Radek Wierzbicki, recent participant of Business Model Mastering at Google Campus Warsaw is the Founder and CEO of Trefix, a promising fintech in B2B sector, which provides currency risk management application. The reason why I have asked Radek for this interview is twofold. First – because Radek and his team are experts in currency management risk and taking into consideration highly volatile economic environment we are currently witnessing I wanted to hear from Radek his predictions for 2020. Second reason for this interview is because Trefix is a great example of designing new value proposition based on the observation of Customers’ unsolved problems and pain points. Therefore I wanted Radek to share his experience in designing value proposition with other startup founders.
Agnieszka Węglarz: Trefix was created to help small and medium sized companies improve their currency risk management. What portion of Polish companies deals with currency risk in their business operations?
Hi Agnieszka. Thank you for the invitation for this interview. There are approximately 200 thousand small and middle-sized companies including sole traders and companies up to 50 people that face foreign exchange risk. Many of them have just one transaction per year, so the impact of currency volatility on their business is relatively small, but there are about 20 thousand companies where this factor really matters.
Agnieszka Węglarz: Looking at past few years what is the tendency? Does this risk increase? What are your projections for 2020?
The currency market is the biggest market in the world. Daily turnoveron the global foreign exchange marketis almost 7 trillion USD a DAY (in Polish: 7 bilionów). It’s more than the whole US GDP. It’s hard to believe so I enclose the source: https://stats.bis.org/statx/srs/table/d11.3).
There are many reasons why currency volatility is high. US – China economic war, BREXIT, problems in Persian Gulf. It’s not that it is still rising, but – even now – it is able to impact small business. Any war in Persian Gulf makes the US Dollar rising against emerging market currencies like Polish Zloty or Hungarian Forint. If emerging market currencies (like Polish Zloty) lose 3% and your business operates on 5% margin, it takes 60% of your operating margin!
Polish entrepreneurs trade mostly with the eurozone (EUR), the US (USD) and Russia (RUB). Unfortunately for importers, Polish Zloty is recognized as “Emerging Market” currency which means that with every single dangerous situation in Persian Gulf, any alarming tweet from an important politician in the international arena, it pushes banks to sell Polish Zloty and buy US Dollar. In such cases Polish importers lose money. On the other hand – exporters can sell Polish Zloty higher than before. Welcome to the world where there is no situation when no one makes money.
The HUGE question is whether a company may let the currency volatility impact its’ business? You cannot predict what will happen with the US – China conflict. You don’t know how inflation in Poland will rise or if the government will increase interest rate when inflation will be more than 4%.
There is so much unknown data that if you want to be safe on the currency market you have to have a plan!
Agnieszka Węglarz: What is the main challenge for Polish companies which deal with foreign currency in their business activities on a regular basis?
Let’s focus on the top 10% of companies that face foreign exchange risk every day. Taking into consideration the size of their businesses I will not exaggerate by assuming that they have more or less ten foreign contracts at the same time, at different prices for different purchases and different costs for semi-finished and raw materials in the specific time (such as a couple of weeks or months).
The problem is losing money, because it’s very hard work to analyse and manage efficiently the budget rate and currency differences between calculating the date of signing the contract and the payment date. Such companies often don’t have one prepared specific financial risk policy – they sometimes do hedge transactions, sometimes they don’t.
It happens that people responsible for transactions are afraid of hedging products, because if they lose money on the hedge – they will have trouble at work with their bosses. On the other hand, no one will congratulate them if they win.
Agnieszka Węglarz: Radek, most of managers have probably used or at least heard of hedging, but for those who are not familiar with it on a daily basis – could you explain how it works? What is the mechanism behind it? And under what condition hedging is successful?
Hedging means to secure our exchange rate for the future. There are different ways to do so, from natural hedging that means to negotiate with our customers or suppliers to receive or pay in one currency (no currency differences in foreign trading) to special products such as currency forwards and currency options.
