SOME years ago, when Gulliver was a wide-eyed reporter on his first business trip, he sidled up to a bureau de change in London’s Heathrow Airport to buy some foreign currency. His nervous excitement quickly turned to dismay when the teller gouged 12% from the transaction, justifying the theft by tapping on a display-screen of ruinous exchange rates. Today, Gulliver knows better than to buy foreign currency at an airport. But many do not: in 2016 Heathrow raked in £50m ($68m) by renting retail space to bureaux de change. New technology and startups could soon change that.
Savvier travellers have, until now, bought their foreign currency in advance from bureaux de change outside the airport. Higher competition and lower costs mean that these firms trade closer to the interbank exchange rate—the price at which two currencies are actually swapped by financial institutions. Yet all middlemen need a mark up, so they still add a margin of 2-5% to their “commission-free” quotes.
A new breed of “challenger banks” wants to...Continue reading