The Classroom Project Turned Multimillion-Dollar Enterprise

 

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Isaac torres, President, InterCambio Express. Photo by Marc Daffinee.

InterCambio Express, a money-transferring service specifically designed for the Latino community, has a slogan that summarizes its mission: “We are the company that unites family,” says president and founder Isaac Torres. “We want people to spend good times with their relatives instead of being worried about the money that they sent—why it hasn’t arrived or why it costs so much to send it.” By taking common worries out of the equation, Torres strives to provide the best possible option for his clients.

A Global Perspective

Torres grew up in a family of small-business owners in Mexico City and knew from an early age that he wanted to follow in their footsteps. After graduating with a B.S. in accounting from Universidad National de Autonomia in 1990, he worked as a senior auditor at PriceWaterhouseCoopers and later at German transnational company Hoechst AG (now Sanofi-Aventis).

“I was responsible for paying all the imports made from Canada, Europe, and the United States,” Torres recalls. “Being exposed to international markets allowed me to become familiar with different currencies and their financial products like futures, forwards, and hedging, among others.”

Torres adopted a financial perspective that was influenced by transactions made around the globe, which motivated him to move to the United States and learn that language of business. Torres came to the US to attend Indiana University in 1995 as an international student.

“My goal was to learn English quickly, so I settled in northern Indiana, where the low Latino population guaranteed my exposure to English and the American culture,” he says.

Torres attended Indiana University–South Bend where, as part of an MBA class project, he created a business plan for an Internet-based money-transfer service that would help the Hispanic population support their families back home.

Torres had created a solid business plan to fill a market need. He saw no reason not to try and turn the project into a real company. “The plan became reality in 1999, when InterCambio Express was founded,” he says.

In 2008, InterCambio was named one of Indiana Economic Development Corporation’s “50 Indiana Companies to Watch.”

The “A-ha!” Moment

The idea for InterCambio Express actually stemmed from a money-wiring incident that had happened a few years before.

“One day I sent money to my sister in Mexico so she could buy flowers for our mother,” Torres says. “Much to my surprise, I realized I was getting a horrible exchange rate. I even double-checked with the person at the counter to make sure the rate was correct. The answer was ‘yes,’ but I had no choice than to proceed with the transaction.”

Left with a bad taste in his mouth, Torres made a phone call to his former employer and asked about the exchange rate for Mexican pesos vs. US dollars.

When his marketing management class professor challenged the students to come up with a winning business plan, Torres drew upon feeling appalled by how unfair the exchange rate was for all the people that consistently sent money to their families in other countries.

“That’s when I had an ‘a-ha!’ moment,” Torres says. “I realized that money transferring could be a good business opportunity, and that it would also fill a void in the marketplace for the Hispanic population, providing a much needed service. As the semester progressed, various business ideas from other classmates were discarded because they were not feasible, but mine made it all the way to the end, which inspired me even more. At the end of the semester, with the help of two professors, I set out to establish the company.”

InterCambio Express

Headquartered: Elkhart, Indiana

Founded: 1999

Number of Employees: 250

Reach: Over 1,500 locations in 30 states and Washington, DC

Company Summary: InterCambio Express is a money transmitter company that specializes in wiring money to Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.

Unprecedented Growth

InterCambio Express has been growing consistently from the moment it was created.

“In the first couple of years it grew in the triple digits,” Torres says. “In the last ten years it has been growing in the double digits, even through the recession. What started with thousands of dollars in transfers grew to millions of dollars in transfers a year, and it is now getting closer to two billion dollars in transfers from the United States to Latin American countries.”

Besides providing money transfer services, InterCambio has added personal loans, car title loans, domestic and international bill payments, domestic and international top-ups, and tax preparation to its menu of services.

“Our goal is to become a one-stop shop Latino financial services provider,” Torres says.

Mobile Money

InterCambio Express has been able to keep a steady growth rate by joining the mobile revolution. A new app was recently created to make accessibility easier for clients.

“We have to evolve with the times,” Torres says. “This year we will be launching the mobile app so that customers can use our services using Apple, Android, and Windows platforms. We will be launching a huge digital campaign to promote it.”

Sky’s the Limit

From a geographical standpoint, InterCambio Express is prepared to expand to every state.

“We will provide traditional services along with the mobile app services and become a multiplatform money service provider,” Torres explains. “We are also looking to expand our services in other regions of the world where outflows and inflows show a growing or stable need for family money transfers.”

There are some constants, however, that aren’t likely to change at InterCambio Express. “Our focus on our customers’ needs will always be at the forefront,” Torres says.

“We aim to have the best customer service in the industry, and we will continue being sure of that. We take very seriously the fact that we are handling people’s money. We strive to improve our clients’ lives by making financial transactions simple, reliable, convenient, and cost-effective. Our mission will not be
changing.”