Interview: 4xLabs CEO Chris Vanden Berghe

4xLabs is a FinTech start-up headquartered in Singapore. The company develops cloud-based services addressing the needs of all players in the often overlooked cash exchange market. CEO, Chris Vanden Berghe , believes in driving innovation for the global physical FX market, which culminates in money changers leveraging technology for greater efficiency and better profits. This in turn leads to travelers making better decisions when it comes to exchanging money.

The firm, set up in 2011, offers two platforms that are integrated:

  1. Biz4x, an operating system for licensed money changers that helps them access live FX rates, manage their business, perform KYC compliance checks (AML, CFT and PEP), and grow their business by listing their Buy and Sell rates on Get4x.
  2. Get4x, an online directory where money changers from different cities can list their rates, so travellers can search for, compare, book and save on exchange rates. Get4x is available in 20 different cities across Australia, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and UAE.

The FundEast team had the privilege to chat with Chris, who shared how 4xLabs B2B platform, Biz4x is used by hundreds of money changers worldwide. As of 2017, money changers from 16 different countries are using Biz4x to run their daily currency exchange operations, a number Chris expects to increase over time.

What excites you about the current financial environment we live in ?

If you take a look at the (money changer) margins ten years ago versus the margins today, it will show how remittances and Forex used to charge around 12-15%.

Governments across the world have begun regulating the small and local money exchange vendors, which was an opportunity for 4xLabs, on our B2B side. 4xLabs B2C business focuses on the cash money exchange market, when most of the other firms are looking at the digital side of the business.

What are the Opportunities, Is there anything you are afraid of ?

Well there is nothing to be afraid of, as any change in the market brings in new opportunities. We are looking forward to face these challenges, be it countries going cashless or tighter and stricter regulations on these small money exchange vendors.

Is there a specific market you are focusing on ? How do you go about marketing your business ?

With business in so many cities across the world and the hundreds of customers we serve, 4xLabs is looking to expand and capture the market share across other countries, especially developing countries such as Indonesia and India.

We already have about 40% market share in Singapore, but we are still looking to expand within the country.

How do you compete against local players in the same business ? Do you openly collaborate and look to share information rather than compete ?

In Singapore, we believe we don’t have too much competition. With Get4x, we were early in the market and believe we are one of the few such start-ups around the world. On the B2B side, a lot of businesses are working with us as we provide Biz4x, which is a complete solution as it covers information, compliance, business management, POS (point-of-sale), so we somewhat have a monopoly in that market.

We try to be very cooperative. We recently formed an agreement with a business which competes with us on the B2C side. For example, when our vendors update their daily Forex rates, the data doesn’t just go to Get4x, it also goes to our competitors as well, and vice-versa. With collaboration and cooperation, one is able to provide customers a more competitive and informative tool. It adds value and is definitely a win-win situation.

Some businesses choose to collaborate with us to sell our platform as a reseller, instead of wasting time and money developing a platform similar to what we already have.

Another example is competitors seeking to provide prepaid cards for Forex. They might not be able to reach out to the niche Forex industry we focus on, and these big companies would probably not want to get involved in small businesses at all. What 4xLabs can do is provide this niche industry with their prepaid cards as the “pie is big enough”, and we are looking to do this in a very cooperative manner.

We collaborate where we can collaborate, but we also compete fairly when “we believe we have an edge”.

What do you think is 4xLabs competitive edge ?

We are in a very specific space with not much competitors. Said competitors provide a single solution which is usually a compliance solution. And when it comes to money changers, these competitors might only have three such customers.

What we are trying to do is create a holistic solution that provides for all current and future money changer needs. The current needs being what we sell today, while the future stands for innovation, which we only recently started developing for. We go about selling what we have today, but we also sell what we have for tomorrow.

It is important to speak to the customers and ensure that it’s a two-way street, with us understanding the needs and wants of the business, even updating customers on what is happening with the market, and finding the best way to deal with it.

I, myself, try to sell the dream and the future possibilities of our operations, and I believe that it is one of our greatest strengths.

From an investor’s perspective, our strength is that we are one of the very few start-ups that are working with hundreds of financial institutions around the world. We have customers in 16 different countries around the world. We are present in Asia, Middle East, Africa, Europe and so on.

It is a unique position, as not many businesses have succeeded in selling into so many different countries across the globe.

Some of our customers are corporations with headquarters and multiple branches, but there are also small money changers seated comfortably in their tiny little booths who are only working with a phone. So there’s a very large difference in the range of customers that we are able to reach.

How does the B2C platform, Get4x work ?

