March 31, 2020
If football really is a religion, as some commentators and schools of sociology assert, then Grant Murray belongs to a bustling church.
Worshipping at the altar of Newcastle United, he has been a Magpies disciple since birth.
Even when he flew the North East nest as a teen, his piety never waned.
Now, having built a global career in the finance and foreign exchange sectors, Grant is back in his home city, his adulation for the team and its tenets just as devout.
As if to prove the point, the club’s messiah-like figure Kevin Keegan – his picture complementing a signed shirt – watches over Grant’s desk in the city’s TusPark business incubator hub.
“I used to go off and watch matches when I lived down south,” smiles Grant, remembering his time as a teenager when his father’s employment situation took the family to Essex.
“I would tell my mam I was playing rugby with Chelmsford; I’d pack my kit and tell her we were away.
“I’d then go and put my bag in the left luggage and head off to wherever Newcastle were playing – I went to places like West Ham and Ipswich.
“When I got back, I’d pick my bag up and rub my kit through a puddle to make it look like I’d been playing rugby,” laughs Grant, who grew up in Heaton.
Religion and football both pivot on ritualism, whether that be attending a dedicated place of worship or a stadium at a prescribed time in the week.
Moreover, both stir wider emotions around identity, belonging, self-worth and community pride – feelings for Grant that simmered away for years before dramatically reigniting.
It was perhaps not surprising that Grant, whose paternal grandmother Margaret Murray served as Lord Mayor of Newcastle in 1979, would eventually return to familiar territory.
The way it unfolded, however, was perhaps a little more unexpected.
“I’m your classic Boomerang Geordie,” says Grant, sitting in one of TusPark’s glass encased meeting rooms.
“I lived in the Middle East as a child, my father’s work took us to Essex, and then I worked in London and Australia.
“After living away for so long, I had a bit of an epiphany in 2017,” the 46-year-old reveals.
“I was working down south, and I’d got up at 5am to go to a networking event in Covent Garden that, when I got there, I quickly found wasn’t for me.
“I came away and walked through the city to meet an advisor I’d previously done business with.
“Going through Fleet Street and past Holburn Underground Station, I bought a couple of punnets of strawberries from a fruit stall,” continues Grant.
“I then began to look around me, listening to the conversations and the Cockney barrow boy shouting about his wares.
“I don’t know what it was exactly, but something hit me – I thought, ‘what am I doing here? I need to be back in the North East’.
“So I went home and told my wife we were moving,” adds Grant.
“The very next day I got in my car, drove up to Harrogate and rented a property. “That was the precursor to me coming back here.”
After leaving the North East in the 1980s, his return followed a winding road that included a number of stopping points at multinational companies, both in London and Australia.
Following a job in First Chicago Bank & Trust’s clearing team in the early 1990s, Grant moved to banking behemoth JP Morgan Chase & Co in 1994 as a foreign exchange manager.
Swapping the US giant for the Netherlands’ ABN AMRO, he spent the latter half of the 1990s and the new millennium’s early months in foreign exchange sales.
From there, the landscape shifted, with Grant heading to Sydney to take up the position of foreign exchange director at National Australia Bank.
He returned to London in early 2004 and spent three years as a director within the financial institution’s UK hub before embarking on a vice-president role with market riser Santander, after having initially joined Alliance & Leicester.
At that time, the Spanish operator was rolling out significant growth plans – which included taking over Alliance & Leicester – and Grant quickly became ingrained into its global corporate banking arm.
He wasn’t aware at the time, but his time with the Iberian-headquartered lender would lead to a critical junction in his career.
“When I came back from Sydney, they offered me a couple of jobs,” reveals Grant, who spent his early years studying at Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School.
“One was in London, and one was to run the currency side of the Yorkshire/ Clydesdale Bank franchises that National Australia Bank owned at the time.
“A by-product of taking on the latter was that the banks had a big presence in the North East; it wasn’t necessarily planned, but it fired something up in me,” he reveals.
“I worked there for a couple of years and then Alliance & Leicester Commercial Bank started to head-hunt me. They wanted me to build their foreign exchange offering.
“I ran it for a year and then Santander bought us.
“I ran teams that covered North East England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and a typical week might have seen me in Newcastle, Teesside, Edinburgh, Belfast, Leeds and London,” continues Grant.
“But the business increasingly became run out of Scotland and then the redundancies came.
“They split the investment and retail banks and a number of us lost our roles across the treasury team.
“I was then kind of on my own and I started up a company – FXact – in 2016,” says Grant, who is supplementing his work with XE.com by investing his experience into the next generation as a guest lecturer at Newcastle University’s Business School and the University of Huddersfield.
“I was essentially outsourcing advice across areas such as financial consultancy and foreign exchange hedging.
“That was when I had my epiphany at that London fruit stall,” adds Grant, whose family previously owned a paper shop on Heaton’s Benton Road.
With FXact growing steadily, Grant received a call that would prove pivotal in his North East return.
A contact was helping sell apartments in Newcastle’s Hadrian’s Tower, but needed Grant’s local knowledge to provide interested parties with greater insight.
The conversations flowed and Grant was made aware of Newcastle’s growing potential.
His slow-burning passion for the city and wider region was about to ignite.
“I’m an economist and strategist, and I knew there were no currency companies up here at the time,” he says.
“I also knew the region’s digital and fintech sectors were going somewhere.”
Grant contacted Paul Lancaster, the founder of Plan Digital UK that organises Newcastle Startup Week and, he says, the originator of his Boomerang Geordie moniker.
Paul in turn put Grant in touch with Ian Farrar – the man behind the Industry Angel business podcast and Carpeway advisory group – which was the kernel for Grant’s launching of a division of XE.com, the money transfer and currency conversion operator, in Newcastle.
“I will forever be in Paul’s debt for the help he’s given me,” says Grant.
“One of Carpeway’s major facets is its leadership walks, which offer the chance for like-minded people to talk about ideas in the great outdoors – and it gave me my next epiphany.
“We were climbing up Roseberry Topping and it allowed me to explain my idea for XE.com.
“Later, when I spoke to XE.com and told them my plan, the opportunities and the cost benefits by way of rental costs, they said go for it!
“More people are doing things digitally and have increasing currency needs,” continues Grant.
“XE.com is a $9 billion business that’s part of Euronet Worldwide – which is a massive ATM company – and it is recognised by 300 million users.”
Launched last summer, Grant’s venture is progressing well, having been bolstered by a chance encounter with Invest Newcastle’s director Jen Hartley at a North East Times’ breakfast event.
“We were stood at the bar in Motel One and initially got chatting because neither of us could find the milk for our coffees,” recalls Grant.
“Jen and Invest Newcastle really helped create a massive splash when I launched XE.com.
“Our relationship also allowed me to attend the Barcelona Smart City Expo World Congress in November,” he reveals.
“I was part of something where global companies – who rely on organisations like XE.com to move money around – were all in attendance; it was terrific.
“I’ve also had great support from the Department for International Trade and the North East England Chamber of Commerce, which have introduced me to some fantastic businesses.”
With such strong initial foundations in place, Grant says he’s excited about what his personal and professional investment can deliver for Newcastle and the wider North East.
“There is a real collective attitude here to get things done,” he adds.
“My outlook probably comes from the same sense of civic obligation my grandmother had as Lord Mayor, but I want to change the world and change it for the benefit of the North East.
“I want to give something back.”