Leaders’ Insights: Barry Dowling, TransferMate

19 Oct 2015

Barry Dowling is the CEO and co-founder of global payments company TransferMate.


Dowling co-founded TransferMate in 2010 with Sinead Fitzmaurice and Terry Clune.

The foreign exchange brokers now has offices in Ireland, the UK, France, Italy, Spain, North America, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong.

The fintech company created 25 positions in its Kilkenny office earlier this year, which brought the number of people employed in Ireland by Transfermate to 130 and globally brought the figure to 150.


Describe your role and what you do.

I am the co-founder and managing director of Transfermate Global Payments. We are a global, Irish-owned company providing businesses worldwide with a smarter way to handle their foreign currency payments. Through processing more than $US5bn on behalf of clients we are in a position to access better exchange rates and pass on lower international transfer fees than banks while also offering a faster solution compared to using the banks – we are fast becoming well known as a positive disruptor in the fintech industry!

The core premise of our business model is to beat the banks on foreign exchange payments for businesses — by up to 80pc. We principally work with business that need to either send or receive foreign currency payments. These companies have traditionally been retailers, importers, exporters and distributors. Traditionally these businesses have gone directly to banks for their foreign exchange needs but we bypass bank fees by using a bank-to-bank (peer-to-peer) network worldwide. By doing this we can eliminate international transfer fees on both the receiver and sender sides.

Ultimately we are trying to change the way businesses transfer funds – companies no longer face the same limitations that they did when dealing with banks with regards to restricted hours, high fees and high rates.

My role is to ensure that those benefits are clearly translated to clients from all of our team whether it be customer service, sales, IT or payments.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

When you are a co-founder of a business you have an extra element of ownership of your work. You are so driven to see it succeed that it can be difficult to let the reins loose at times and to remember life outside work. With 24-hour teams working round the clock it’s very easy to be in 24-hour conversations with the team! Weekly meetings to focus our teams are effective tools and they open the lines of communication and create dialogue between staff, which is so important.

As a business we’ve really tailored our service over the years and while our office hours have grown – well they’ve actually reached their limit at 24/7 – we have developed a really great team of people to drive our business forward.

What are the biggest challenges facing your business and how are you tackling them?

We are growing fast and hiring people of a really high calibre that share the same work ethos as we do — so this growth strategy has allowed us to overcome any obstacles we have faced along the way.

One of the biggest hurdles we’ve had to face — and we continue to face — is apathy when it comes to business and foreign exchange. People are simply used to going directly to banks for this service and a big part of our strategy over the last few years has been simply to increase awareness among businesses across the globe that the bank is often not the best place to handle payments.

Last summer, we celebrated transferring more $5bn in foreign currency transfers for clients —that’s a stunning endorsement of how our business is growing. Although the move away from traditional providers doesn’t happen overnight, the appetite of both businesses and individuals to move away from the traditional methods of transferring money is growing. Consumer behaviour is changing and we are at the forefront of that change, driving the message that companies and individuals have a better, faster, more competitive alternative than the banks. We are only scratching the surface in terms of the number of companies worldwide using TransferMate.

‘We believe we are positive disruptors in the fintech industry — the industry had been stagnant for many years and service providers had become complacent’

Another issue we faced was regulation. 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, virtually every state in the US, as well as Canada, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand. More than 80pc of our business now comes from overseas. Virtually no other company in world has the same level of regulation that Transfermate has – something which we are very proud of as an Irish business.

An example of the extent of this regulation is that we are required to have $1m on deposit in California alone just to be able to operate in that market.

What are the key industry opportunities you’re capitalising on?

The sub-standard service that some banks offer in terms of currency exchange really opened up a market segment that was simply not being catered for – businesses that want a timely and cost-effective foreign exchange service. We saw this chink in the armour before many of our competitors did so we were able to take first-mover advantage in many areas, and this has worked for us. We believe we are positive disruptors in the fintech industry — the industry had been stagnant for many years and service providers had become complacent. We want to shake things up for the better.

Historically, banks have not done a great job in providing value for money when it comes to transferring money for business clients. With legacy systems and the recent global crisis, banks have simply not had the resources or the desire to provide a more cost-competitive service.

‘I’ve learned now that the old adage “nothing ventured nothing gained” rings true when it comes to business’

Banks in Ireland are local in their approach and would not have the global focus that TransferMate has, making it virtually impossible for them to provide the same level of service in terms of speed and cost as our team can. Irish banks would still use intermediary banks to complete transfers on their behalf, leading to processing delays and bank fees charged by the Irish bank and also the receiving bank. Whereas we bypass fees on both sides, thereby making it a cheaper and faster solution. Our simple-to-use online payments platform allows clients to book payments in seconds, and can also be connected to accountancy software packages, eliminating double entry and providing costs savings in the process.

What set you on the road to where you are in the technology industry?

I’ve always had an interest in both finance and technology so fintech was a natural fit for me. Fintech is obviously huge, not just in Ireland but the world over.

I’ve always been interested in the competitive edge that technology allows. Being able to engineer solutions in a smarter way than your competitors is very appealing. I have been lucky in that I have always been surrounded by a team of very capable developers that can turn any idea into a working solution. Having this skillset readily available is a great enabler for innovation.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

Possibly it was not challenging the status quo sooner. It can be daunting to take on big established institutions like the banks, so maybe I was too hesitant in previous years. But I’ve learned now that the old adage “nothing ventured nothing gained” rings true when it comes to business.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Communication is key. We have to be on the same page with everyone working towards the same end goal.

But, crucially, we are a team: we work together and we feel a sense of unity and common purpose. We promote a workplace that is conducive not only to fostering good working relationships but also friendships and bonds between colleagues that often last outside the office.

We celebrate and reward hard work, customer wins, great ideas and positive contribution. We have a great mentoring system that provides feedback to our team all of the time. Hard work might not initially yield results but with the right advice/steering it can turn into results very quickly and staff appreciate the steer.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to effect change?

I think projects like CoderDojo are an excellent way to open IT skills to everyone and fair credit to the team behind it that are driving it.
I don’t think Ireland has the same issue with diversity [as some other places] given my knowledge of staff in the likes of Google and Facebook, for example, that are based here.

Who is your business hero and why?

Without hesitation, it is my father. Both as a businessperson and an individual he is unmatched in terms of integrity, humour and street smarts — he says he can hear the grass grow. He is a successful entrepreneur that approached all his endeavours with such positivity. He was also a great reader of people — a skill that is invaluable as you go through life.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I am currently reading Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross. Too early to tell [if I’d recommend it].

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

As far as tech goes – Skyscanner, Hailo and, most recently, UberPool (I’m really impressed with it), Join.me/Gotomeeting, Spotify, and a handful of tech news apps that I’ll dive into if I’m stuck in an airport.

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