Foreign exchange markets have always been tricky to navigate for any new business starting exporting and importing, and the sector as a whole seems to be dominated by the big corporate banks. Business Connect caught up with Niall Walsh, founder and owner of Garton Global Payments, situated in Tower Hill, London – a stone’s throw from those big corporates in the City of London.
Niall – please tell us how and why you started Garton Global Payments?
“I’ve been in the Foreign Exchange and Payments industry since 2015, and decided to set up Garton in 2019. The desire to start my own business has always been there. My parents are independent publicans with their own business, and I’ve always seen running my own company as a natural progression. Working for someone else made me aware there were many things both internal and customer facing that could be improved. There were elements in the way particular clients were serviced and treated that I thought could be done much better. It was from this that the plan for Garton Global Payments was developed. I found myself bringing clients into the business by offering a level of customer engagement at the onboarding stage that simply wasn’t followed through when they were picked up by the account managers. I knew I could do better, and in 2019 I parted company with a view to do just that.
“It wasn’t all plain sailing though. After leaving my previous position, I teamed up with a former work colleague to set-up our own foreign exchange business, this turned out to be a big mistake and after a difficult few months we severed ties. At this point the deck was really stacked against me, but I can honestly say the whole experience galvanised me and continues to do so in my pursuit of success.
“I had to ask myself the question at that point was it something I was 100% committed to, and the answer was of course yes. I was 100% committed to growing a new business that would offer a level of support and service way above others in the sector. Out of this Garton Global Payments was born. I think the lesson here was that a working relationship is often very different to a business relationship, and in order to go into business with people, you need that aligned level of trust and commitment to be successful.”
It seems that you started the business just before the UK’s first lockdown. How did that impact your business growth?
“So, I started work on launching Garton Global Payments in 2019, and we formally started operations in February 2020, just in time for a global pandemic! In terms of marketing, my core strategy would be going to trade shows and networking events, also contacting people by phone too.
“Obviously, the shows and events were simply not happening, and even phoning became really difficult with everyone working from home – unless you had their mobiles! Even now, we concentrate on reaching the relevant financial decision makers by calling Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, which seem to be more effective in today’s culture of hybrid working. Since COVID arrived we’ve been working hard on Social Media, particularly LinkedIn. We’ve also been active with email marketing, but in terms of paid-for marketing the only thing we’ve done is a spot of sports sponsorship with the Blackhall Gaels GAA Football Club in County Meath, Ireland (the team has a strong family link) and of course your good selves!
“We’ve been fortunate in that a number of relationships developed over the years between Ireland and the UK have resulted in a number of businesses signing up with us when we were building the company, also those relationships have resulted in a level of digital support with those businesses featuring us on their websites.”
Tell us about your perfect client?
“Our bread and butter is very much corporate SME business. Anything from a turnover upwards of £2m to £50m, with generally a headcount of between 10 – 200 staff. This is very much our sweet spot, and an area that we can bring real value, service, and savings. The sectors we currently have particular success in are food and beverage, software (in particular SaaS) and construction. We do however cater for private individuals who are buying/selling property overseas or other foreign assets.”
How badly was the foreign exchange sector affected by Brexit?
“I feel that it definitely wasn’t the armageddon that was first expected for financial services. It was problematic though, but we have been lucky in the fact that the bulk of the companies that we route our payments through all have European bases, so we are able to onboard our European-based clients and still service them under the European brand of their entity. We have been very lucky in that regard. I think most financial services companies have pursued a similar model and set up in places such as Dublin and Amsterdam, which is where we have set up to circumnavigate the dislocation caused by Brexit.
“Financial services works on a passporting basis. So if you have an entity based in Amsterdam for example, you can then passport your services across the whole of the European Union. So we would sell our products to European clients, and it would be a solely European product – all settlement being done in European accounts, all payments routed from European banking institutions – and that would take care of the issue of the UK’s financial services being frozen out of the European ecosystem.”
