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Travelex rewrites its digital strategy

Travelex’s digital transformation is based on short-term wins, long-term goals and disruption, according to its chief digital officer, Sean Cornwell

Travel money and foreign exchange company Travelex is re-writing its digital strategy to put the customer at the heart of “everything”, according to its chief digital officer (CDO), Sean Cornwell.

In May 2015 the company launched its hugely successful Supercard digital wallet pilot scheme. The pilot, which let 25,000 Brits use its Supercard app and physical card to spend money abroad without being hit with a fee from their card provider, was oversubscribed, with 100,000 people downloading the app within 36 hours.

“[Supercard] is a mobile app which comes with a physical Visa credit card,” Cornwell explained, speaking at the CDO Summit in London.

“In that mobile app you can tie up to five of your home debit or credit cards to your Supercard and choose which one you want linked to the card at any one time.”

The Supercard acts as a “middleman”, meaning that if you pay for something in a shop abroad, the shop sees it as a domestic transaction, but your card provider also sees it as a domestic transaction, hence you won’t be charged a foreign transaction fee.

“We launched the pilot to see how it worked, because we weren’t really sure if there would be that product-market fit, or if people would understand how it worked,” said Cornwell.

Rewriting the code of conduct

When he joined the organisation nearly two years ago, Travelex was almost exclusively non-digital. The company has since begun to transform processes and redesign the entire organisation. It is now in the process of rewriting its digital strategy, which is entirely focused on the customer experience.

“We're a very different company than we were two years ago – we’ve really started to change the culture of the business,” said Cornwell.

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When you come in to do a massive technology transformation, it’s important to have a few “quick wins” to grow excitement in the company, he explained, but not come in and say you’re going to redesign the whole organisation on day one.

“If I did that,” said Cornwell, “I would’ve just set myself up for failure. You need to do the building blocks and build it up systematically.”

Travelex’s digital transformation includes optimising its core e-commerce business, where it has accelerated growth and “taken a big step in transforming the business”, he explains.

Major disruption

The company also constantly looks at new disruptive technologies which will drive innovation.

In November 2014, it launched a £25m digital growth fund to allow the company to invest in financial technology with the goal of developing products and services linked to mobile, payments, cryptocurrency and location technology. The Supercard project was the first to benefit from the fund.

Travelex is going for a two-tier infrastructure and network approach, and although it is building lots of new technology, it is still keeping the old.

“We’ve very unashamedly done a separate approach and strategy towards our technology,” said Cornwell. “In other words, we've got a legacy stack – which is great, and we might choose to leverage that sometimes – but we're also building a totally new technology stack for all the new products and services we're creating.”

Another key area of its transformation is cultural. Cornwell believes that the IT, or digital team, needs to be an integrated part of the business to make it work. He is keen to avoid what he calls the “cool kids in the corner syndrome”. 

“A question that often comes up is: How do you set up these new teams, capabilities and innovations to be successful? Do you integrate them? Set them up in a separate office, or pack them off to Shoreditch? How do you stop this being swallowed by the corporate beast?” Cornwell asked.

“Fundamentally we need to be part of the same business, because otherwise we don’t transform it, we just build some cool, funky stuff on the side.”

To draw in new talent, Travelex is also sponsoring Silicon Milk Roundabout, a tech recruiting fair, for the second year in a row – the only “non-tech” company to do so.

Cornwell said the recruitment fair, together with the digital growth fund, are symbols of “changes on the cultural front, which are the most significant achievements to date, because those are what really makes a difference”.

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