Deepesh Downloads a Wealth of Information on Our Foreign Exchange Business for Us.

DEEPESH VARMAIn keeping with our theme of positivity, and facing challenges in our businesses  in recent times, we asked Deepesh Varma,  Senior Vice President-Foreign Exchange, to give us an update on the FX scene in the company.  Here is the feedback!

How has the foreign exchange business countered the threats of the Covid 19 Pandemic?

  • As soon as the pandemic struck we realised that this was not going  away anytime soon, and as an organisation we implemented a 3-pronged approach, which was – Survive, Revive and finally Reimagine our business, and the key theme that resulted from this exercise was to build Speed, Scale, Service and Skill, and create a contactless journey through digital means for both B2C and B2B customers.
  • From a B2C perspective, we set up India’s first Virtual Forex Store, where we equipped our staff to WFH with auto dialers, CRM access, coupled with the capability of digital interfacing with our customers .
  • Because of this innovation, we were able to service our customers who wanted to send tuition fees or living expenses to their kids studying overseas. We can only imagine the apprehension and anxiety the parents must have gone through during that phase.
  • We could stitch up the entire digital contactless journey for our customers as we have the capability of having our own foreign currency accounts coupled with the fact that we are also a member of SWIFT, thereby enabling a seamless experience.
  • I am happy to say that never during the entire phase were we closed for our customers…it was business as usual, digitally though! As we speak, it’s become the new normal, where we now have a classic Omni-Channel approach where customers can be serviced without stepping out of their homes.
  • On the B2B side ,we had lots of partners, individuals who lost their source of income/livelihood due to the pandemic. We realised that as an industry leader, we could support them and make this a win-win situation ,and launched an industry first, B2B portal – called  FXMate. I am glad to mention that we have been able to get onboard over 1500+ partners who can promote all our foreign exchange products and services with just a few clicks from the safety and convenience of their homes.

All I can say is that with these digital initiatives we were able to service our customers during the peak of the pandemic in a contactless manner. This also helped us to build scale.

What are the consumer trends that we are seeing in the foreign exchange business?

Undoubtedly, what we are witnessing is a new evolved customer who has adapted to digital medium as the new normal. Customers clearly have become cautious and want contactless options to interact with service providers.

Our recent survey revealed some important inputs and I will list few of them :

  • 69% respondents said that they were keen to resume travel immediately
  • Personal Health & Safety continues to be a key consideration 70%.
  • 66% respondents are willing to increase spends to ensure higher levels of health & safety while travelling
  • 50% of our respondents wanted either a home service or preferred a contactless experience through a virtual store or video chat

Also on the preferred payment options, we are seeing a clear shift for digital options where:

For UPI (one of the digital payment options in India), is clocking record transactions month on month. Pre-pandemic, March 2020, India had clocked 1.2bn transactions, May 2022 it is at 5.48bn transactions!

  • At Thomas Cook forex, we are also seeing a similar trend where 85% of our transactions are happening through digital means.
  • We have seen an increase adoption of our Forex prepaid card, where currently 80% of our customers carry this card vs 60% pre-pandemic.

 What are the key learnings, as an industry leader, that you would like to summarise from the experience especially after the pandemic

There has been many but I would like to summarise this in three key headings :

  • First would be to Focus on what is in your control –It is very easy to get distracted by all the negativity and things that are not in your control …what is in your control is the right team / process/technology, and a strong governance structure to ensure everybody is aligned to achieve the organisation goals.
  • Second is to adopt an operating model build on speed – Create a team which is digitally equipped , empowered with multi disciplinary skills which would help to make speedy decisions for your customers .
  • And Lastly ..we also need to create an ecosystem in our organisation- which establishes a common purpose , is built on trust, creates clear accountable roles , develops culture that empowers employees and provides the technology they need .So I would summarize my learning into these 3 buckets .

If you have to do any crystal ball gazing, where do you think the industry is heading in the coming months, and the year 2022?

Well, Covid-19 has taught us that nothing is certain, expect the unexpected. But if I have to wear that cap, I feel that we will see a steep demand for international travel  and forex requirement for both Corporate and Leisure customers. As per IATA, the industry losses are expected to decline by 75% from 52bn in 2021, to 12bn in 2022.  My expectation is that from a forex perspective we should reach  the pre pandemic levels by Q3 2022 (July-Sep  2022), and there are few reasons why I am confident from an India perspective :

  • Due to the efforts of  the Government of India in terms of vaccination, very soon ( By the end of this month ) we would be touching over 1bn doses of vaccination . The bulk of these would be our potential travel customers like corporate , leisure and student travellers .
  • Also, with the expected implementation of a uniform international travel policy, like IATA travel passport, it augurs well for international travel.
  • We have already crossed the pre-pandemic level in the study abroad segment since all the key destinations have already relaxed their norms for students.
  • Corporate travel is coming back in a big way, and we have reached 70% of the Pre-Pandemic level .
  • I expect most of the businesses to run in a hybrid model where customers are given a choice to be catered digitally or through brick and mortar.
  • And lastly, during the pandemic a lot of us went through so many anxieties regarding our health , jobs  and finance, and this I am very sure will lead to  new leadership skills coming to the fore which will be based on soft skills like  empathy , transparency, active listening , and empowering your people,which will help  your organisation and team to be heard and  ready  for all the uncertainty .

What is you go to market strategy for Forex?

  • Speed to address last minute purchase : Forex most times is the last thing a customer worries about when he / she is planning for a holiday or a business trip. Hence we were the first Forex brand to introduce 2 hour doorstep delivery to address this last minute buying behaviour, offering customer peace of mind.
  • Complex documentation & buying process : Forex has always been perceived as a complex transaction involving a lot of paperwork,  and branch visits, hence we introduced video KYC where we complete the customer KYC over a video call and get the documentation done at his/her home, making it convenient and easy for customers.
  • Easy of purchase and 24 x 7 availability : Apart from having the largest retail distribution network, via our own stores as well as our partners, we also have a customer friendly website and app that allows them to book forex from the comfort of their homes, at any time of the day.
  • Most sophisticated prepaid forex card : Our borderless prepaid Forex card is one of the most reliable and safest way of carrying Forex, as its chip & pin enabled, allows cash withdrawals from most ATM machines across the world and helps customers manage their money or offer easy  re-loads via an app / web.
  • Taking a market owning position : With our latest campaign, India Ka Forex Specialist, we are trying to own the category and become the default choice of every consumer when they think of buying / selling Forex.