The silent revolution of international payments: Interview with Pierre-Antoine Dusoulier

The rapid shift from traditional banking systems to more advanced digital platforms marks the revolution in international payments. It is enabling real-time and cost-effective cross-border transactions. This transformation is not only enhancing user experience and financial inclusion. But also reshaping the global financial landscape and how businesses operate internationally. Fintech Review asked a few questions to Pierre-Antoine Dusoulier from iBanFirst.

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Tell us more about iBanFirst. What is your elevator pitch?

iBanFirst is a next-generation cross-border PSP that combines a powerful platform and the support of FX experts to process more than €1.4 billion each month. Fully licensed and regulated in the UK, the platform provides quicker, lower cost payments solutions for SMEs operating internationally. iBanFirst gives SMEs control of their currency payments and allows them to manage all elements within a foreign currency transaction. That can be exchanges, transfers, hedging. In 2023, iBanFirst was 2023 ranked in the FT 1000, the Financial Times’s list of Europe’s fastest growing companies, for the fourth year in a row.

What is your background and what is the story behind the company?

I began my career in London as a trader at Credit Agricole Indosuez, before creating in 2006 which was the first regulated foreign exchange brokerage firm in France. The firm was acquired by Saxo Bank in 2008. Following that, I went on to become Saxo Bank’s Global Head of Western Europe in 2008 where I oversaw the opening of Saxo Bank’s Dutch, Belgian and Italian offices.
The concept of iBanFirst came from direct observation of a limitation within the payments space. There are still a multitude of obstacles that SMEs face in sending and receiving global payments. Despite international transactions’ vital role within the global economy. Convoluted banking processes and high, hidden charges burden firms when they exchange internationally. SMEs often need to maintain multiple bank accounts for each currency, and many of these accounts operate in silos.

Cross-border payments via a traditional bank transfer can also be a painfully slow practice in comparison to domestic payments. The two-to-five-day process can lead to considerable cashflow issues for SMEs who often don’t have the capital to absorb these time delays.

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As a result, SMEs are unable to view their cash flow in real-time. And they lack full financial visibility across their business. SMEs also become reliant on banks to execute and exchange their currency orders. That is resulting in long lead times and high, opaque commissions.

On top of this, currency conversion is a costly process and when combined with the fees that intermediaries charge for their services, the process of sending international payments quickly adds up.

How are international payments changing?

The payment industry has undergone a historic shift across Europe. While the banking profession has long handled payments, today it is rapidly evolving into a specialized expertise. Bankers were once considered the only players to possess the relevant expertise to operate within the international payments market. However, we are seeing a new wave of specialised actors emerging, and subsequently, a changing market landscape.

A shift in expectation

One of the most significant changes that the market has experienced via the emergence of new market players is a new level of customer expectation. The move away from the dominance of traditional banks has been fuelled by a superior service offered by fintech companies.

Traditional banks typically can’t offer the speed, service, infrastructure, or value-for-money in comparison to specialised payments providers. The subsequent upturn in customer experience has ushered in a whole new baseline of what businesses can expect from the payments industry. Costly, time-consuming processes that were once considered the norm have been superseded by modern alternatives and as a result, businesses are no longer required to tolerate outdated methods.

Top Tech

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Technological developments within international payments have been the engine room of the industry’s reformation. From a provider’s perspective, cutting-edge technology limits systemic issues and provides the smoothest possible platform and UX to provide to the customer. But, for the end user, improved functionality is just the beginning. Greater technology allows for greater transparency which in turn is one of the key strengths of modern payments solutions.
The increasing role of APIs in global payments has been a massive development. When it comes to viewing, sending and tracking payments, enhanced API connectivity provides businesses with a whole new level of visibility and reliability.

Greater Regulation

The payments industry has also undergone significant regulatory shifts in recent years. In Europe, Payment Service Providers (PSPs) are subject to extremely strict legislation under two directives: PSD1 and PSD2. Both directives serve to improve businesses’ experience of international payments by providing an enhanced level of security and screening. With safety at the forefront of concern for the modern consumer, a thoroughly regulated industry offers a much higher level of security.

What is iBanFirst doing about this revolution?

iBanFirst has been a leading voice in the payments revolution. We operate as a one-stop platform that allows SMEs to reap all the benefits of the modern payments landscape. Our market-leading platform allows businesses to access everything they need when conducting international payments in a timely, cost-effective manner.

Our goal is to help SMEs regain control of their payments. We do so by providing full visibility and transparency through an optimal user interface. Given that iBanFirst was founded from an observation of the market’s limitations. We continue to keep an ear to the ground and lead the market when it comes to user experience.

Within a constantly evolving market, we have continued to grow with the industry, achieving 70% growth for the past four consecutive years. We remain at the forefront of international payments for SMEs, conducting over €1.4 billion worth of transactions each month.

Any innovation in fintech more broadly that you are really excited about?

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Generally speaking, one innovation in fintech that we are excited about is the ever-growing presence and capabilities of Software as a Service (SaaS) within the industry.

Fundamentally, SaaS software enables fintechs to access cloud-based software applications without the need for any complicated installations. This removes a lot of overheads. It is helping us save on both costs and time-to-market. Also, it allows us to focus on the cornerstone of what we offer.

As an organisation that has experienced tremendous growth year-on-year, we have benefitted from the scalability of SaaS platforms which are agile enough to handle complex data processing requirements and high transactional volumes. They also typically offer aforementioned APIs which are excellent for a fintech’s integration needs.

In summary, the SaaS industry is expected to reach a valuation of $623 billion this year, and it’s clear to see why.

Any plans for the future you want people to know about?

We anticipate that the near future for international payments will be extremely busy and we must remain agile. This year, the G20 identified the enhancement of cross-border payments as a key goal, reiterating the importance of the industry as a whole.

While we have certainly felt a shift in the dynamics of cross-border payments, it’s imperative that the offering of new players on the block can facilitate real change. With this in mind, we will continue to review our platform’s functionality to ensure we are providing businesses with the best service possible.

iBanFirst’s organic growth model financed by client retention/loyalty and upselling ensures that we’re continuing reinventing the b2b cross borders payments experience. iBanFirst is supported through strong investment in R&D, with 120 dedicated technicians and product specialists.

In the last twelve months, our platform has undergone significant onboarding enhancements, several UX developments, and the introduction of local accounts has greatly improved functionality. Our customers can expect this trend to continue as we continuously monitor how we can improve our overall user experience.

iBanFirsts’s hyper-growth has allowed the business to explore broadening its reach internationally as well. Further from its offices in France, Benelux and Germany, it has expanded to the UK market (with the acquisition of Cornhill in 2022), as well as Spain, Italy, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary.