Marching Towards a Bright Future with the Right Talent, Culture,...

Marching Towards a Bright Future with the Right Talent, Culture, and Technology

By Subodh Karnad, Chief Financial Officer North America, Travelex

Subodh Karnad, Chief Financial Officer North America, Travelex

Travelex is the world’s leading foreign exchange company. While we continue to expand into Fintech and digital payments, our primary business centers around our expansive global retail footprint to serve the needs of millions of customers who need foreign exchange (provided either via currency banknotes or through our Travelex Money Card) to enjoy their international travel experiences seamlessly. We also serve financial institutions as wholesalers of foreign currency; they, in turn, use their retail footprint to serve customer needs.

As CFO of Travelex, North America, I am privileged to support an expansive and complex operation that spans 220 retail stores, over 250 FX ATMs and service over 500 wholesale clients across three geographies (USA, Canada, and Panama). We trade in over 80 currencies. Our platform enables millions of transactions and billions of dollars in turnover every year. We have commercial relationships with practically all major airports in the region. We also operate a growing digital business that augments our retail efforts as well as a nascent but very exciting Fintech& payments activity. In our business, cash in the form of currency banknotes is both our primary raw material and our first product. Also being a financial institution we operate in a tight regulatory framework, and we are thus expected to adhere to the highest standards in terms of liquidity, controls, and compliance, in fact, we are regulated across all 50 states in the US.

"The dependency of the business on the finance organization is constant and critical"

With this backdrop, the dependency of the business on the finance organization is constant and critical.

My finance team is required to collaborate at numerous touchpoints daily. These range from forecasting working capital and ensuring our vaults and stores are stocked with the appropriate working capital needed to serve our customers, to reporting daily sales stats and metrics, to FX hedging and reconciliations to ensuring that we are up to date on all our lease payments and in compliance with the reporting needs of our airport partners and landlords.

Then zooming up to a more strategic level, the finance team is expected to have the best combination of “HIF” (Hindsight, Insight, and Foresight) on the business. This where the organization uses analytics, KPI’s, metrics, and trends to advise the company on performance, budgets, capex, cash flow, strategic plans, risks, opportunities. Then there is the growth piece where the finance team is chartered with engaging (from inception) on new commercial deals and laying the financial framework for new product launches. The same group is also chartered with analyzing divestment opportunities for asset classes that have run their course and present an opportunity for us to free capital for reinvestment. Lastly, I cannot emphasize enough the importance in our business of other finance functions primarily on the control side which involves closing our books, ensuring clean auditable financials, tax compliance and running a regular reporting and auditing cadence on the regulatory and statutory side of the house.

None of this is easy, but we end up getting the job done and done well, thanks to bedrock that comprises of strong finance talent, very collaborative culture and course systems and technology.

While there is never a finish line on any of the three, the one area where I am eager to see more progress is on the systems and technology side. In our business which inherently is complex given the necessary variables (High volume, High transaction, a basket of 80+ currencies, many locations, etc.), we depend heavily on our technology stack for data, control, reporting, and operations. In some areas, we have more mature platforms such as our store level performance database, revenue reporting, etc. Here my vision is to embed more predictive intelligence directly in our platforms. In some other areas, we are working diligently to catch up. One example is building a robust but easy to use solution to track, report, account, and pay for our many different lease agreements with airports and landlords who house our retail stores. The complexity here is driven not just by the sheer number of retail stores but the fact that this lease eco-system is highly bespoke and feverishly customized. Earlier this year, we completed ‘phase 1’ of this process by building a tool in-house, but our ambitions dictate us to make or buy a more scalable tool. Then, of course, we have the priorities of tracking and reporting on headcount or general expenses like T&E, etc. Our existing platforms serve us but won’t it be super cool to have a predictive engine built in here as well. So as we look forward, especially in the era of Artificial Intelligence, it won’t be just about access to clean data but also about intelligent and predictive systems that offer generous insights which save time and costs and flag new revenue opportunities.

In closing, I firmly believe that there was never a better time to be a CFO, especially in the Fintech space. Innovation is rapid, and the industry will always have stringent regulations. While the complexity and challenges are overwhelming, the opportunities are endless. Technology is advancing at breakneck speed to aid our work. Hence, I remain curious and excited about what lies ahead for our business and the world in general. As they say, the past is glorious, the present is very relevant, but the future is bright.

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