Forex firm to launch Asia growth from S'pore

World First, which was founded in Britain in 2004, chose Singapore to launch its second Asia office after Hong Kong.
World First, which was founded in Britain in 2004, chose Singapore to launch its second Asia office after Hong Kong.PHOTO: ST FILE

UK-based World First hopes to its business model here can be applied in other countries

Foreign exchange company World First will use its growing business in Singapore as a launchpad for further expansion across the region.

The British firm set up shop here in May and has already developed a steady stream of customers among expatriates and small- and medium-sized enterprises.

It hopes the business model it is rolling out here will prove viable for neighbouring countries as well.

World First offers overseas payment and transfer services between a client's bank account and another account in any major bank around the world, except those in restricted jurisdictions.

Unlike banks, the company does not charge its clients a service fee but makes its revenue from exchange rate margins.

CLEAR OBJECTIVES

Our target for Singapore is to gain 6,000 trading clients over the next year, with an exchange turnover of $250 million to $500 million.

MR JABU HENSON, World First Asia managing director

It has sent about $16 million since its soft launch in May.

"We now have around 1,500 local clients, and World First has likely saved them between $80,000 and $100,000. Globally, we helped our clients save some US$66 million (S$93 million)," Asia managing director Jabu Henson told The Straits Times in an exclusive interview.

"Regular clients can expect savings of 0.3 per cent to 1.5 per cent per transaction compared with what they can get on the market. For instance, a corporate transferring $1 million through us monthly may save between $3,000 and $15,000."

Mr Henson believes Singapore can be a crucial driver of the firm's global business.

"Our year-on-year growth was around 43 per cent last year, with total turnover at around US$15 billion and net profit at US$15 million," he said.

"Once our Singapore operations are fully up and running, I think we can easily top our growth rate to around 60 per cent."

World First, which was founded in Britain in 2004, chose Singapore to launch its second Asia office after Hong Kong.

The company is trying to hit the sweet spot in the market - it will not compete for big corporate transactions or migrant worker remittances but focus on high-net-worth expatriates and smaller firms. The minimum transaction is set at $2,000.

"Our target for Singapore is to gain 6,000 trading clients over the next year, with an exchange turnover of $250 million to $500 million," said Mr Henson.

"We are also looking at expansion to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, but right now, we are focusing on getting the Singapore business right."

That entails keeping a close watch on the company's compliance and particularly anti-money laundering efforts, an area of growing concern at the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

In April, the MAS imposed new requirements for financial institutions to prevent money laundering and terrorist financing with fines for non-compliance of up to $1 million.

World First is well aware of its responsibilities, Mr Henson said.

"Aside from our usual KYC (know-your-customer) safeguards, we have agreed on MAS' conditions to limit our services only to residents and locally registered companies.

"On top of that, we must meet all our clients face to face at least once before we facilitate a transaction. This is one thing that we do not do in other markets we're in."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2015, with the headline 'Forex firm to launch Asia growth from S'pore'. Print Edition | Subscribe