward. What’s the biggest disaster you’ve saved a client from?
There are several examples that come to mind. Perhaps there isn’t one ‘bigger’ than the others, but one worth sharing is a client in the aerospace industry who imports from a manufacturer in South Africa. The Rand is well-known for having high volatility – easily 2% movement overnight. The client decided to lock in a rate already worse than his target rate to protect margins. It wasn’t ideal, locking in a bad rate, but he wanted to make sure his costs didn’t rise for the next 90 days. By the 3rd month when it came time to send payments, the client would have lost over 10% due to continued unfavorable movement in currency exchange alone. The client was extremely thankful. Not only for having access to those tools by working with us, but for having someone to educate them and help make wise decisions. Their particular bank would never have consulted with them about the business and currency risk. Most banks don’t even offer such tools to companies outside of the Fortune 1000.
Thank you to Chris Barlow for stopping by. Over the years, many of our clients have never even heard of a currency broker. It’s really a no brainer service that can save you a bunch of money and stress. We recommend Chris because he always has great rates, great insight, and overall, just demonstrates a level of care that you’ll never feel from a bank.
Let us know what you think. Do you work with a currency broker of your own?