Another event that had a global impact – and still does – has been the pandemic. How has this impacted your sector?
“It did in the early stages. You’d see huge amounts of volatility immediately after the pandemic hit. The GBP/USD exchange rate collapsed from $1.35 right down to $1.15 – a historic low not seen for decades. Once that initial volatility and knee-jerk reaction had been factored in the currency markets almost ‘slipped’ straight back into normality then. I think it was a very short, sharp recession. In fact, looking back at it ‘recession’ may not be an accurate description because the whole world essentially went into hibernation. I think the period we are in now for financial markets is in fact much more uncertain, rising interest rates, rampant inflation and sagging consumer confidence are all conspiring to make for a very volatile few years ahead.”
The world is not a quiet place at the moment. How do you view the events in Ukraine having an impact on the global foreign exchange sector?
“There is a real impact on International trade from a compliance and due diligence perspective. The obvious flag is any business or individual with links to Russia, mean that they are frozen out of any transactions. No western businesses can trade with Russia – you can’t settle any Russian Rouble payments. I suspect these recent moves to freeze Russia out of the global economy may have ramifications in the next 10 to 20 years. I can see Russia and China to a certain extent resenting the US-led West freezing Russia out of the global banking ecosystem.
“This could have a deep impact on International trade flows. Russia and China are well underway in developing their own payments system to run in conjunction with the SWIFT network. I firmly believe we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg of these frosty relations, and the US and China will continue to clash as their economic and political interests collide. All told, the globalised world as we’ve known it for the last 40 years is facing some serious questions.”
What are your plans for Garton Global Payments over the next few years?
“Ultimately headcount will be a deciding factor for us. The more people we have in the business the more opportunities we are going to come across. We plan to be 10 strong by the back end of this year, 20 by the end of 2023, and hopefully 35 staff by the end of 2024. By this point we would increase the range of products and services on offer. At the moment I’d describe our product range as pretty vanilla, consisting of spot deals, forward contracts, for example. In the next few years we have plans to look at a range of regulated products such as options, which are high-risk, highly regulated, and are geared to be offered to a more financially advanced client. This would mean a change in how we market ourselves to a very different style of customer.”
Would most of your new staff be in sales?
“Absolutely. As we grow though and certainly as we offer different and more highly regulated products, we’d need to look at operations staff, trade support and compliance officers. Plus, we’re in a great location here at Tower Hill to grow our business. We’re centrally located in London, within an hour of a great talent pool of people at the forefront of the financial services sector. Also, being in London lends authority to our credentials as a fast growing foreign exchange business.”
Finally, can you review the services you are currently offering clients?
“We offer products to both private and corporate clients. From a product point of view spot deals (buy now and pay within 2 days), forward contracts (secure now and pay within 12 months), and limit orders (placing an automated trigger at a set rate). In terms of service, the way our clients work with us is dependent on their needs and how much relative to their own turnover their foreign exchange exposure is. For clients where this ratio is higher – perhaps more than 50% – they will often choose to work with us direct whereby they get a more hands on service, and we can assist them in better managing their exposure to try and limit the risks associated. For clients toward the lower end of the scale we will usually set them up with our award winning online trading platform, offering the ability to secure rates 24 hours a day, Monday to Friday.”
“I’ve been dealing with Niall Walsh from Garton Global Payments for around 6 months now, ever since meeting up with him at a BITA networking event in Manchester. Prior to meeting with Niall, Plastech have transacted all of our foreign exchange payments through American Express, who we’ve dealt with for 20 years or more. Garton Global Payments have proved to be very competitive with their pricing against AMEX, offering savings for myself of around 4%, which is a considerable amount of money considering that our spend on foreign payments is in the region of £300k p.a.
“On a personal note, Niall is a fantastic person to deal with, very professional and really helpful, and I wish I’d met him 20 years ago! I would highly recommend Niall Walsh and Garton Global Payments without hesitation to anybody who does foreign exchange payments.”
Paul Quin, Managing Director, Plastech Ltd