Get4x allows an end customer to compare money changer rates. Get4x helps a customer to make a decision on where they want to exchange their currencies, as money changers provide their end customer rates to us. Money changers are able to update their rates and they do that from our B2B platform, Biz4x. The updates are then shown on the app, Get4x, as well as some of our competitors’ platforms. At that point, if it’s a live rate, then end users are able to book it.

If there is no live rate , then we will estimate the rate based on previous historic Forex rates.

Money changers located in tourist attractions and airports typically have higher rates. Thus, our app is able to simplify and aid a person in finding out where the best place to go is.

How does the B2B platform, Biz4x work ?

We started tackling the issue of compliance initially. As a money changer, if you have a transaction that is either suspicious or large ($5,000 SGD and above), you need to get the identification documents of the customer, copy and check them.

What we provide is a search engine for this sanction list, and it shows a record that you’ve done the search, and you’re in the clear.

We provide live data as well. We provide real-time reliable data from different sources, to our money changer users. It is important as money changers use it to set the rate for their customers. It is very important when it comes to buying stocks. Once the exchange rate goes over the margin, then data becomes important. If we (supplier-money changer customer) trade with each other, and you have better data than I do, then I will be on the losing end. That’s why reliable data is so important.

We pride Biz4x as a POS (point of sale system) for money changers and a business management tool. It aims to help money changers keep a record of their transactions and from there, monitor their stock and do regulatory reporting that needs to be sent to the regulators monthly. The automated information provided in the platform, helps you become more effective and efficient, whether you are a chain or a sole proprietor.

We provide a KYC facility as well. Before money changers agree on the price, and want to trade for the first time, there is a need to exchange identifying documents for due diligence.

There is also a customer acquisition part of Biz4x, where you are able to set your rates on our website and you’re able to accept bookings from different parties.

Before Biz4x, money changers had to input their rates into different systems. We consolidate that in one place, more efficiently, and with lesser mistakes. That place is our rate board.

The system itself is fairly comprehensive. Up until half a year ago, most innovations came from us, driving that initiative. Today, half the innovation comes directly from our customers.

Has your technology helped bring margins down in the Forex Industry ?

Singapore has been a very competitive market for Forex. But just as more information should lead to a decrease in margins, so too does our technology help filter out the “outliers” and make our customers aware of what the other vendors are quoting their rates at, to remain competitive.

How did you get funded ? Any future plans for another funding round ?

Initially we were funded by Angel’s and later we got some Institutional Investment.

We received two rounds of institutional funding totaling USD$2.5 M from Dymon Asia Ventures and OSK Ventures.

We should start to look for more funding beginning next year, but right now our focus lies on innovating, increasing our market share and revenue, as well as improving our technology.

If you could go back in time, would there be something else you would have done in your business differently ?

Well it’s really difficult to say that we might have done anything differently. Many small things generally, but not anything like a big opportunity that we might have missed.

On one hand, I guide and support my team with my technical prowess, trying to make sound and promising technology, which sometimes takes time, and on the other, as a CEO, one wants to get the products to the market as soon as possible.

Do you feel you are here for the long run or would you be looking to exit ?

As a young start-up, it’s always wise to keep in mind a possible exit, because then you can steer the business in a certain direction and build nice connections around you.

With that said, we also believe in creating as much value as we can with the business. 90% of our effort lies in getting more market share, increasing our customer base and keeping our customers happy, as well as increasing our revenue. That is definitely where most of our focus lies right now.

Where do you see yourself and your company in the next 3 years ?

We had a vision and we followed it, knowing the pros and cons of getting into the business. Honestly, what we did not expect is the speed at which we are progressing. In the next 3 years, we foresee ourselves increasing our market share in the countries we already have presence in, and also increasing our geographical coverage to places we do not have presence in, yet.

What is your take on the country’s trying to go cashless and digital ?

Well the change is coming, but we see this as an opportunity in spite of being in the Cash Forex market.

If you say that within 100 years, 50% of the countries do go cashless, with Singapore being one of the early adopters, Money Changing in cash is still not going to go away, as cash will exist in some countries. Let’s say now that Singapore goes cashless, how would a small money changer in Indonesia accept our digital tokens or cryptocurrency ? Countries will implement such solutions at different rates.

If you consider all the things which we do, we are becoming a part of this digital revolution on our B2B side. On the B2C side, the countries which still haven’t gone cashless, would need to find a way to accept digital currency and exchange (physical cash), where we would play a part.

The FundEast Team, believes in the vision of 4xLabs and in the capability of the strong management team the company supports. Technology like theirs is disruptive and would help narrow down the margin’s and make our Forex market more competitive and transparent in the times to come. Go, 4xLabs!

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