Leadership

“There are hundreds of products, and many have not been invented yet”: OFX chief Richard Kimber on building a global fintech giant

Emma Koehn /

When it comes to payments, SMEs want speedy processing – and foreign exchange operation OFX knows it.

Formerly OzForex, the business provides quick processing of international payments, along with currency conversion and a platform for accepting international payments, promising customers low fees, and perhaps more importantly, little hassle.

The business, which is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange, recorded an operating income of $103 million in in the 2016 financial year and has a market capitalisation of more than $400 million.

It now has a new name to go with its plans to capture overseas markets and chief executive Richard Kimber, 47, has his eye on the US.

He is planning to bring his experience from previous roles at Google and ANZ Global Markets to help the company find its global focus.

Kimber spoke to SmartCompany about knowing how to make the right choices when it comes to big brand decisions – and why he always wanted to be a chief executive.

I wasn’t always interested in financial services, but I learned a lot about the stock market through my other work. I spent a lot of time working in marketing and that led me into the space.

Then, when I was working in banking, we always thought “wouldn’t it be cool to start a Google bank?” [by] using new technology to do new things.

OFX is looking to be a global company for customers, to give the best international exchange rate to small businesses and expats.

Traditionally foreign exchange has been operated through banks, but now there are more players in the market. We offer competitive rates for international money transfers to all our clients. One of the reasons we’re able to do this is because we have local banking relationships in many countries around the world.

We have a target to double our business in three years.

We’ve focused on growing business in the US; it’s very much an untapped opportunity. We estimate the foreign exchange needs of SMEs in the US to be five times the needs of the Australian market.

The US market is very fragmented, unlike Australia, and the banks are very regionalised. There’s a lot of expats and immigrants that have moved there, and importantly there’s key corporate sectors – and a lot of SMEs that are importing goods from the US.

I like to deal with businesses; as a youngster I was always interested in building projects and ways to make new things.

I guess my ambition and goal was to become a CEO.

I have always been inherently interested in people. All businesses are more about people than about anything else.

I started off doing a psychology degree, and I was the youngest person at my school to do an MBA. I was a bit of an experiment – the university wouldn’t take people under 25 – I was 22, the average age was 36. But I knew I had to learn the tools of the trade and that’s how I got started.

The key thing on the MBA is that it teaches you a bit about every functional area [of business].  

I did a major in strategy and strategy to me is all about making the right choices.Making the right choices is the most important factor in a business – that is, choosing where you put your focus and where you don’t.

The biggest example of using that strategy at OFX has been choosing to solidify our business under a single name. It had to be a name that linked with our heritage – that was a big strategic choice.

Not many companies rename themselves, and the main reason we did it was to signify that we were a global business. We also went for a domain name ending in “.com”, not “.au”.

I’ve always taken a very global view, and I think of my business as a global business.One of my mentors was a lady called Roberta Arena – she used to be head of credit cards at Citi Group.

Roberta was really key as an influencer for me, and being from New York, she would also take a global perspective as well. Her main piece of advice was to focus on the customer, and she was really focused on real customer insights.

It sounds obvious, but businesses can get carried away with internal issues. I’ve seen too many get caught up in micro management.

You end up getting focused on the wrong things; the worst example is … a lot of companies have a lot of layers of middle management.

I like to operate more as a coach and let the team run. I think that’s really important to take that role and get a balance in my teams. You want people to chase their own goals – and set the bar high.

I’m definitely from the glass half full camp. You get the most out of people by focusing on what they do.

[Chief executive officer roles] are very broad in terms of scope – you end up covering a lot of territory. Managing all the stakeholders is an active role and the most important thing is to explain [to them] the concept of why things are happening.

Ultimately in terms of success, it’s not just money. Family is important to me, I think being fit is important to me, and the other thing is just continuous learning – broadening the network and contacts that I have.

The [next] focus is making sure that OFX gains significant US market share, and in the next 18 months building the US business to be bigger than the UK business.

At the moment I think where tech is at is creating the best opportunities for small business that we’ve seen, ever. It’s really going to push businesses places that they’ve never been able to go before.

[For new businesses], the main focus should be understanding what Americans call “unit economics” – and knowing which ideas can scale internationally.

When thinking about fintech, think about which ones can scale. There are hundreds of products, and many have not been invented yet.

This article was originally published on SmartCompany.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior SmartCompany journalist.

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