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The Hidden Costs of Foreign Currency Exchange Payments to Businesses

Transparency, consistency and predictability regarding costs are critical qualities for business leaders across all sectors.

Posted: 4th November 2019 by Finance Monthly
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According to Pierre-Antoine Dusoulier, CEO and Founder, iBanFirst, they need these qualities in order to make accurate projections and ultimately to develop strong business strategies.

Whether for internal planning or securing external investment, managers need to have a clear handle on how much they are going to be charged for goods, services and people – and how those costs stack up in the wider marketplace.

But while some business costs are relatively easy to predict and calculate, others can be somewhat murkier, particularly for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Foreign currency exchange payments are one such area.

In a globalised economy, being able to make and receive foreign currency payments in a fast and reliable way is crucial for more and more businesses, even the smallest. Foreign currency payments enable businesses to forge relationships with customers, partners and suppliers all over the world and to expand into new markets.

In a globalised economy, being able to make and receive foreign currency payments in a fast and reliable way is crucial for more and more businesses, even the smallest.

Indeed, back in 2013, Oxford Economics statistics predicted that the number of small businesses doing business in more than six countries would increase by 129% over the next three years, whilst the most recent Oxford Economics SME Pulse report found optimism in the global economy and an international outlook. In November of last year, the ONS reported that the number of UK SMEs exporting internationally had increased to 232,000, representing around 9.8% of all SMEs.

International business requires international currency payments. However, there are multiple costs associated with such payments, and small businesses are disproportionately affected.

First, and most obviously, banks levy fees for making and receiving foreign currency payments – and unfortunately, these can be substantial, particularly for SMEs. Additional costs are often hidden and absorbed into the exchange rates offered. This makes it very difficult for smaller organisations to understand both exactly how much they are being charged for foreign exchange currency payments, and how those charges compare to those offered to bigger businesses. Studies have found total spreads of up to 3.71% being charged, including fixed fees, and as a result it has been suggested that the UK’s small businesses hand over around £4 billion to the major banks every year, simply in order to buy goods and services abroad.


Then there’s the question of currency hedging. Organisations of all sizes engaged in transactions in foreign currencies are exposed to currency risk, which can in turn have a significant impact on commercial margins. Once again, SMEs are particularly at risk, because their banks are less likely to offer them currency hedging solutions compared to those on offer to larger organisations. The Brexit referendum result was a stark reminder of how quickly currencies can suffer sharp devaluations, with pound sterling diving against the euro. Many small businesses experienced double-digit losses thanks to that devaluation, because their banks did not offer them a currency hedging option.

So what is to be done? All organisations, but particularly SMEs, need a foreign exchange model which is cost-effective, efficient, transparent and reliable. They need to be able to have greater visibility of the costs of foreign exchange payments by incorporating them into their existing business plans to manage risk effectively.

For businesses to thrive in an international environment they need to harness financial solutions that can equip them with a foreign exchange offering which helps them facilitate transactions in real time, providing the most favourable currency rates to drive cost savings across their business.

By harnessing new FX technologies CFOs can reduce the time spent on foreign exchange transactions and their associated costs. Meanwhile, through having greater visibility over foreign currency payments, CFOs can effectively mitigate risk and focus on what is important: taking a strategic role in growing the business.

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