Travelex: Embracing Continuous Innovation to Stay Ahead

Claire Woolley is head of HR Technology at London-based Travelex, the world’s largest foreign-exchange provider. Woolley discusses business agility, HR innovation, and the company’s plans to stay ahead of its competitors.

Steve Dunne August 20, 2019
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Frequent travellers through any major airport will recognise the name Travelex—the world’s largest foreign-exchange provider, operating in more than 60 countries around the world. In addition to its well-known retail presence, Travelex has a robust wholesale business and an expanding online presence. 

I spoke with Claire Woolley, head of HR Technology, Travelex, based in London, to talk about HR innovation and the company’s plans to stay ahead of its competitors.

What did Travelex have to do to create a truly global HR function?

Being global was reflected in the number of systems and processes we had accrued as we grew as a business. We had more than 2,000 different HR processes, and our teams around the world were using manual systems such as spreadsheets. There wasn’t any single repository for HR data, and most of our workflows and requests were completed with paper forms. Our HR operating model had to change in order to scale globally and provide a world-class service to the rest of the business.

A lot of companies today talk about the need to be more agile, and a big part of that is having accurate, reliable data to inform decision-making. Can you tell us about the importance of having data Travelex can rely on?

I don’t think you can overstate the importance of data to help guide faster, better decisions. For example, with Workday, we now have a single view of all employee data across the world. Leaders don’t have to wait for a monthly meeting to see data that could be out of date. They can take action straightaway. And that’s game-changing for challenges around things like attrition and retention. It’s given our managers new power, capability, and insight.

To your point about being agile, we now have an immediate view of overtime, which means we can react to the needs of the business while monitoring spend and overtime spend. That isn’t something you want to review retrospectively if you want stay on top of it.

Another cornerstone of agility is the idea that innovation is continuous, and not something a business achieves and then it is done. How do you think about that at Travelex?

I think the very fact that my role exists showcases the importance of continuous improvement, innovation, and increasing the return on investment of technology. From an HR innovation perspective, we’re constantly looking at ways to innovate and improve the way we operate. You can’t do that with some of the legacy tools out there, because they’re not made to be agile or change with the needs of the business. We choose technology that enables a path for people to get their jobs done, helps increase efficiency and paves a path for future growth.

The Travelex workforce is spread both geographically and in terms of the type of employees, from highly specialised fintech experts through to retail workers. How does that impact your business and your workforce management processes?

The majority of our employees are retail-based, from sales consultants using point-of-sales systems all day, through to managers who are covering large geographical areas and frequently travelling. These employees don’t access their desktop computers because they are on the move and focused on selling, so giving them access to HR tools via mobile is absolutely key. If you look at UK payroll, for example, we saw mobile adoption shoot up. Once employees figured out that they could quickly enter overtime up to three days before the payroll cut off and see that amount in their paycheck, the numbers exploded.

Payroll is one of those areas that sometimes gets taken for granted in the HR technology space. How important is it for Travelex to get payroll right, and how did the landscape look when you arrived at the company?

I’m really passionate about simplicity, and one of the first things I did when I joined was simplify a lot of the business processes. With Workday, the possibilities are endless, so you have to be careful you don’t over-engineer processes. With payroll and other areas, you have to have design principles in place, and we put three key rules to adhere to. Firstly, think global, act local, meaning standardise for global, except where local legislation dictates otherwise; next, focus on what should be done, not what could be done; and finally, have one system of truth for all employee data.

We’ve talked about the opportunities when moving HR into the cloud. What are some of the benefits Travelex has experienced from Workday?

If you think about the stuff we simply couldn’t do before, there are some really powerful things, such as enabling managers to immediately address attrition and retention using the worklets in dashboards. That is touch-of-a-button stuff that can give immediate data to inform decision making. Then, having the confidence in our HR data, knowing that what lives and breathes in one system is the truth and we can make faster, better decisions. Last, but not least, I think Workday has us covered for the future, as it’s a scalable, flexible, and adaptable tool that can support our global growth.

What about future innovation at Travelex and how you are thinking about the future?

The foreign exchange market is constantly evolving. The number of people travelling increases year-on-year and customer habits are changing, so we need to ensure we’re delivering the products they need. Our Chief Product and Innovation Officer Gareth Williams is also head of innovation and strategy, so we’re able to tie HR and innovation together to ensure we are heading in the right direction. We have a dedicated “future of work” team who look at the skills we need both now and in the future, as well as how we are going to deliver those skills within the business.

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