Currency forward is a transaction when TODAY we decide to BUY / SELL specific amounts of currency on the selected date in the FUTURE. For instance, today we buy 50,000 EUR for Polish Zloty with an exchange rate 4,3000 for the date 30 days in the future. We will pay Polish Zloty and receive Euro after 30 days from transaction day (Day 0). The forward rate that we set at the beginning at Day 0 is a derivative of an interest rate difference and the majority of banks offer it for business customers. As a result if we set the exchange rate at the same beginning, and we know our costs calculated at Day 0 and our profit calculated in Day 0 – we don’t have exchange risk any more for this specific contract.
There is no problem if you have one currency invoice and you hedge 100% of your currency explouse (the sum of your currency need). But, if the company has several such contracts every month, it takes time to analyse current currency payables and receivables, soon-open contracts, budget rates calculated to each contract, information from banks (balance, current exchange rate, current valuation of forward transactions), market predictions from news websites and other things that are required to make currency decisions faster. You need to gather data from the accounting department, purchase department, take data from electronic banking and check information from FX websites. It takes time.
Agnieszka Węglarz: This observation has led you to formulate your value proposition. What is the main problem you wanted to respond to?
We have observed three major problems working with clients. First problem is losing money on currency decisions. Losing money is a consequence of the second problem – lack of time to gather all necessary data to make appropriate decisions.
Third problem is the lack of knowledge – managing currency risk is simple when you know how to do it, yet first you need to get this know-how, which involves currency movements analysis, the analysis of currency exposure in company, foreign exchange predictions, gather all data from accounting, purchase dep., banking system etc.
Agnieszka Węglarz: So how did you solve these problems when designing your offer?
We designed a solution which gathers data in one place to make currency decisions faster and better. If you have all things in one spot, you are able to analyse your total currency exposure and thus you can hedge these contracts that start losing the value – or opposite to hedge those contracts with extra profits from currency changes in a few seconds.
We have standardised methodology which includes daily monitoring of your currency payables and receivable thus the user decideson selected criteria when you do a hedge per one separate invoice.
For example, you do a hedge when your forward rate on a payment date is more profitable than your booking or budget rate. You can see the whole list of your currency invoices or purchases in a few seconds and watch currency valuation live. It means that based on our data you are able to create forward transactions for each currency invoice, not for the whole exposure or part of it.
Agnieszka Węglarz: What other benefits does your solution offer?
Our “beta” customers say we bring the order to the currency area. They don’t feel stressed anymore by currency issues in their company, it becomes an ordinary part of their job. At the end of the day they save even one hour of daily work time and stabilize operating margin or costs in currency. Currency valuation live, banks’ predictions, currency alerts – it is all included.
Agnieszka Węglarz: What are the nearest plans for your startup? Do you intend to scale your offer?
Trefix as an application is a very fresh business, although we already offer consulting services in the area of currency risk management. But yes – we intend to scale, first locally then on other markets such as the UK or Netherlands.
We also look for business software providers who could be interested in integration via APIs to give customers more value from, for instance, accounting and currency management or ERP and currency management.
Agnieszka Węglarz: Radek, thank you for our discussion and good luck for Trefix.
Radek Wierzbicki is the founder of Trefix. Previously he worked at Noble Securities and mBank as Corporate Foreign Exchange Dealer servicing large SMEs in foreign exchange risk. After he left the bank he co-created Fintech Trends Poland as well as run foreign exchange risk consultancy business that eventually transformed to Trefix. Radek is a laureate of The Top 50 Most Creative People in Business by Brief and Member of Founders Academy by Google for Startups. You can contact Radek by writing to him: email@example.com.
Agnieszka Węglarz is an independent consultant, business strategist and practitioner in B2B as well as lecturer, speaker and blogger. She has over 20 years of professional experience working as a manager in both large corporations and SMEs, where she was responsible for strategy, marketing and business development. She uses her long term executive experience and training expertise to assist companies and their managers in building their business development strategy through a series of workshops. She specializes in business modelling, segmentation, value proposition, sales and marketing strategies and consultative selling. She runs her business blog on www.agnieszkaweglarz.com and her own YouTube channel – Biznes Ring by Agnieszka Węglarz. You can contact her by writing to: firstname.lastname@example.org or by directly sending a message via LinkedIN.