How This Corporate Honcho Created India's First-ever Currency Exchange Market Online
"When you are a big corporate person, everyone answers your phone. When you are an entrepreneur, all of that changes"
Getting documents in place for a trip abroad starts from the moment you plan a vacation in some exotic, overseas destination.
One of the most harrowing experiences is going to different banks, analyzing their forex rate and then settling with the best one and yet not satisfied with the exchange rate. And what doesn’t help your case is the constantly evolving foreign exchange rate.
Catering to this problem and providing a solution was Sudarshan Motwani with BookMyForex. With over three decades of experience in foreign exchange and banking, when Motwani retired, he took on a new role that of an entrepreneur. And in this process of rediscovery, today he has built India’s first ever marketplace for currency exchange and international remittances.
Creating the First Multi-currency Card in India
Motwani has over 30 years of experience, where he has led several divisions of various banks focusing on foreign exchange. “I have led the foreign exchange services vertical of banks like Bank of Punjab, Centurion Bank of Punjab, HDFC Bank Ltd and ING Vysya bank. During my corporate stint, I was also credited with bringing about the first multi-currency card in India. That’s when I started noticing that most of Indian e-commerce is in the travel industry. The highest online spend is also in travel agencies,” he said.
He toyed around with the idea of starting up by trying to fully automate businesses for a particular bank but considering the large amounts of transactions and clients, it turned out to be a tough task. “I then noticed that in the travel industry, booking tickets, hotels, rentals was online but the money was not. So, in July, 2014, we went into a marketplace, roped in exchange companies and banks and started BookMyForex,” he said.
The rate for foreign exchange varies with different banks and changes every second, combating this problem, Motwani came up with one universal rate. “We started selling forex prepaid card at zero margin and also gave away three free ATM withdrawals (internationally as well),” he said. Today, they also offer travel insurance.
Tech in Forex
Covering 650 cities, seven currencies and over seven product offerings, they have to generate several hundreds of rates within three seconds. And that’s where technology steps in. “Generating all of these rates is possible only through the tech we use. The role of AI is also huge in our sector. We recognize the customer and understand what he/she wants, when he/she wants a product and according offer our foreign exchange services. Once we have the data coming in from the customer’s behavioral pattern, thanks to AI, the next transaction is tailored according to their preferences,” said Motwani.
Partnering with his son
As he started working around starting his own business, Motwani’s son Nitin too was trying to work on a startup in the US. “While I was trying to figure out how to go about the whole entrepreneurial process, Nitin cracked the idea and came on board as a Chief Product Officer. From thereon, we have grown to be a company of 125 people.”
‘I Didn’t Know How to be An Entrepreneur’
When Motwani started up, he faced many challenges, the first one being that there was no parallel globally. So, convincing investors became a difficult task. “But just like in life, this bad aspect also had a good side. We had no competition back then. Today, many established money changers and banks are trying to do the same thing,” he said and added, “We have partnered with Banks and Money Changers as our fulfillment partners. Because of huge customer confidence, we have managed to stay relevant and are growing extremely well.”
But starting off again after being a top corporate official is also difficult. Motwani said, “When you are a big corporate person, everyone answers your phone. When you are an entrepreneur, all of that changes. I didn’t know how to be an entrepreneur. You have to reintroduce yourself and thus, rediscover yourself.”
In the business of news for 5 years now. Making my way across India thanks to my career. A media graduate from Symbiosis, Pune, I have earlier worked with Deccan Chronicle (South India's leading English daily), T-Hub (India's largest incubator) and Anthill Ventures (a speed-scaling platform).
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