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Interview: From the surf to the ASX - the foreign exchange company challenging banks

By Julia Gabel
Tue 31 Oct 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

OFX was lauched in a Sydney garage near the beach in 1998 by two surfer entrepreneurs.  

Today, the company has grown to become an ASX-listed international leader in overseas money transfers.

OFX now employers over 325 people across six offices worldwide - Sydney, London, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Toronto and Auckland.

Although the company has expanded to manage over 1 million transfers totaling over AUS $100 billion, the founders’ goal was anything but complex: to deliver a fair deal on foreign currency exchange to consumers and businesses.

“OFX challenges traditional ways of moving money internationally by marrying technology and outstanding customer service in a fintech model that delivers fast, secure money transfers for individuals, businesses and online sellers,” says OFX’s CTO Craige Pendleton-Browne who joined the company in 2015. 

“OFX is a champion of customer service. The goal of our technology is to deliver a streamlined and intuitive user experience, through cloud-based platforms, agile product development, and 24/7 customer service,” he adds.

In an exclusive interview with Techday, Pendleton-Browne discusses agile management, appointing an agile coach and competing with banks.

OFX on competing with banks

Pendleton-Browne explains that transferring money overseas is an emotional and intimidating task for individuals and small businesses which is why so many are still leaning on their trusted banks - and unfortunately, paying a lot more than they need to.

“People are steadily realising however that specialist options are available that do away with high administrative fees and poor exchange rates, which have the ability to cost Australians much more than is necessary each time they transfer.”

“Large financial services providers with multiple divisions are not structured to deliver competitive pricing across every area of their financial services portfolio. As a foreign funds transfer specialist, we can compete on rates without impediment.”

The evolution of OFX’s agile practices from implementation to now

It was in April 2016 when OFX’s technology team started seriously using agile management practices following a department restructure.

And as a part of this process, OFX expanded the team significantly.

“My role at this time was to bring our existing team along on the agile journey, to boost their skillsets, and bring in new people who were already advocates of agile methods, and who could share their skills and lead by example,” says Pendleton-Browne.

“Today, agile has been completely adopted within the technology team and is fast spreading to other business units, such as marketing, customer service and finance. In the last financial year alone, OFX launched an online seller platform in just a few weeks, as well as 50 new product features, all using agile practices.”

“For example, we launched a new registration journey involving the ability to use drivers licences as identification just three weeks after customers fed back that there were a few things we could improve in terms of making the verification process more seamless.”

“In addition, following our initial Beta release of the online seller platform we have used customer insights to continually develop our product to deliver a faster, secure and more intuitive experience.”

“Through agile, we’ve also been able to introduce more currencies, and new rates services faster than we would have done previously.”

“Putting customers first, responding to their ever-changing needs, and developing our products around these needs, has become the norm at OFX.”

The importance of C-suite support and integration to the success of agile practices

“The adoption of agile management is a complete cultural shift in the way that a team works,” he explains.

“It’s a different set of principles and priorities, which facilitates a more focused and streamlined work flow process. Without support and involvement from the CTO, as well as the wider C-Suite, agile can’t survive within an organisation.”

“Our CEO Skander Malcolm is big believer in agile management delivering the best outcome for our customers, and enabling our teams to work more efficiently and productively.”

“As the wider Fintech landscape is rapidly evolving, it’s essential that we have the ability to assess new developments and if appropriate, adopt them, so the wider C-Suite understands how essential nimble development is to the future of OFX.”

Pendleton-Browne stresses that transparency is also key to C-Suite support.

“Each week our product teams present what they’re doing, their achievements, and the challenges they’re facing using our technology wall as a backdrop, this is where we have our plan for the year ahead.”

“Anyone can join these sessions to provide their perspective and thoughts, even the CEO.”

OFX’s agile journey: Appointing an agile coach and introducing a product and technology council

Agile management is fundamentally about changing corporate culture, changing behaviour and changing the way that people think, says Pendleton-Browne.

“It’s about looking at more flexible ways of solving problems, making the most use of our assets in terms of software, expertise and time.”

“Our dedicated full time agile coach works closely with the technology team and the CTO to ensure we continue to better our practices, and are focusing tightly on the customer experience.”

“In addition, we recently introduced a product and technology council which meets every couple of weeks with the GET (Group Executive Team). During these sessions, the product teams report back to the CTO and other product teams to discuss progress and how they are reprioritising to best address feedback from our customers.”

Pendleton-Browne says this council creates a forum in which product teams can debate, and the executives can get involved.

“It’s a collaborative process. Again, it’s aimed at optimising the way that we work and ultimately designed to improve the customer experience.”

Agile and beyond: Where to from here for OFX

“At the moment, we’re focusing the development of agile primarily within the technology department, however I’m witnessing elements of it pop up across other parts of the business.”

“The marketing and operations teams have started to use visual tool elements, such as the planning wall. Our goal is to show other departments how agile can be successful, and then support them as they begin to adopt agile methods.”

“In the near future, I would like to see our agile coach report into the broader executive leadership team, including our CEO Skander Malcolm. This would help drive an agile culture across the whole organisation, not just the technology department.”

Pendleton-Browne says the company has been working in an agile manner for a while, but for any business there’s no end in sight.

“There’s always room for improvement, refinement and development – we are always learning and adapting, that’s the very essence of agile.”

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