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Q&A with John Allen, VP Sales, Eastern USA

Don Curren June 14, 2019

Q: Can you tell us a little about your background and why you came to Cambridge?

A: I’ve been in the foreign currency and global payments space for my entire career. I started in a small, boutique firm here in DC and ended up at Cambridge after a chance encounter with one of the founders, Jacques Feldman.

Q: What was it that attracted you specifically to Cambridge?

A: I think it was Cambridge’s continual reinvestment in their people and technology, and that wasn’t something I saw with a lot of our competitors. That proved to be the right strategy, over time, which was evident when we were acquired by FLEETCOR.

Q: Can you tell me a little about your outside interests?

A: Outside of Cambridge, I really enjoy spending time with friends and family, and playing tennis and golf.

Q: How often do you hit the courts?

A: Not as often as I’d like – probably three or four times a week, weather permitting.

Q: What are your responsibilities at Cambridge, broadly described?

A: At Cambridge, I’m tasked with overseeing sales and new business development in the eastern US. As part of that, I’m responsible for ensuring that our team members have the capacity they need to perform at a high level.

Q: Can you tell me a little more about the NGO vertical? I know that’s one that you’re heavily involved in.

A: I’d say the biggest challenges of working with NGOs are the regulatory and compliance aspects associated with their business. NGOs, by the nature of the work they’re doing, are often some of the first – if not the first – organizations in some of the world’s most impoverished and otherwise troubled areas.

As a result, there can be real challenges in ensuring they’re able to do the work that is so essential to those regions. Oftentimes, they’re quite literally paving the way for other organizations to follow.

Q: How does that factor into some of the compliance and regulatory issues they confront

A: We were at conference earlier this year, and there was a speaker from the World Bank there. One of the challenges the speaker highlighted is the re-classification of NGOs as high-risk organizations from a banking a money movement persective.

Being labeled as a high-risk organization can have significant implications as NGOs seek to deliver on their missions abroad. The NGOs and those advocating on their behalf are working hard to challenge that notion.

The irony here being that the funding for many of these organizations often originates with the federal government, but because the various government entities don’t talk to one another, it’s difficult for those funds to flow into the areas where they’re needed most and where they’re being allocated.

Q: What do you think it is about Cambridge’s approach to the business that makes it particularly suited to the NGO vertical?

A: There’s a couple of different things. I think Cambridge’s proposition, to clients in this area is twofold. One, our FXEM group has been a tremendous value add. More often than not, these international development agencies, as I mentioned previously, are doing work in some of the more difficult to deal areas globally. When Cambridge acquired the FXEM team several years ago, they brought with them an extensive network of emerging and frontier market banking relationships. That’s been tremendously beneficial because they understand some of the challenges of remitting funds in those regions.

The second piece of that proposition is Cambridge’s compliance expertise. I think we have a really talented group of compliance experts here at Cambridge. They really understand what’s required, and I think we do a good job of giving clients the information they need to be successful in remitting those payments prior to a problem occurring, and I think that’s really where we differ from some of our competitors.

Q: What kind of growth potential do you see in the NGO sector for the company?

A: I think Cambridge is just now scratching the surface of the opportunities that exist. We’ve brought on a lot of prominent organizations over the last year, in this space. But I think we’re uniquely positioned to continue our success in the sector.

We’re pushing the envelope constantly in terms of who we partner with from a technology perspective. Despite being part of a very large organization, FLEETCOR’s approach is still very nimble, and they’re constantly looking for ways to enhance the current offering. I think this approach will help us to continually innovate and introduce ever-improving solutions as we move forward.

Q: Can you tell me a little more about how you the FLEETCOR acquisition has affected Cambridge generally, and in terms of the vertical?

A: I think the acquisition of Cambridge by FLEETCOR has been a tremendous win for both employees and our clients. Cambridge was reaching what in my mind what was sort of a critical mass as a privately held company. I think FLEETCOR has given us an opportunity to continue our growth, and the opportunity to expand the range of services provided to our clients.

Q: How would you describe the corporate culture at Cambridge?

A: I’m in a remote office. I work in our Washington, DC, office, and I can say it’s the first time in my career that I don’t mind coming in to work. The environment is very collaborative, both in our DC office and the broader organization. It’s very much a team-oriented approach, we need everyone onboard to win business and provide the best possible service to our existing client base.

Q: How many people are there in the Washington office?

A: We have six in Washington. We have a combination of both sales and trading.

Q: Can you tell us briefly about the geographic distribution of the NGOs we’re working with? When we talked before, you said obviously there’s a big concentration in Washington and New York. Where else are looking, in terms of the North American market and globally?

A: Global aid is everywhere and while there is large concentration of organization in both DC and New York, we work with organizations across the US. Outside of the US we have heavy concentrations of customers in Australia and throughout Europe.

In terms of where the work is being done, it’s predominantly in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.

Q: So, really then we’re talking about payments that extend all the way around the world, and into some complex market areas – challenging ones.

A: Absolutely. It’s as far-reaching as anything you can think of, and oftentimes aid organizations are the only outside organizations in the countries they’re working in.

Q: So really pioneering territory for the payments industry.

A: Absolutely.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about how you see Cambridge situated in terms of technology? I know that we touched on this briefly, but I’d like to get your thoughts on how you see Cambridge in this very dynamic, disruptive kind of environment that we’re in now.

A: I think Cambridge has the right approach to technology. We don’t have a blind eye to anything in the payments space, but we don’t adopt anything that we haven’t fully tested, and I think that is key to our technology strategy. We vet the technologies so we can adhere to Cambridge’s ultimate value proposition which is delivering payments reliably each and every time.