Need some yen in a hurry? Try the Web.
New services to let travellers order foreign currencies on-line for overnight delivery
Special to The Globe and Mail
Thursday, March 8, 2001
All the credit and debit cards in the world haven't eliminated the business traveller's need for a few Macau patacas or Malawi kwachas in the pocket before heading out.
It's not easy to get those on a day's notice. But such foreign currencies, along with the more familiar German marks, Swiss francs and English pounds, will soon be available to Canadian travellers via the Web to be delivered overnight to the customer's door.
That innovation in foreign-exchange delivery is already available in the United States through such venues as the Chase Currency to Go site of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. (http://www.currency-to-go.com) and the OANDA Corporation currency site at oanda.com.
Both sites offer 75 or more foreign currencies. Users of the sites must have a valid major credit card; the Web-based ordering process is encrypted for security. Delivery of the cash is made to the address of the credit-card holder.
Overnight delivery is available to most locations (it may be second-day for smaller communities) by such courier services as United Parcel Service of America Inc. and Federal Express Corp. for a usual charge of about $10 (U.S.).
New York-based OANDA, which claims 10 million page views a month, provides currency conversion and localization tools to which it has recently added the foreign-currency transaction services of Thomas Cook Group Ltd. of Britain, which expects to offer a Canadian version of the service by July, says Tracy Hammock, Cook's vice-president for wholesale services in Washington.
Thomas Cook charges its own head-office-determined conversion rates, but browsers can check Oanda's survey of rates elsewhere to decide if Cook is competitive before making a commitment.
The system is intended to work much the same way in Canada, although Cook has not yet determined who its Web partner will be. The major Canadian banks, as well as Oanda, are candidates.
"In Canada, we are looking to extend the on-line preparations because we need bilingual text in English and French," Mr. Hammock says. But no matter what language they speak, "customers are not necessarily wanting to go to a branch to get currency delivered," says Mr. Hammock, who points to Web-based ordering as being faster and more convenient.
Chase puts an upper limit of $1,000 to be converted on exchanges for U.S. customers; Mr. Hammock anticipates a ceiling of $1,500 for Canada.
Meanwhile, American Express Canada Inc. of Markham, Ont., also is planning to follow its parent company in the United States by offering a Web-based connection for ordering traveller's cheques.
Right now, they're available in the United States through Amex's site (http://www.americanexpress.com) in U.S. currency only. Customers can order a maximum of $1,000 worth of cheques every 14 calendar days. There's a charge of $10, though the fee is waived for Amex gold and platinum card holders. A $3.95 charge pertains for delivery by mail in the United States, with variable rates for overnight or second-day courier service.
"We are expecting something similar in Canada to come on-line this year," says Audrey Adams-White, Amex Canada's public-affairs manager. The company expects a similar fee structure and delivery arrangement.
Outside of Internet and toll-free telephone ordering, regular customers can also get foreign-exchange delivery on an informal basis by some currency houses. Bendix Foreign Exchange Corp. in Toronto, for example, offers courier delivery to its corporate clients in Southern Ontario, vice-president Julius Gryguc says. Such customers can make the request by phone and get overnight delivery without a fee.
"It's not a large amount of cash. We're not Brinks. We would do a couple of thousand dollars."
Although Bendix isn't yet planning Web-based ordering, Victoria-based Custom House Currency Exchange wants to present an Internet service within three months, both for U.S. and Canadian clients, says Ian Fairwell, vice-president of business development.
Basing its rates on its own head-office compilation of international currency markets, Custom House is going to team with Dallas-based Travel Currency Inc. at its TravelCurrency.com site to offer a spread of currencies comparable to that of Cook or Chase, using FedEx as its courier and charging fees of about $10 for overnight delivery and $6 for second-day service.
Credit cards still play a huge role for travelling business people. Of the $1.6-trillion in purchases made on Visa, says Richard Pyves, senior vice-president of marketing for the Visa Canada Association in Toronto, about 10 per cent of transactions are in foreign currency.
"Travel agents in Canada recommend plastic -- credit and debit cards -- rather than cash," Mr. Fairwell says. "The use of the debit card is much more widespread in Canada than in the U.S."
Automated teller machines (ATMs) are also increasingly familiar and a ready source of local cash overseas. ATMs compatible with Visa or Plus systems can be searched worldwide on the Visa International site (http://www.visa.com); for Mastercard or Cirrus access, ATMs can be searched at http://www.mastercard.com.
Yet it remains standard travel advice to have some local currency jingling in your pocket before arrival, if only for the taxi from the airport. Foreign bank machines may not be present or in working order at the airport, and airport exchange kiosks charge higher rates than banks and may be closed on your arrival.