As the world’s fourth most populous country, which has 742 different languages, 18,307 islands and a middle-income class that is larger than Australia’s, Indonesia is without a doubt a country of big numbers and opportunities. This is especially true for the global payments space.
Associated Foreign Exchange (AFEX) is a big company. The firm is a global payment and risk management business and is one of the world’s largest non-bank, private providers of payment solutions. Currently, the company serves more than 30,000 corporates and expats with cross-border payment and risk management services in 19 markets around the world.
Like many other foreign companies, AFEX came to Indonesia lured by its ‘big numbers equal big opportunities’ equation. The business was inspired by research and studies that predicted the country would have more than 180 million middle-income earners by 2030.
AFEX Indonesia CEO and Country Manager Paul Norwood spoke with Indonesia Expat in an interview to talk about the nature of his business, the challenges and how he and his team have worked together over the years to solve problems.
Norwood has been in the foreign exchange (FX) and payments business for more than two decades already, having served stints at Westpac Banking Corp and American Express. These jobs have taken him around the world, stationing him in cities like New York, Sydney and Singapore.
Norwood was General Manager for American Express FX International Payments in Singapore when AFEX found him and offered him the opportunity to lead its aggressive expansion plan across Asia. He jumped at the chance, which he saw as an opportunity to be part of an exciting and ambitious global organization.
AFEX claims the company grew rapidly from its inception in 1979 until 2010. AFEX opened offices in Australia, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. In the US, the firm’s headquarters is located in Woodland Hills, California. AFEX also has a presence in Italy and Canada, while expansion plans are currently tapping European and Asian markets.
“In Indonesia, we compete against the banks offering corporates and expats an alternative way of moving money around the world. Our value lies in the services we offer our clients, which include a dedicated relationship manager, same-day value transactions and competitive FX pricing,” Norwood explains.
The CEO was quick to add that the barriers to entry in the payments sector are high. He said, “Bank Indonesia issues licensing only to those who are able to demonstrate they have robust compliance programmes to ensure risk of money laundering or terrorism financing is low.”
Norwood predicts there won’t be too much change in the immediate future, but believes that financial technology (fintech) will increasingly play an important role in the market, particularly when fintech firms are able to demonstrate a more “disruptive” contribution than just providing “status quo” results.
Norwood told Indonesia Expat that AFEX is investing heavily in fintech platforms around the world and has recently introduced API capabilities to reduce the time and effort for businesses to process international payments.
He added, “Ongoing investment in this area is required to ensure success […] as is cultivating an environment to innovate through predicting our corporate and expat customers’ future needs.”
Norwood described that while the majority of AFEX’s clients come from the corporate world, the company also operates a successful expat payment service that has so far been given positive feedback.
“Our FX rates always beat the banks, our fees are very low (US$2.20 to US$7.50) and through our extensive global network, we deliver your funds to your foreign bank account within hours […]
Our transaction process can be handled over the phone or online, which means no more forms and bank branch queues – all these as opposed to bank FX transactions where the customer pays between one and three percent for their FX transactions, plus a fee of US$10 to US$25 and the money arrives two to three days later.”
When asked how he could advise entrepreneurs looking to get into the global payment and risk management industry in Indonesia, the AFEX Indonesia country manager was quick to stress the importance of finding reliable support services for payroll, tax compliance, HR and recruitment.
“Whether you are importing or exporting through your business or need to send money home to cover your mortgage or pay for an emergency or send a family member some birthday shopping money, you will need to have a global payments specialist you can trust to provide you with a great service and price. We will be happy to play that part for you,” Norwood said.