Small and medium-sized businesses were hard hit by the pandemic. Many weathered the storm – just. Yet, as they now start to move forward, traditional banks are not always in step with their needs. Particularly in foreign exchange payments and services.
Even pre-pandemic, smaller businesses had a raw deal here. High charges, poor service and veering rates from month to month made it tricky to plan or make international payments. Now, largely thanks to new financial technology – much of it emanating from London – others are stepping up with more bespoke solutions designed for the SME market.
Working hard to breach this gap is Cornerstone FS plc, a provider of foreign exchange payments and currency services to the SME market. Cornerstone’s proprietary fintech platform, developed entirely in-house in the UK, gives the company the freedom to tailor its offering to SMEs’ specific needs, and build out integrations for SME accounting systems to create a professional and seamless service.
Cornerstone’s CEO is Julian Wheatland, something of a champion of the SME cause and determined to use his firm’s powerful and proven cloud-based and modular technology platform to disrupt the market and give smaller companies the chance to be part of the increasingly borderless world of trade.
“If they want to be part of this exciting future, SMEs need to have their lives made simpler and the pain points removed from the complexities of international payments,” said Julian.
“SMEs are seen as less valuable and more risky customers by the banks who like the stability of large corporates, which left a big open space for us to step in and develop services that start by looking at what the needs of small businesses are, what accounting systems they are using and how to make transactions simpler and more transparent.”
Cornerstone is known and recognised for its high-quality and personalised services. Customers have their own IBAN number and, because Cornerstone has recently achieved Authorised Electronic Money Institution status, funds can be left on deposit in multiple currencies, so transactions are processed smoothly and professionally.
“A business needs to be seen as reliable and trustworthy by its customers, and uncertainty over complicated financial transactions can damage this,” said Julian.
“Our platform offers services such as payment tracking and long-term contracts that lock in beneficial exchange rates, so that our clients can budget easily and know at any time where their money is going.
“Without a platform like ours, in a fast-moving technological world with increasing regulatory burdens and obligations, SMEs could easily find themselves out on limb. We offer them the chance to access and exploit the value that is inherent in our highly scalable fintech platform.”
Julian’s background in business strategy and finance has informed the collaboration between the technology arm of the business and the needs of the finance and accounting community. His understanding of both sides, driving innovation to cater to specific needs, has been invaluable in the development of the vision and the platform that the company has today – one that is scalable and ready to respond to changing needs and regulations.
“We have a strong management team with expertise in technology, in foreign exchange and the international payments market, and in corporate transactions. To collaborate and see the bigger picture is important, because sometimes you have to understand that just because something is technologically possible, doesn’t mean that it is a valuable thing to do: it’s more important to have a platform that does what the customer needs it to do in a simple, straightforward and efficient way.”
After what has reportedly been a record half year for VC investment in the fintech sector, the opportunities for businesses such as Cornerstone to turn innovation into serious business opportunities continue to grow.
“London is in a very strong position as it’s not only a historic commercial sector but also one with the regulatory framework and strategic vision to be the world leader in fintech and financial services, probably more so than anywhere else in the world at the moment,” added Julian.
“But we’re already seeing some tightening in the talent market and we should be open to welcoming highly skilled people from overseas in to help us continue that growth. Brexit brought changes but then the pandemic played its part as well, and we can see that there are pools of talent in Eastern Europe and the Far East that we are probably going to need to tap into.”
Cornerstone, which was listed on the Stock Exchange in April, is committed to growth, organically and through acquisition, with the hope that what London has to offer will provide exciting opportunities for individuals and companies to be part of a bright future.
“Our successful IPO will allow us to broaden our range of services, and being publicly listed offers people the chance to be a part of what we are doing. These are very exciting times.”