Dynamic currency converter creates a global empire from his Kerry base

7 May 2009

From Killarney to the world: Monex has developed a global business on the back of leadership in the area of dynamic currency conversion, striking key deals with India’s largest bank ICICI, Ryanair and Bank of China.

There is a particular expression that’s common on most people’s faces when they return from holidays. As the tan fades and the back-to-school-blues subside, most returnees have read their credit card bill and you can clearly observe a “that can’t be right” visage, along with a trademark knotted brow.

But, thanks to wily Kerry-based businessman Frank Murphy, such concerns could be a thing of the past, as his pioneering dynamic currency conversion (DCC) technology achieves a global footprint.

His Killarney-headquartered company Monex Financial Services, which Murphy established in 1997, with an investment grant from Enterprise Ireland, is a global leader in the multi-currency credit card processing business.

Monex handles credit card payments in excess of €8bn a year, processing some 46 million transactions a year in 46 countries for blue-chip companies such as Europcar, Hertz and Ritz-Carlton.

In recent weeks, a point-of-sale technology system for handling DCC transactions to give overseas travellers real-time price transparency has been installed across Dublin Airport Authority’s (DAA) three duty-free shops, which process €60m worth of credit card transactions annually.

Monex has also entered into a five-year contract with Ryanair to license its software and process €2bn worth of credit card transactions every year.

The key to Monex’s ability to provide DCC services is licensing deals with major banks such as ICICI Bank, India’s second largest bank, which processes over €700m worth of credit card transactions.

That deal resulted in a successful 24-month expansion programme across the Asian market, which achieved some significant client wins, including AirAsia, Bank of Asia, Bangkok Airways, Bank of China, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts and the Thai Military Bank.

As a result of the expansion, Monex – which has operations in 22 countries and employs 150 people – now owns 40pc of the Asian multi-currency credit card transactions market.

Wexford native Murphy says he came up with the idea of DCC while working at another Kerry-based payments processing company, Fexco, which is now a rival player. So, he decided to branch out with his own business.

“The idea is that the customer is able to see the exchange rate and amount in their own currency and basically say yes or no to it.”

Murphy explains that the company’s business model has been to target places where foreign credit card transactions are in use.

“We would look at markets such as airlines and cruise liners, for example, and when coming to a base currency like the rupee in India we would have a relationship with the Indian bank ICICI and deal with every credit card that is not Indian.”

At a time when the Irish economy is finally waking up to the fact that you can’t export bricks and mortar and that now more than ever entrepreneurs across Ireland need support, I ask Murphy why Kerry is home to two such global businesses as Monex and Fexco and whether it is feasible to create global companies in Ireland’s regions?

“Yes, it was feasible. What we found when we were a small company starting out was customers used to fly in and see us to check us out. Now they don’t because of our high profile.”

The bane of Murphy’s life is flight connections and because of Aer Lingus’s momentous decision to pull out of Shannon he has to factor in an extra day if he wants to get to Heathrow. The day we talk Murphy is packing his case to head on a business trip to Eastern Europe.

“If I didn’t like it so much here [Killarney], the lack of sufficient services to Shannon would get me thinking. Thankfully, most services are back to normal and the launch of twice-daily Air France flights to Charles de Gaulle is a great move.”

Internet transactions – as the €2bn a year relationship with Ryanair testifies – are becoming an enormous part of Monex’s business, Murphy says.

“All of our clients like Hertz and Europcar handle their transactions through the web. It’s the best way to do business today.”

In terms of the business’s growth, he explains that Monex is growing at a rate of 30pc a year. “We’ve kept at that rate consistently for the past 12 years. We’re going to continue going for growth and have no plans to go public.”

Murphy says Monex is handling the recession quite well and could be termed recession-proof. “We are seeing clients struggling and business is down, but there are always new clients coming on-stream and we’re finding that this is outweighing the downturn.

“Our launch of DCC services is going very well in Asia because merchants are finding the additional feature of customers being able to see transactions in their home currency a real value-add and they are making money from it.”

The future, he says, is bright and the company’s investments in research and development have paid off, with Monex’s DCC technology enabling banks to provide DCC even at ATM machines as an option on-screen.

In terms of developments in DCC, Murphy says that mobile phone-based transactions could pave the future of the industry.

“This is something we are looking into. More than likely, credit cards will become applications embedded in your mobile phone and instead of carrying a card you will have a Visa application or chip on the device. This is actually a future Visa policy. And, like today, a PIN will do the trick.

“In the future, one device will cover every payment need,” he concludes.

By John Kennedy

Pictured: Finance entrepreneur Frank Murphy has built a global e-commerce powerhouse from Killarney