United Kingdom

Richest banker in the world Joseph Safra weighs up bid for Travelex

A family investment vehicle backed by the world's richest banker is weighing a takeover bid for airport currency giant Travelex.

City sources said an investment firm working for the Safra family is one of the potential bidders to have lodged interest in buying Travelex with advisory group PWC, which has been appointed to find a buyer.

The head of the Safra dynasty is Joseph Safra, who is ranked by Forbes magazine as the world's richest banker with an estimated fortune of $25.2billion.

An investment firm working for the Safra family is one of the potential bidders to have lodged interest in buying Travelex with advisory group PWC

The secretive family, originally from Lebanon but now based in Brazil, built their fortune through private banks. Today they own a wide range of assets, including the Gherkin building in the City.

The family's interest comes as Travelex wrestles with the impact of an apparent fraud at its owner, a cybersecurity attack at the start of the year and a big downturn in sales following the Covid-19 crisis. 

Travelex relies on footfall at airports, which have been hammered by the pandemic's impact on aviation. It was set up by entrepreneur Sir Lloyd Dorfman in 1976 with one small bureau de change in London.

He grew the company through a series of mergers and acquisitions, including the £440million takeover of Thomas Cook's Global and Financial Services business in 2001.

Finablr – a vehicle controlled by Bavaguthu Raghuram Shetty, an Indian tycoon with business interests in Abu Dhabi – bought Travelex for around £1billion in 2014, netting Sir Lloyd a multi-million pound fortune.

Shetty also founded NMC Health, a Gulf-based hospitals firm that grew into a FTSE 100-listed business. However, NMC Health collapsed into administration earlier this year amid allegations of fraud and debts of almost $6.6billion.

Finablr was also hit by the scandal surrounding Shetty, who is the firm's largest shareholder. In March, Finablr's board said it had discovered $100million of undisclosed cheques that may have benefited third parties.

Joseph Safra is ranked by Forbes as the world's richest banker with a $25.2bn fortune

The following month the company said its debts stood at around $1.3billion, which was 'materially above' the levels of indebtedness previously disclosed to the board.

Finablr's lenders appointed PWC to find an acquirer for Travelex after talks about a liquidity crunch at the firm.

Late last month, reports suggested credit rating agency Standard & Poor's had downgraded Travelex to 'selective default' after the company failed to make a €14.4million interest payment on bonds worth a total of €360million.

City sources said other potential bidders circling Travelex include Marlin Equity Partners, an investment firm based in Los Angeles.

Sir Lloyd, asked whether he was interested in buying Travelex back, reportedly said: 'Am I actively doing anything? No, I am not. Let's see how it plays out.'

J Safra Sarasin and Marlin Equity Partners did not return calls for comment.

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