A young company that aims to challenge the big banks worldwide

Inside Track Q&A: Barry Dowling, managing director, TransferMate Global Payments

TransferMate Global Payments has become one of the world's largest foreign exchange brokers since its establishment in 2008. Part of the the Taxback Group and headed by managing director Barry Dowling, the company offers businesses and individual clients a way to make online transfers between countries.

What distinguishes your business from competitors?
We set up TransferMate as a faster and cheaper alternative to banks for international payments. We buy currency at wholesale rates, meaning payments are received and paid locally, bypassing the banks entirely.

We began as a small bureau de change in Ireland and have grown into a company that now challenges big banks around the world. Although the company is still relatively young, we already have more regulatory licences worldwide than virtually any other bank, with offices in Spain, France, Germany, Italy, the US, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong.

What has been the biggest challenge you have had to face?
We didn't look at Ireland alone as the market for our service, but the globe, which naturally brought challenges. It is a very onerous task to get regulated in new jurisdictions. Each new market requires enormous investment in people, systems, finances and time.


But we are now regulated in 60 jurisdictions, including 26 countries across Europe and every state in the US, as well as Canada, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand. More than 80 per cent of our business now comes from overseas.

Your major success to date?
Three years ago, accounting software company Sage chose TransferMate to be its preferred payment partner for clients across Europe and North America, meaning we suddenly had an international client base. The project also earned the Global Sage Innovation Award. Hitting our first billion dollars in trading in a 12-month period was also a significant achievement, but our biggest success was to be told by our peers that we are among the top five banks globally in terms of what we offer.

What is the biggest mistake you have made in business?
Looking back, I think we would have been able to get to where we are now a lot faster if we had taken on venture capital funding when it was offered. We turned our backs on it because we were growing quite fast and were able to finance the business without external investment. We are glad now, though, that we run our own business and make our own decisions.

What was the best piece of business advice you've ever received?
My grandmother once told my father, who is from Louth, to go up to Dublin, tell people you are going to do something, actually do it and you'll be a huge success. Roughly translated, that means let your clients know they can depend on you. Our company has a strong management team and when we say we'll do something, we get it done.

Whom do you most admire in business and why?
My father. He built a hugely successful catering distribution business in Louth in his early 20s, brought it to Dublin and it quickly became the biggest in the country. It was subsequently bought out and he was given a two-year clause that he had to stay out of the industry. The day it was up, he went straight back into business. He was a great entrepreneur with an even greater sense of humour.

What advice would you give to the Government to stimulate the economy?
To embrace any initiative that promises to stimulate jobs. TransferMate is closely aligned with ConnectIreland, as one of our directors, Taxback.com chief executive Terry Clune, is a key driver of the scheme. The basic concept is to financially reward anyone who encourages a company to come to Ireland to create jobs.

Do you think the banks are open for business at the moment?
Irish banks are in a position now where they have to recapitalise their balance sheets and the only way to do that is to increase charges like foreign exchange margins. That's great for us, because clients are jumping on the service we provide.

As an authorised European payment institution, you have to be capitalised to a certain level as part of the regulation, so we haven’t had to borrow from the banks ourselves.

How do you see the short-term future for your business?
In 2014, we expect to process between $2 billion and $3 billion. We are hiring more staff every week in Ireland and overseas, and are gearing up new teams in the US, Australia and New Zealand after recently opening a new office in Hong Kong.

What is your business worth and would you sell it?
It is currently valued at about €150 million. We are focusing now on growing globally, but if the right partner came along that we thought could help accelerate that growth, we would be open to discussions.

In conversation with Ciara Kenny