In recent years almost every aspect of the consumer travel experience —from booking flights and insurance to check‐in and passport control — has become increasingly streamlined and digitised, affording travellers more convenience, security and control around their trips than ever before.
Although much of the travel industry was already digitally transforming before Covid‐19 broke out, the pandemic has served to accelerate this trend.
Increasingly, customers don’t want to stand in queues or crowded places; they want to reduce physical contact and to use their mobile phone to pre‐book products and services. With consumers seeking a more streamlined, hygienic travel experience, many companies are increasingly optimising their processes and products to better function in a contact‐free age.
Foreign exchange companies are not immune to these changing demands, and as Managing Director of Travelex Asia Pacific (APAC), I have seen how these trends are impacting our 280 APAC bureaux and wider international business – first‐hand.
Bridging online and physical worlds
At the heart of the foreign exchange industry’s digital transformation is innovation: innovation in financial technology, innovation in customer experience, innovation in how staff are trained and interact, and innovation in how our online and physical worlds combine to meet new consumer demands.
As a result, a new relationship between consumer, bureau and staff is emerging — a relationship that ultimately affords consumers superior service, value and product choice.
Traditionally, foreign exchange bureaux are somewhat associated with the infamous last-minute airport panic buy (we’ve all been there!), but thanks to digital transformation, consumers are today being offered a wide range of different options to secure their currency pre‐trip.
Across APAC, consumers are increasingly able to utilise omni‐channel options and pre‐order their selected currency online for example, before picking it up contact‐free at the airport or bureau (including from ATMs), thereby minimalising human contact.
Digital transformation is also overhauling the traditional airport experience itself. On the horizon is self‐service, touchless, app‐linked digital kiosks which enable consumers to purchase currency via their phone and pick up touch‐fee from the kiosk, saving them time and physical interaction.
Should a customer’s flight be delayed or cancelled, it will also be possible for impacted customers to be provided with refunds and subsistence contributions in the form of digital tokens, via an app, that can then be redeemed for cash at ATMs or self‐service devices and spent at the airport.
The culmination of this digital transformation journey will be the launch of the very first “digital FX airport” in APAC in 2022. The initiative will see a full suite of Travelex’s omni‐channel and digital services provided at selected major hub airports, as well as Travelex services integrated into the airport’s own consumer shopping airport app, through which consumers can order and collect currency.
Other digital transformation innovations are working to bridge the gap between the physical and online. Propositions in APAC such as postal purchase enable customers to send any foreign currency via post, with the bureau de change then digitally transferring that amount to the customer’s online account.
With customers demanding new means of digital engagement, now is the time for travel brands to invest and adjust accordingly, says Cameron Hume, MD at Travelex APAC.
We are also seeing social media play an increasingly influential role in the foreign exchange market. Content on platforms such as Line, WhatsApp, Weibo and WeChat are being increasingly engaged with by Generation Z, who today use social media platforms as their primary source of information on foreign currencies and travel destinations.
Whilst the digitisation of the foreign exchange purchase process delivers numerous direct benefits to the consumer, there are also secondary benefits to customers, bureau de change staff and the wider travel industry too.
By streamlining the airport foreign exchange purchasing process, consumers will barely have to stop to pick up their foreign exchange. We are calling this the “seamless walkthrough” model, and it will free up time for consumers to enjoy other airport experiences, such as hospitality and retail.
The digital transformation of foreign exchange is also revolutionising the role of bureaux staff. No longer required to undertake so many manual transactions, transformation is increasingly empowering staff to retrain and upskill into new positions — away from salespeople and clerks into more consultant and ambassadorial roles, advising consumers on how much foreign currency to take and the availability of spend options at destination (between cash, cards and digital payment options).
As the foreign exchange purchasing process increasingly moves online, we are already seeing foreign exchange providers, including Travelex, reduce and re‐imagine their physical footprint. Whilst there will always be demand for in‐airport stores (even if the nature of these stores will change), foreign exchange brands are increasingly able to reduce their high street presence with more and more customers choosing to acquire their currency via digital means.
This isn’t to say that the traditional way of doing things will be abandoned. Despite the increase in digital payment infrastructure, there will always, in certain APAC markets, be a role for cash. Similarly, there will also always be a need for outstanding, human in‐bureau customer service — even if the role of staff and the way they interact with customers changes with greater digital transformation.
Ultimately, however, digital transformation is irreversibly reshaping and redefining the travel industry for the better. With customers demanding new means of digital engagement with the travel brands they love, now is the time for those brands to invest and adjust accordingly.
Based in Shanghai, Cameron Hume is Managing Director Asia Pacific at Travelex, a leading brand in foreign exchange globally. Earlier in April 2021, they inked a partnership with advanced global payments platform Nium to extend digital remittance services to their users in Australia and Singapore.