No sector has had a tougher few years than those experienced by the travel industry. While skies fell quiet and pandemic separation ensued, companies struggled to find their purpose in a world without wandering. Our latest Behind the Idea feature is a story of cash, comeback and currency conversion.
Here in our latest feature, we’re joined by Richard Wazacz, the CEO of Travelex.
An experienced leader in the digital space, Wazacz has a demonstrated track record of innovation, strategy and operations across industries including fintech, financial services and travel.
Prior to joining Travelex, he served as CEO at Brickvest, a commercial real estate debt company, and also spent six years at the Octopus Group, where he was the founder and CEO of a number of new fintech businesses.
Wazacz has also held senior leadership positions at both Lloyds Banking Group and Prudential. Earlier in his career, he led logistic and baggage operations across Heathrow Airport, having started his career at Shell as a process engineer.
What is Travelex?
Travelex is a foreign exchange company with 1,100 stores and 900 ATMs in over 20 countries. We help people access cash when they travel, focusing on where they want it, how they want it and when they want it.
As a supplier of outsourced foreign currency services, we are also heavily involved in the movement of wholesale cash around the world.
We supply wholesale banknotes to hundreds of global financial institutions, central banks and credit unions globally, as well as travel agencies, UK supermarkets, hotels and casinos.
What problem was Travelex set up to solve?
The company was founded in 1976 to help tackle a specific problem: when people travel, they need access to foreign currency.
At that time, it was very difficult to buy or sell foreign currency (in what was a highly regulated environment) in an efficient and service-friendly manner, other than via banks for whom the provision of FX services was unimportant and expensive.
Travelex filled that void and continues to provide its services in a service-focused way at key city and travel locations, offering a range of relevant products and delivery channels.
When heading abroad, many travellers aren’t aware of what currency they need, how much of it they require, what format currency should take and how they can most efficiently acquire it.
Our proposition is focussed very strongly on giving customers that information, and giving them the currencies they need to face any scenario when they travel.
Since it was founded in 1976, how has Travelex evolved?
When the business was launched coming up to 50 years ago, the focus was very much on the customer. This hasn’t changed, and customers remain one of our key priorities today.
Initially, we were also at the forefront of developing generation 1.0 technology – such as focused point-of-sale systems and workflow solutions that were tailored to the requirements of customers and colleagues.
As the business quickly scaled and grew internationally, we developed technology as required – but not at the same rate as newer businesses from the last 20 years, that have placed technology at the heart of what they do, taking a tech-first approach.
We have recognised that technology must come back to the fore of our proposition, it is through technology that we will differentiate ourselves from our competitors and meet customer needs.
If we go back to the ‘when, where, how’, it is the technology which will enable us to better meet these demands.
Of course, a human touch will always be important to us and our customers, but consumers are increasingly comfortable in using technology – be that self-service kiosks, ATM click-and-collect services, travel money cards or digital wallets.
In this sense, we increasingly see ourselves using fintech effectively as a foreign exchange company, thus offering a blend of physical and digital to best serve our customers.
What has been the biggest challenge or most ‘tricky moment’ to overcome?
Over the last few years, the company has experienced some considerable challenges. We were subjected to a cyber incident at the end of 2019 which, whilst not compromising any data, did impact our operations for a short while.
The Coronavirus pandemic was certainly the biggest challenge the company has faced. Our business is dependent on international travel, and so when that halted, we had to rethink our business.
Unfortunately, certain limited parts of the business went into administration as a result as we looked to restructure the business.
Since the return of travel and under new ownership, the business is once again growing quickly around the world. We are already tracking our performance against 2019 pre-pandemic levels, and as a result of this healthy recovery, we recently announced more than 1,200 new international jobs.
Our recovery has provided us with an opportunity to think about how we rebuild – including how we use technology to be more efficient and effective, and most importantly how to serve our customers better.
What are your biggest achievements or ‘proudest moment’ so far?
I think the achievements need to be reflected on the business as a whole, my team and the 4,000 plus colleagues we have around the world who have kept the business alive during the pandemic.
They faced incredibly tough conditions and have helped bring it back to where it was in 2019 – which is an incredible achievement.
How would you describe the culture of Travelex?
The thing that has really resonated with me since I joined Travelex is the strong entrepreneurial feel.
The business was founded by an entrepreneur, Lloyd Dorfman, who used the business as a platform to develop technologies, and you still feel that entrepreneurial buzz and spirit within the business, which I love.
Having worked at big corporates, and then moving into the start-up space, I feel and sense that entrepreneurial spirit at Travelex which bodes well for us transforming the business in terms of using technology.
This business has been through a really tough time, and there is a cohort of colleagues who have been here through thick and thin.
What you feel is a lot of love, passion and care for the company and the people we work with. That desire and belief in what Travelex is trying to do, and how it is working to help customers, is massively valuable.
What’s in store for the future?
It is absolutely clear that using technology and modern ways of developing products will be at the heart of what we do moving forward.
We have a variety of solutions we are looking at, from using technology to support our B2B2C aspirations and working with retail distributions around the world, to giving customers the opportunity to self-serve more at the airport or pre-trip.
We also recognise that there are certain products, features and capabilities that we can commercialise, especially in relation to pricing and currency exchange.
Over the next 20 to 30 years the physical use of cash is going to continue decreasing, and although travel may be the last industry cash disappears from, we believe that cash will continue to be key in many markets (some more than others) for many years to come.
We are already thinking of how to further develop enticing digital propositions so that we can help customers solve all their problems when travelling.