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Custom House founder launches new foreign exchange firm

Published June 22, 2015

Like most serial entrepreneurs, Peter Gustavson just couldn’t ignore opportunity when it came knocking.


Brendan Marsden is the branch manager of EncoreFX’s new Ottawa office.

A Manitoba native who built Custom House into one of the world’s largest non-bank foreign exchange companies before selling it to Western Union for US$370 million in 2009, Mr. Gustavson had planned to “work on my golf swing and enjoy life” in retirement.

But after talking to friends who were still in the industry, he realized things had changed, and not for the better.

“The industry was consolidating all the decision-making back in head offices in New York or Denver or London,” he said in an interview with OBJ on Monday. “People pined for the good old days when they could help customers by building risk structures that were appropriate for them, that met their needs.”

So after his five-year non-compete period ended in 2014, Mr. Gustavson and former Custom House executive Paul Lennox launched EncoreFX, which provides foreign exchange services to businesses across Canada.

EncoreFX now has offices in seven Canadian cities, including Ottawa. The local branch, which officially opened in early March, is headed by former Custom House executive Brendan Marsden.

“We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the people that wanted to come on board with us and take that risk of a startup,” said Mr. Gustavson.

So far, he added, revenues have been five times what he expected early on, forcing the young firm to completely rewrite its upcoming quarterly forecasts.

“It’s a nice problem to have,” he said.

An OBJ Forty Under 40 winner in 2012 who had stayed on with Western Union after the 2009 sale, Mr. Marsden said he jumped at the chance to be reunited with the former Custom House management team.

“Those were exciting times,” the Ottawa native said of his early days working with Mr. Gustavson and Mr. Lennox. “We were empowered to make decisions locally. Some of those things changed as we moved into a large organization that’s very slow to move. For me, I’ve always been more of an entrepreneur, and to be able to have the flexibility and the authority to make local decisions that affect customers was a great opportunity. Things are changing constantly, and we’re able to move at a fast enough pace to meet those changes.”

EncoreFX provides a range of foreign exchange services for companies of all sizes, including spot transactions, international payments to suppliers and long-term risk management strategies that allow businesses to lock in exchange rates and minimize the risks of dealing in a foreign currency.

Mr. Marsden said many of his clients are not-for-profits that need help to “navigate the waters of foreign exchange” in different countries. He also deals extensively with companies in the high-tech, manufacturing and agriculture sectors as well as individual entrepreneurs who are launching startups of their own.

“They hear the Peter Gustavson story and they love it,” he said.

The company now has about 65 employees across Canada, including five at the Ottawa branch, many of them former Custom House staffers. EncoreFX is opening a Toronto office shortly and continues to hire people “almost daily,” Mr. Gustavson said.

So far, Mr. Marsden said, he couldn’t be happier with his decision to join the fledgling firm.

“Success has been quite awesome to start off with,” he said. “It’s been fantastic.”

David Sali Published on June 22, 2015 – Ottawa Business Journal