Paresh Davdra is not, perhaps, what one might expect. The co-founder and CEO of a fintech empire including RationalFX and Xendpay, turning over billions of dollars turns out to be a softly spoken, dapper 36-year-old apparently as concerned with the good his businesses can do as he is with making mountains of cash.
A hint of mischief at the corners of his mouth underpins a quiet pragmatism born of the 13 years he’s spent navigating the firm he started with business partner Rajesh Agrawal along its stellar trajectory, despite the upset of the credit crunch.
While his co-founder has gone on to pursue politics, appointed deputy Mayor Of London for business by Sadiq Khan, Paresh’s passion is clearly centred on his company, which relocated to Canary Wharf and employs 108 people.
“We still have a start-up mentality,” he said. “I want everyone here to feel like an entrepreneur, to have ownership of something, to grow something.
“I would hate for anyone to feel like they’re not involved; to feel like they’re coming in and it’s just a process.
"Maintaining a good, family-orientated culture is important to me.
“The whole office is massively multi-cultural. We have French, Spanish, German, English, Indian, Polish, Lithuanian, Italian – it’s a great mix.”
His firm’s slick, glassy One Canada Square space is deliberately open plan. Paresh spends his time with the sales teams on the floor, an echo perhaps of the early years when the first foreign exchange firm to offer an online platform was based in a flat in Brighton and consisted of two men with a laptop, a landline and some hastily acquired capital.
Paresh said: “I was 24 when I met Rajesh. We were working for a currency exchange broker helping private clients send money abroad.
“I always knew I wanted to do something in business, I just didn’t know what, to be very honest with you.
"Towards the end of 2004 I resigned and, with Rajesh, decided to set up RationalFX.
"We didn’t have any money so having been turned down for a business loan, Rajesh went back to the bank a few days later, told them it had been a silly idea, that he was planning to stay in his job – he’d already resigned – but he was going to buy a car so needed a loan.
"They agreed and they gave him £20,000. He didn’t even have a driving licence at the time.
“I had a car, which I sold and that was pretty much our living off money.
“I was 25 by the time we did our first transaction, which was in March 2005 and that’s how we started.”
A lengthy period of hitting the phones resulted in sustained success.
Paresh said: “We started to make good progress, everything was going great and then, in 2008 the market crashed, which proved to be a really great learning curve.
“There have been countless times running this business when we’ve seen some doubts and it’s about overcoming that fear, facing it bravely and continuing.
“From a personal point of view I was 27, and thought the world was my oyster, I’d bought myself a flashy car and promptly sold it after six months.”
Brexit and The Donald
It’s little surprise, having faced significant setbacks before that Paresh tackles the subjects of Brexit and Donald Trump with pragmatism rather than despair.
He said: “Forget Trump, let’s think about what drove that to happen. That’s what worries me more than anything. It means there are a lot of people who are unhappy and looking for something to blame.
“I think that needs to be addressed but the way people are thinking and the roads we’re going down are dangerous and not good for anyone.
“As far as Brexit goes, there will always be a solution. I’m by no means closing my eyes and waiting for it to go away – we’ve got contingency plans and they’re very extreme because you always plan for the worst case scenario.
“But I’m still optimistic as, given the fact Europe needs the UK from a financial licensing perspective, there will be a solution. They may not call it Passporting but it’s in both parties’ interest.”
And Paresh is doing his bit for the masses. In 2012 his company set up Xendpay , a “no-frills” online money transfer platform for sending smaller amounts of cash abroad, exploiting RationalFX’s extensive infrastructure and operating on a pay-what-you-feel or nothing-at-all basis.
Part of the Clinton Global Initiative it’s on course to help migrant workers save £100million over the next four years.
Paresh said: “The whole idea of Xendpay was to help people. It wasn’t there to make a lot of money. When people send cash back home it’s buying clothes, food, education, a better life for people.
"We thought we could offer a really cost-effective service.
"RationalFX has great infrastructure, really good relationships with banks and liquidity providers so we can offer that benefit to these smaller customers if we build a no-frills online platform.
"It’s purely online and on apps and it’s really simple. You log on, put in the details for where it needs to go and then we suggest what we think is a fair fee which is very small – for example on £1,000 the fee is about £3.
"Then we say you can pay what you want so the customer can pay nothing if they want. Less than 8% actually pay nothing at all.
"It’s a really good way of giving back for us. With no marketing effort we had more than 50,000 customers register with us last year, which I think is phenomenal.
"I suppose our competitors are TransferWise and WorldRemit but hands down Xendpay is much cheaper. Even if you pay it’s still cheaper."
And Paresh isn’t slowing down, aiming latest venture Xendpay Business at start-ups and smaller firms with the aim of giving others with entrepreneurial spirit a break from hefty foreign exchange fees.
The world’s his oyster again.
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