Follow the Leader: Barry McCarthy, Assure Hedge

Barry McCarthy, founder and CEO of Assure Hedge.

In the latest in our series of interviews with business leaders about their journey so far and plans for future success, we speak to Barry McCarthy, founder and CEO of Assure Hedge in Dublin.

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During 15 years as a self-employed financial markets trader, Barry McCarthy bought and sold stocks, commodities and derivatives in the Dublin, London, Gibraltar, Chicago and Singapore markets. Wanting to do more to help SMEs manage their foreign currency risk, he founded Assure Hedge, using his expertise in algorithmic trading systems to create an automated online hedging platform. A business mentor, speaker and educator, he also helped establish Ireland’s first Diploma in Financial Trading at Independent College Dublin.

What is Assure Hedge’s elevator pitch?

“Our product is an automated, Financial Conduct Authority-authorised, web-based platform that takes the hassle out of Forex (FX) market hedging, making it easy to manage foreign currency risk exposure. We have a rapid sign-up process with instant pricing and execution, making it really easy for an SME to eliminate their FX risk. We cut the middleman out of the process, and empower SMEs to take control of their own risk management.”

What was the key motivation and raison d’être behind your business?

“I visited the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in Illinois, and was fascinated by its history, by how all the farmers and cereal producers got together to eliminate each other’s risk. After 15 years of trading financial instruments for profit, I realised I wanted to build a product that actually helps people. At Assure Hedge, we want to modernise the way that businesses manage FX risk. Through technology, we believe we can make these products accessible to millions of businesses that haven’t had them before.”

Recommended Reading: Follow The Leader: Declan Mahon, Collar & Cuff

Looking back now at the early stages of your business, would you do anything differently?

“We would be quicker to get the prototypes ready and to test them with customers, and undertake more iterative prototype testing rather than trying to build too much too quickly. Also, I would spend a lot more time listening to customers, understanding their problems in much more detail. I can’t stress how important it is to spend time with the customer right at the start – although that’s something which is challenging for many new businesses to do.”

What keeps you motivated and engaged to drive the business on?

“Creating amazing products, which are truly impactful for the customer. Also, the people I work with – helping the team to develop, and building their positivity and support through belief in what we’re creating.”

What does achievement and success look like for Assure Hedge?

“My number parameter of success is gaining new customers through referrals from existing ones; having positive feedback loops resulting in new clients using our products. We know we’re doing a good job when people are actually willing to refer their friends, acquaintances and business connections to the product. Partnerships with banks and FX brokers are also indicators that we’re doing something right.”

“We may be one of the few firms that is growing in the pre-Brexit environment because our solution solves problems for businesses affected by it”

Barry McCarthy, founder and CEO, Assure Hedge

What’s the best business advice you have ever been given?

“‘A brave man dies once, a coward dies a thousand times over.’ In a new business, there are a million little things to worry about, but there’s no point sweating every last one. You just do the best you can do.”

What has been your proudest achievement with your business to date?

“Our proudest achievement was when our method of authorisation was approved by the Financial Conduct Authority, and then shortly afterwards, the first live transaction came through from one of our customers. It was a £20,000 transaction, and was a world first for both the customer and for an FX hedge, in that they priced and executed in real time electronically and over the counter, and it was completely bespoke to their requirements.”

Your approach as leader is best described by which three words?

“Trust, respect, empowerment.”

Recommended Reading: Follow the Leader: Andreea Wade,

Did you have a role model or mentor in business who helped you establish and grow Assure Hedge?

“Rob Smith, who is former chief technology officer of GETCO, one of the largest algorithmic trading firms in the world. I met him at a drinks reception at the Singapore Exchange, and we became friends. He has been a great mentor and support, and was one of the first investors in Assure Hedge.”

How are you preparing and planning for Brexit in your business?

“We’re the answer to that question: our product is a solution to one of the symptoms of Brexit – currency volatility. We may be one of the few firms that is growing in the pre-Brexit environment, because our solution solves problems for businesses affected by it. Our own preparation will be around our regulatory requirements. We’re regulated in the UK, which means that if Brexit goes ahead, we will have to find an alternative regulatory jurisdiction, in an EU country – ideally Ireland.”

How has being part of the Dogpatch Labs innovation hub helped your business?

It’s really good for our profile: it’s a prestigious place to be based and everybody wants to visit us here. The biggest advantage would be the community. It’s very powerful – there’s a strong spirit of companies helping each other, and solving problems for each other, making introductions. We’ve even gained customers among the companies at Dogpatch. There are also lots of events, for networking and business development opportunities, and for building friendships.”

Why are hubs such as Dogpatch key to helping boost Ireland’s economy?

“They’re creating jobs, or they’re helping create jobs. The dynamics of a new business mean you have to be able to change rapidly, and that can be up in size or down in size depending on circumstances. A place like Dogpatch allows you to be flexible because there are no long-term leases. If we were not accommodated here, we would not have hired as many people as we have.”

Parting shot: what’s next for Assure Hedge?

“We’re investigating expansion to Illinois and Singapore as beachheads into those geographical areas. And as well as physical expansion, we’re looking at technological expansion. We’re adding new products around interest rate and commodities hedging. We want to help agricultural producers to hedge their milk and corn prices, and offer interest rate hedging solutions for SMEs that have very low rate loans. Currency options are now, for the first time, widely available to SMEs on the Assure Hedge platform. An option enables a business to be protected from negative currency moves, while at the same time still benefit from favourable gains.”

By Penelope Rance

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