This Malaysian Start-Up Will Help You Find the Best Exchange Rate

For tourists, locals, and business travellers alike

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BY Lian Kyla Dyogi - 06 Jun 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Nobody really enjoys having their money changed, especially at the airport with its notorious rates. Even if you did want to get the lowest or most convenient rate in town, you typically wouldn’t know where to look. Until a few years ago, there wasn't an app for that.

Now there’s CurrenSeek, a map-based app currently only operational in Malaysia that gives users a bird’s eye view of the various exchange rates near them or in the area they need to get to. It helps make for an informed decision, where users can choose the best rate for them, whether that’s based on the lowest pricing or the location’s convenience.

“We’re bringing a very traditional industry into the 21st century and helping to increase efficiency and confidence to all interested parties,” says Hakim Karim, co-founder of CurrenSeek.

On the app’s homepage, users can buy or sell and find either “the best rates now” at their current location or get rate alerts. The alert works until a date of the user’s choosing and at a certain location. They generate revenue through value added services for moneychangers and by charging them to advertise their locations and rates.

When asked if there was a particular user story that stood out, Karim relates how some Taiwanese businessmen drove to a moneychanger from the KL international airport after finding the rate on CurrenSeek. The trip he says was easily a “forty five minute to one hour drive,” adding that the Taiwanese dollar can have a rate discrepancy of around 20%.

“The money changer told us he was delighted that by being on our platform, he would be able to attract customers from further afield who wouldn’t even know his location, never mind his competitive rates,” says Karim.

It started with a joke

For almost twenty years, Karim worked for and ran large multinational corporations, as in the likes of Thomson Reuters in Hong Kong. “It was great but it was not very challenging so I wanted to do something of my own,” says Karim. That something eventually turned out to be CurrenSeek.

What led to the app’s inception? A combination of many factors, especially one friendly lunch meeting at the end of 2012 with Amir Haghbin, Karim’s soon-to-be business partner. Haghbin, who was taking his MBA at the time, had arrived at their lunch late annoyed. He had just exchanged the money his parents had given him from Iran at a popular store in Mid Valley in Kuala Lumpur. He was satisfied with the rate, up until he chanced upon a moneychanger at a convenience store on the way back to his car.

The rate was not only better but the shopkeeper was also willing to negotiate for a lower rate. Says Karim, “I kind of jokingly said to him ‘there should be an app for that’ and there wasn’t, so that’s why we decided to come up with it.”

However, they didn’t start the company until a year later. This was after much back and forth, and some research of roughly 40 moneychangers in the center of KL to check if there were in fact discrepancies amongst the different rates.

Depending on the currency, the discrepancies can be significant. Karim shares that for the Australian or Singapore dollar the difference can be as much as ten percent while the Japanese Yen can be as much as fifteen or twenty percent.

Two years ago from this writing, Karim says they released their minimum viable product, what he describes as a directory listing. Currently, they are funded by both the Malaysian government and private investors.

Changing a centuries old industry

While getting over market perceptions and preconceptions was a challenge at the beginning, Karim says both the users and moneychangers are becoming more invested in the idea. Now, moneychangers approach them to be on the platform.

CurrenSeek’s user data is extremely helpful for moneychangers, where some don’t even have websites and most rely on foot traffic to generate sales and gather data on the demands of different currencies.

“We actually know what is the demand for various currencies so this allows the moneychangers to better manage their inventories and at least make a more informed decision about how to run their businesses,” says Karim.

A common question Karim gets is whether it is a declining industry because they deal with cash. To that he says, “It’s not true.” While in Singapore, credit card transactions were up 15% to cash’s 9%, he says the economies in the region are still very cash-heavy.

However, in order to accommodate new developments, especially with mobile, the team is about to introduce electronic payment for anyone with a Malaysian bank account. Karim says this is “not only convenient and secure for the customer but also very important for the money changer because it reduces risk for them… because you don’t get counterfeits, which is a big problem."

Other plans on their horizon include expansion. “It’s a global problem, a global opportunity and I think we can make a difference to a market, an industry, that has not modernized and so that’s exciting,” says Karim.

“As I mentioned at the beginning, I wanted to do something innovative and this is certainly that,” he adds.

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