Foreign exchange companies, also known as forex companies or currency exchange services, are businesses that allow consumers and companies to exchange currencies and transfer funds internationally. These companies play a vital role in facilitating global commerce and providing consumers and businesses access to foreign currencies. This comprehensive guide will explore the key aspects of forex companies, including their history, functions, regulation, major players, processes, and their role in the forex market.

A Brief History of Foreign Exchange Companies

The modern foreign exchange market traces its origins back to the 1400s with the advent of currency trading used by the Medici family in Florence. But the market really began to take shape in the 1800s with the creation of the gold standard monetary system. This required currencies to be backed by gold reserves, allowing exchange rates to remain fixed.

After World War II, the Bretton Woods Agreement established a system of fixed exchange rates pegged to the U.S. dollar. The market remained regulated until 1971 when the Nixon administration terminated convertibility of the dollar into gold. This allowed exchange rates to fluctuate based on supply and demand, giving birth to the modern global forex market.

With floating exchange rates, demand grew for companies dedicated to currency exchange. International payments and currency conversions became more complex. Banks remained reluctant to facilitate smaller retail currency transactions, so a window opened in the market. Pioneering forex companies like Travelex and Thomas Cook got their start in the 1970s and 1980s, converting money for travelers.

The internet age and e-commerce boom of the 1990s led forex companies to begin offering online services. Companies expanded beyond just travelers to small businesses, online retailers, immigrants sending remittances, and individual investors trading currencies. The market has grown rapidly since 2000, with advances in technology and payments infrastructure.

Major Functions of Foreign Exchange Companies

Forex companies serve both retail and institutional clients, providing a number of important services:

Retail Currency Exchange

This is the most common service, allowing walk-in customers to convert currencies instantly. Popular at airports and in tourist destinations, this facilitates travel around the world. Exchange rates and fees are set by each company.

Money Transfers and International Payments

Forex companies allow clients to send and receive funds globally through wire transfers, checks, drafts, or digital transfers. This supports international commerce and remittances.

Currency Trading Accounts

Many forex brokers now allow individual traders to open accounts for speculating on currency fluctuations and profits. Accounts offer leveraged trading with high liquidity.

Risk Management Products

Some companies offer forward contracts, options, swaps, and other products to help manage currency risk exposure for businesses engaging in cross-border transactions.

Foreign Currency Denominated Accounts

Forex companies may offer savings, checking, or investment accounts denominated in foreign currencies. Beneficial for clients living abroad or planning international transactions.

Foreign Exchange Consulting

In addition to transactions, forex companies provide consulting services to help businesses and investors make strategic decisions to manage international currency needs.

Regulation of Forex Companies

Given the importance of currency exchange to global markets, forex companies are regulated to varying degrees worldwide. Oversight aims to increase transparency, stabilize markets, and protect consumers. Regulators include:

  • Central Banks – Regulate interbank forex trading and set monetary policy. For example, the U.S. Federal Reserve and European Central Bank.
  • Securities Regulators – Enforce standards for forex brokers who handle investments and trading accounts. Such as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the U.S.
  • Specialized Forex Regulators – Specific authorities exist in some countries to regulate currency trading. Like the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) in the U.S.
  • Financial Consumer Protection – Watchdogs look out for predatory business practices and scams. Such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in the U.S.

Regulations require forex companies to hold reserve assets, submit financial reports, disclose risks to clients, avoid illicit transactions, and engage in fair and ethical business practices. Compliance keeps the industry transparent and stable.

Major Players in the Forex Industry

A variety of dominant forex companies operate globally and locally within the industry:

Money Transfer Operators

Well known brands like Western Union and MoneyGram focus on consumer money transfers and payments. Their networks of retail locations and agents give wide access.


Major banks like Citi, Deutsche, and UBS provide forex services institutional investors and corporations. They benefit from large balance sheets and creditworthiness.

Card and Payment Networks

Visa and Mastercard allow customers to make payments denominated in different currencies around the world.

