CIO Interview: Hans van der Waal, Global IT Director, Travelex

In 2020, foreign exchange firm Travelex entered administration, suffering major losses following the Covid-19 pandemic and a major attack by cybercriminals. Today, it is planning its future, with digital technology at the core.

A combination of reduced demand as the travel sector slowed down during the Covid-19 restrictions and Downtime and Damages That followed a ransomware attack by the Sodinokibi cybercrime group Keep the company afloat.

now, with new investors, Travelex and its 350 IT professionals are on a digital transformation journey, including revamping its operations through cloud computing and customer-facing apps. At the same time, the company is adapting its physical presence, which it considers essential to meet future needs.

The forex sector as a whole has seen a dramatic digital transformation with the arrival of app-based services offered by fintech startups.

Travelex has more than 1,000 stores, a similar number of ATMs and more than 5,000 employees, as well as technology for automated money laundering checks, frontline retail transaction systems, data storage systems and software for live exchange rates and remittance payments. Service.

Hans van der Waal, Global IT Director at Travelexwho joined in March 2019, told Computer Weekly that when he arrived there were some digital transformation projects that “didn’t quite work out”.

He says the projects lacked a compelling story, or what he describes as a “north star” that signals the company’s end goal. “I started working on it when I joined,” says van der Waal. “They haven’t done bad things before, but it wasn’t communicated very well.”


In fact, the company had planned to invest in digital and online products before facing difficulties in 2020.

“As we have come out of the problems, with the support of our new shareholders and the decline of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have resumed all this work,” said van der Waal.

Critically, he says that Travelex does not want to completely “replace itself” with a digital alternative, but sees digital projects as an extension of its current presence. “We consider our presence in some airports and other locations to be our main asset, and the way we support customers online is an extension of this physical presence,” added van der Waal.

But the company’s legacy technology systems must be replaced to support the company’s increasingly digital future. “There were challenges with the risk of the legacy system and the cost of maintenance and support,” van der Waal said.

These systems include data storage, point of sale functionality and error detection providers. He says the business has acquired systems over the years as it has taken over firms in different regions, thereby becoming less agile and more difficult to do “something new”.

After a break in most of the work in 2019, conversion work resumes in 2021. This included moving systems to the public cloud. “We previously had a self-hosted datacenter model, but now we’ve moved the entire estate to the cloud,” van der Waal said.

Travelex’s enterprise systems now sit in the AWS cloud while end-user computing uses Microsoft Office 365. The project to move to the cloud took about a year to complete and involved migrating about 600 servers and about 150 applications.

On the consumer side, Travellex focuses on mobile, with an app that supports its prepaid card business. Cards are loaded directly from the customer’s bank account with up to 10 different currencies. There are also online services such as click and collect, which include the ability to order cash and collect in store or at an ATM.

Significant cash demand remains

Although the use of cash is declining, Travelex is still seeing significant demand, according to van der Waal. “In certain markets, you are seeing a gradual decline in the use of physical foreign exchange services with the shift to mobile wallets, but it is not happening very fast. “Cash is definitely not going to die in the next few years,” he says. “Passengers are still looking for the convenience of putting some cash in their pockets.”

But Travelex is also investing in simplifying the experience for customers looking for cash with the development of new kiosks, which van der Waal says are “somewhere between a branch and an ATM where a customer can order on-screen and pick it up. at the counter”.

Physical presence is still valued by Travelex, which acquired more branches as competitors left the market when the pandemic ended business.

Van der Waal said the company now has a solid foundation for building digital services, with infrastructure as a service established. It has built a fully cloud-native and serverless integration layer where it integrates with third-party services through application programming interfaces.

“Foundations are there and in partnership with businesses to develop digital propositions that support our presence in the country,” he said. “Transformation means we can be more agile and do it in a faster way.”

Van der Waal believes this puts the company’s technical development teams in step with smaller cloud-native competitors.

A current project sees the company use data mesh principles to build a cloud-based data platform on AWS, offering data across different business domains. It’s like developing agile on data rather than functionality for the customer. “We now have end users who can create their own queries and develop their own insights, instead of going to IT for reports all the time,” he says.

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