Who knew that an idea which sprung into Frank Murphy’s head while working on a car rental desk at Shannon airport during the summer college break from UCC would grow into a business valued at over €100m?
In 1997, Monex, a financial services firm that provides DCC (Dynamic Currency Conversion), began in Frank Murphy’s friend’s bedroom. Over 20 years later it has become a €100m revenue business, dealing with €50bn-worth of processed transactions in 46 countries and employing 140 people.
Profits range between €7m and €10m annually and Murphy owns an 85% share of the business. The company is based in six locations, including Killarney, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and America. The base in Killarney employs over 40 people.
In the 21 years that Monex has operated it has become a phenomenal success worldwide. But how did the son of a farm manager from Wexford come to found the company?
The early years
Frank Murphy was born at Dunbrody House in Arthurstown, Co Wexford. The son of a farm manager on a 550-acre estate, Murphy narrowly missed the points to study veterinary and went to UCC, where he completed a four-year degree in commerce.
From there Murphy began his career as an accountant in Cooper McGuinness – Deloitte in today’s lingo. The office was based in Cork and it took a while to adapt.
“I absolutely hated accountancy for the first six months. I detested it. I rang my dad and told him I had to leave this job. His advice to me was that I better get myself something else before I leave. There was a recession at that time in Ireland and there were no other jobs available.
“I stuck it out and after six months I got going in the job after they put me into agriculture. All of a sudden I began to understand the whole accounting process and I was back on my home ground again.”
Murphy quickly began to establish himself in Deloitte. Becoming a manager at 23, before he even qualified, he left for greener pastures. Those pastures he sought were at the financial firm Fexco.
At 24, Murphy found himself in the position of chief financial officer of the company – dealing with banks, learning the ropes about foreign exchange, sales and marketing.
In the 10 years he spent in the company, it grew from 20 people to employing over 2,300. However during his time there the urge to pursuit and develop the idea of DCC proved too strong.
In 1997, Murphy went his own way, developing the concept he thought of as a student in Shannon airport. The company he founded was Monex.
The origins of Monex
“I got a call during my college years from a member of the Boland family (later Hertz), whom I knew from school in Good Council College, New Ross. They asked me to head up the car rental desk that they had at Shannon airport.
“When Americans were coming to the desk every one of them wanted to know what they would be charged in their local currency. For some reason that always stuck with me – I always asked myself why we couldn’t tell them. We couldn’t at the time because you were always charged in Irish pounds, or in euro as it is today. That was the bud of the idea. That is where it all came from,” Murphy explains.
The idea was simple. It was to allow individuals using unfamiliar currency to pay in their own currency, something they could not do before.
“Nobody else had thought of it. It was something simple and completely new which revolutionised the whole credit card world. People used to always ask me two questions, ‘where is the catch and why didn’t someone think of this before?’ With the references I had from companies like Hertz, Budget and later on Ryanair, we managed to take on more businesses,” the Wexford native explained.
“I knew from the start we were onto something. It was only a matter of getting people to take it.”
Today clients include Bank of China, numerous duty frees and cruise liners, to name a few.
Murphy’s story is no silky bed of roses, however. Cracking the European market proved tough. So did staving off the companies that DCC took business off.
“It was very difficult in Europe to get people to take it on. Some companies kicked up about it. As far as they were concerned we were competing against them and they didn’t like it,” says Murphy.
An unsuccessful legal challenge from a competitor enabled DCC to become a regulated sector. Murphy claims this was the best thing that could have happened. The once-unknown DCC was now a regulated market. In his own words, “it gave us and the system all the credibility we needed”.
Today Monex has 10 very strong competitors in a sector that it claims circa 14% market share in. The market in certain parts of the world has now matured. For Monex, for Murphy, it is about continuing to add value to the product that he once pioneered.
In 2012, Murphy along with his wife, Teresa McSweeney, took over her family farm at Glen South. A small operation, together they transformed it into one of the most modern beef-fattening enterprises in Ireland. Finishing over 1,500 animals each year (mainly Angus and Herefords) the farm has undergone extensive investment over the last five years.
“I was always interested in farming. The plan in 2012 was to buy a few cattle for grazing. I remember asking a local dealer to buy in a few cattle. I was away at the time and thought it would be very interesting coming back and seeing the animals on the land. I came back on a Friday and as I walked up to see the animals I said: “Feck this, I will give it a go.”
Despite being asked for years to take over the farm, Murphy’s work schedule didn’t allow him to.
Today the beef farm operates on a substantial scale. They buy-in heifers at 450kg, while bullocks are bought in at 500kg or over. The heifers are slaughtered at 22 months and close to 30 months for the bullocks.
Cattle are kept on the farm for an average of 70 days. The modern buildings, which include space for just under 400 fattening cattle, are designed to maximise convenience.
Labour is minimised by the clever layout and the automatic Lely Vector diet feeder. The spacious farmyard is as clean as it is impressively large.
The 400 acres surrounding the yard can accommodate 250 cattle, while 100 acres are rented for maize. And the farm continues to grow. In the last two months Murphy bought 101 acres near the farm for circa €900,000. He intends to keep on expanding. From a company founded in his friend’s bedroom to a worldwide success; from a basic beef farm in the hills of Cork to one of the most modern beef-fattening farms in the country; from the son of a farm manager in Wexford to the owner of a €100m financial service, it is fitting that Frank Murphy made his business in currency conversion, as conversion seems to be a buzzword for his career.