The ecstasy and peril of exponential growth

By on January 9th, 2017 in Editorial

Essentially, freemarket’s business is growing exponentially. More and more businesses are waking up to the fact that we offer a more consistently transparent and cost-effective service than banks and brokers, many of whom seek to exploit SMEs making international payments and currency exchanges.

Now, you might be familiar with apocryphal tales concerning the invention of chess; there are many variations, but the basic premise involves the game’s architect making an unusual payment request in return for his design.

The first recorded telling of the story was by Islamic scholar Ibn Khallikan in 1256, in which the inventor makes the ostensibly undemanding suggestion that his King pay for the innovation in wheat grains, with one grain of wheat on the chessboard’s first square, two on its second, four on its third, and so on – progressively doubling the amount of grain on each of the 64 squares.

The King – evidently not an astute mathematician – assumes this is a laughably cheap form of invoicing and happily agrees to the payment plan, apparently overlooking the fact that he is negotiating with the creator of the greatest strategy game of all time.

When the King’s beancounters return several days later to inform him that he has inadvertently promised the inventor 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 grains of wheat, the shortsighted monarch belatedly realises he is in debt to the tune of more wheat than he could ever hope to possess.

This story serves two functions. One is to highlight the extreme changes that can take place within a dynamic of exponential growth. In terms of freemarket, it’s clear to see that we are a rapidly growing company at the forefront of a sea change in the financial services industry.

“To expect to continue growing at this rate would be to expect to take over the world.”

But the other lesson is that exponential growth is impossible to sustain when finite resources are in play. And we recognise this; we are not megalomaniacs. To expect to continue growing at this rate would be to expect to take over the world. It would be like trying to fold a piece of paper 103 times and climb to the moon.

That is the kind of reckless thinking that leads to financial disasters – the idea that resources are abstract and endlessly exploitable, and that they should be taken advantage of with little thought for the consequences.

We think differently. In dealing with our customers – many of whom represent small and medium-sized businesses – we are well aware of the fact that their resources are finite and need to be preserved wherever and however possible.

It’s why we offer all of our customers a fixed 0.2% fee to help maximise savings on international payments and currency exchanges. It’s why we are entirely transparent about our terms and conditions. It’s why we’ve done everything we can to make FX transactions as quick and as simple as they can be.

It’s why we will continue to grow, and why we won’t try to enslave the world.


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James is freemarket’s Chief Commercial Officer. He has a history of finding new ways to solve age-old financial challenges and was responsible for launching some of the first online money transfer and prepaid card initiatives in Europe.


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