Online Brokers

Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade, and other investment platforms allow individual traders to access currency markets.

Travel Services

Retail chains like Travelex located in airports convert money for leisure and business travelers.

Independent Local Exchange Services

Thousands of smaller mom-and-pop currency exchange outlets meet neighborhood consumer needs, especially ethnic communities sending remittances.

While a handful of global brands dominate, consumers have many options based on locations, needs, and preferences. The most competitive forex companies combine service, transparency, and optimal exchange rates.

The Currency Exchange Process

Exchanging money through a forex company involves a simple process with options for in-person, online, or over-the-phone services:

  1. Find a provider – Many options exist from major banks to local shops displayed on online comparison sites.
  2. Select desired currencies – Consumer states the amount and currencies to convert between. Common pairs include USD/EUR, USD/GBP, USD/MXN.
  3. Choose pickup or delivery method – Cash pickup at a branch location or delivered directly to the recipient’s bank account.
  4. Provide recipient details – For sent transfers, the recipient’s name, bank account, and contact info.
  5. Exchange currency – Provider converts at the current exchange rate and delivery method. Fees may apply.
  6. Receive funds – Customer picks up cash at selected location or recipient gets wired funds in account.

While forex companies aim to make this seamless, consumers should research to get optimal exchange rates and reliability. It’s vital to verify businesses are licensed and reputable.

Role of Forex Companies in the Currency Market

The foreign exchange market is a global, decentralized $6.6 trillion per day market facilitating currency trading between banks, corporations, governments, investors, and forex companies. Key functions include:

  • Market Access – Forex companies provide consumer access points and currency liquidity in the broader interbank market. Exchanges with forex companies represent about 5-6% of global daily forex transactions.
  • Price Discovery – Transactions through forex companies contribute to efficient price discovery based on supply and demand and determination of spot exchange rates.
  • Consumer Education – Forex companies produce research, analysis, news, and tools to help consumers make informed decisions managing currency risk.
  • Technology Infrastructure – Forex companies invest in technology from online trading platforms to payment rails that increase market accessibility and efficiency.
  • Compliance – Forex companies must comply with strict regulations, preventing illicit activity. This promotes market transparency and integrity.

While central banks and large institutions dominate volume, retail forex companies support market access and liquidity for consumers and small businesses. They continue to grow as an essential link in the global forex ecosystem.

Choosing a Reputable Forex Company

With thousands of options worldwide, selecting a trustworthy forex provider is crucial. Here are key factors to consider:

  • Licensed and Regulated – Ensure the company is registered with oversight bodies for consumer protections.
  • Operating History – Favor established companies with a long track record of reliable service.
  • Competitive Exchange Rates – Comparison shop rates against alternatives to get the optimal price.
  • Low, Transparent Fees – Watch out for hidden fees; pricing should be clear upfront.
  • Favorable Reviews – Check third-party review sites for positive customer experiences.
  • Secure Transactions – Privacy and security measures should protect against fraud or stolen data.
  • Multiple Currencies – Look for a wide range of currency pairs and global reach.
  • Delivery Options – Assess available local branch locations, online services, mobile accessibility.
  • Customer Service – Responsiveness to questions and support issues.

With sound comparisons and research, consumers can gain the most value exchanging currencies and transferring funds worldwide through a trusted forex company.


As the global economy has become increasingly interconnected, foreign exchange companies have grown into a vital link enabling currency conversions and cross-border payments for consumers, small businesses, and multinational corporations alike. While titans like Western Union and Travelex are household names, consumers should research all their options for the optimal combination of exchange rates, fees, and service when using a forex provider.

With transparent pricing, strong compliance with regulations, and advances in technology from online platforms to mobile apps, foreign exchange companies will continue adapting to meet demands of customers worldwide. The democratization of consumer access to foreign currencies supports global trade and finance across borders. So long as economies remain intertwined, vibrant competition within the currency exchange industry will lead to innovation benefitting consumers and businesses participating in global markets.