March 13 (SeeNews) - French payment services provider iBanFirst intends to double its client portfolio size in Bulgaria, targeting a transaction volume of 1 billion euro ($1.06 billion) over the next 18 months, country manager Dean Todorov told SeeNews.
The company, which opened an office in Sofia in March 2022, exceeded by 10% its forecast revenue in the country in the past year of operation, Todorov told SeeNews in a recent interview.
"Already in the first quarter after starting operations in Bulgaria, iBanFirst surpassed the budgeted target for the local market. This performance was repeated in each of the following quarters of 2022," he explained.
In the second half of 2022, the fintech increased its local client portfolio size by 200% compared to the first half of the year.
After building up a close-knit local team of foreign exchange specialists over the course of the past 12 months, iBanFirst will continue to attach priority importance to team development in Bulgaria in 2023, Todorov said. The goal is to expand the local front office currency specialists team to eight by year-end, with the large part of back office specialists based at the French office which caters to all iBanFirst's European sites.
In Bulgaria, iBanFirst's various financial services related to currency risk hedging were among the most sought after during 2022, as a number of Bulgarian companies with overseas trading partners were strongly affected by currency and market volatility caused by geopolitical developments and those tools enabled them to secure profit margins, Todorov added. Currency risk management services by iBanFirst in Bulgaria made up around 70% of revenue in the past year.
The fintech has a new product in the pipeline for the Bulgarian market, which will expand its multicurrency payments offering for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The new product will enable businesses to open local currency accounts in the U.S. through iBanFirst. Some of the fastest developing Bulgarian technology and software companies make up a large part of clients with a potential interest in this service, according to Todorov.
In November, iBanFirst closed the acquisition of London-based FX provider Cornhill, boosting its offering to European SMEs, including those in Romania and Bulgaria, in their post-Brexit trade operations with UK counterparts.
"The deal secured a licence for iBanFirst from the British financial markets regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). For Bulgarian companies doing business with UK partners, this means that they will benefit from instant cross-border payments with their iBanFirst counterpart clients," Todorov explained. He added that on top of facilitating the transfer of funds between companies, iBanFirst's UK licence also enables its clients to apply a single risk management strategy to their UK affiliates. The same applies to the fintech's clients in the UK, who will be able to benefit from the same services when trading with their European counterparts, including those in Bulgaria. Thus, international payments to and from the UK are significantly less affected by the changes imposed by Brexit.
Over the coming months, iBanFirst plans to focus on developing its core markets in Southeast Europe, namely Bulgaria and Romania, Todorov also said.
Founded in 2013, iBanFirst is a French company headquartered in Belgium. It facilitates cross-border transactions such as payments to suppliers or intercompany flows, and provides FX risk hedging. The company operates 12 offices in nine European countries, including Romania, Hungary and Italy. It is backed by Marlin Equity Partners, French entrepreneur Xavier Niel's holding company NJJ, the French investment bank's venture capital arm Bpifrance and French growth investor Elaia.
($ = 0.9372 euro)