Q+A with Oliver Carson, CEO of Universal Partners

After the great achievement of winning a Pan Finance Award in 2022, how do you reflect on the journey of the business you started in 2017 reaching this point?

Having started the business together with my business partner using only our own savings, it is incredible to see the business today supported by 50+ staff in our very own office in the heart of Canary Wharf. My belief is that this journey was made possible due to the principles we started off not changing as the company has evolved and grown over the past 5 or 6 years. These principles of hard work, commitment and integrity are still at the core of what we do every single day. Our latest accounts show a turnover figure that surpasses £1.3bn which is an incredible achievement, and our year-on-year growth is a testament to both the dedication of our staff and the loyalty from our clients.

What approach have you taken to achieve these impressive numbers? What have been the key factors?

The principles I mention form a culture that is really important for us, and any growing business. Working hard, collaborating and being transparent breeds a positive working environment internally, and also forms part of our exceptional service levels we offer our clients. We have always had a strong belief in training and development so investing in our staff pays dividends in the form of increased staff retention but also our clients reap the benefits of dealing with highly trained professionals who are always learning. This helps us in our mission to establish longstanding partnerships with our clients, which in turn helps us help them grow.

What is it about this approach that differs from the main competitors?

Having been in the industry 12 years now, I have learnt that longer-term relationships with clients benefit both parties significantly more than trying to generate revenues in the short term. Our approach is to get to know our clients, their objectives, their industry and all of the opportunities and threats they face before we start to propose any FX strategy. This firstly builds trust and peace of mind that you are working in their best interests, but also helps to ultimately determine the correct strategy suited for that business. Through achieving consistently excellent results for our clients, it allows us to grow our own business, safe in the knowledge that our clients are satisfied and will continue to work with us and recommend others to do so. Aside from the solutions we can currently offer, we always like to understand the wider issues our clients are facing when transacting internationally. Through this knowledge it allows us to make decisions on how best to diversify our product range so that we can continue to improve our service.

What plans do you have for diversifying the product suite?

Having already established relationships with tier 1 banking partners we will continue to explore new ways we can service our clients. In the near future, we are aiming to have an e-money license issued, which will allow us to hold client funds for longer durations of time which allows us to further support our clients by offering named multi-currency bank accounts. We will be opening our first international office by the beginning of 2024, allowing us to compete in new markets. Alternative banking solutions will also be available to our clients in the next 6-9 months. We are an ambitious company that strives to become one of the main players in cross-border payments so our evolution will continue over the coming years.

You mentioned the solutions, but what are the main problems that businesses face in this economic climate?

Volatility in the currency markets has been quite wild in the last 6 or 7 years! I think the Brexit referendum triggered this current era of constant volatility which of course was supplemented by Covid and now the war which is sadly occurring in Ukraine. We have had some interesting political decisions that have greatly impacted markets during this time, and it has been so unpredictable and a really challenging time for businesses. I think what we are seeing now is the post-Covid recovery so things will be tough for a little longer as the global fiscal policy seems to be all about stabilising inflation with interest rate hikes. We have seen big moves on the dollar, despite its safe-haven status and the euro has not been this volatile in a long time.

I think the key for businesses is to understand their ability to tolerate fluctuations in the currencies they transact in on a regular basis. Once you understand this you are able to calculate the risk ahead and decide on a strategy that offers suitable protection. We offer consultations to all new clients so that these questions can be answered, and we always build the strategies to suit the risk appetite of each client.

Would you suggest businesses to be more risk averse at the moment?

That is a very difficult question to answer as it depends on their objectives and the competitiveness of their industry. For example, if your profit margins are tight, a more passive strategy is probably advisable as there is less room to absorb large currency movements and rising costs. Risk appetite is central to choosing the right strategy and having one in place means you no longer allow the markets to dictate, which has proven to be very costly over recent years.

Pan Finance is a print journal and news website providing worldwide intelligence on finance, economics and global commerce. Known for our in-depth analysis and opinion pieces from esteemed academics and celebrated professionals; our readership consists of senior decision makers from across the globe.

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