WorldRemit share the secret to their success and rapid scale-up over 2014

 

WorldRemit has enjoyed a rapid trajectory with a number of launches recently. Ismail Ahmed started up this company with the vision of providing a low-fee digital service, moving the agent model of money transfer to an online one in the $580 billion remittances market.

Curious to understand how WorldRemit grew so rapidly into digital channels, I caught up with Jeffrey Alan Pietras, Vice President, International Product Development at WorldRemit. As the year draws to a close Jeffrey reflects on the progress made this year and their ambitious plans for 2015.

 

imageJeffrey, please could you give us a brief background about yourself and an introduction to WorldRemit?

WorldRemit was founded in 2010 by Ismail Ahmed with an idea of changing the money transfer industry, having experienced a degree of expense and inconvenience first hand. WorldRemit began as an online service that enabled people to send money to friends and family in other countries.  Customers can today use WorldRemit anywhere, anytime on their computer, smartphone or tablet. For those receiving money, WorldRemit offers a range of options including bank deposit, cash collection, Mobile Money, and mobile airtime top-up.

This year WorldRemit has seen significant expansion, with new products, channels and partnerships in important corridors around the world.

I joined WorldRemit this year, and bring to my role a combination of experience from working with global players and growing start-up companies. I have worked within the converging financial services, payments, mobile & digital commerce industries at global players including J.P. Morgan, Western Union, Nokia and Yahoo!. This is complemented by my transactional experience with growing start-up companies.

WorldRemit has been expanding rapidly recently. Could you please give us a background, and a summary of your current footprint?

imageYes, WorldRemit’s international reach has grown significantly in the past year. Our service is now available to senders in 50 countries, up from 35 earlier in the year. Last month WorldRemit launched in the United States, which is expected to become one of the company’s largest markets, once fully online in 2015.

The number of countries to which people can send money with WorldRemit’s platform has also increased significantly over 2014, growing from 100 to 117. Among the new additions were 15 countries in the emerging Central & Latin America region.

Those are significant achievements indeed. What has driven your recent growth?

A critical enabler has been the $40M investment by Accel Partners (an early backer of Facebook, Dropbox and Spotify) in March this year. We have since been steadily growing our staff as well as our market presence. We now have over 110 employees and plan to open a new US office in Denver, Colorado shortly.

From a product perspective, we recently launched a successful version of our mobile App for iOS as well as Android. We continue to be one of the most flexible remittance platforms in terms of service interoperability, providing more choice for the way in which senders and receivers can conduct their transactions.

We have a growing number of mobile partnerships to enable instant mobile wallet transfers which have seen great traction in 2014. We currently enable mobile wallet transfers to EcoNet Wireless subscribers, as also to Safaricom, Globe, Smart, MTN, and Vodafone to name just a few.

Jeffrey, what has been the secret to your success?

imageIn my opinion there are two things that set us apart in our industry:

1) the interoperability of our digital money transfer platform and

2) our customer satisfaction rates

As I mentioned before, the WorldRemit platform is one of the most flexible in terms of the interoperability which we offer – this allows us to stay relevant to senders as well as receivers in facilitating the means by which they would like to conduct their transaction.

For instance, aside from cash pickup and bank account transfers, the WorldRemit platform easily integrates with mobile operators to tap into quickly evolving payment ecosystems whereby we can enable mobile wallet transfers. Our platform provides us the flexibility to offer new send and receive options in alignment with partners to truly service the evolving needs of the international remittance market globally, as “one size fits all” does not work in this changing industry.

And on a related note, our flexible money transfer platform & business model equates into a high level of customer satisfaction. Without an agent intermediary (like in the traditional money transfer business), WorldRemit can be truly customer-centric and tailor a money transfer service that delivers speed, convenience, and low-cost to the sender and receiver.

In an era of declining brand attributes for the traditional money transfer business, WorldRemit continues to garner great positive feedback on our service and a high level of customer retention.

What are some of the main challenges for the remittances industry?

The evolution of the international remittance market is fragmented and multi-dimensional – a real challenge in creating a consistent norm for a global scale business which is disrupting the traditional MTOs. In some markets the remittance ecosystem is dominated by financial institutions. In other markets, the ecosystem is driven more by retailers and mobile operators as traditional financial players have not touched the majority of consumers with their services. This fragmentation has led to a number of externalities which influence the evolving ecosystem country by country (e.g. regulatory bodies, mobile operating systems, retail point of sale infrastructure, etc.).

Another challenge in the evolution of the business are new regulations. Especially of interest at the moment are APMs (alternative payment methods) like BitCoin and the influence this will have on the industry.

Digitization is another huge challenge in this industry. How do the traditional MTOs modernize their agent-based model when digital money transfer platforms are cannibalizing the trade (especially with multi-channel offers)? And, what roles will digital consumer services (e.g. social & messaging) play in the consumer to consumer money transfer space?

What are some of the key changes you have observed in the money transfer industry over 2014?

In line with increased regulation in the industry, particularly around the KYC (know your customer) and KYA (know your agent) element of the business, many traditional firms have incurred high compliance costs to try to modernize antiquated offline procedures.

With the added costs of doing business in the offline world, margin compression remains a constant concern for some players. With more consumer choice in money transfer providers (both online and offline), customer acquisition and retention costs are a big marketing concern as brand alone might not be enough these days. I expect to see these concerns continue to play out into 2015.

What are some of the trends you expect to see over 2015 and beyond?

The most exciting trend I anticipate in 2015 (hopefully or in the years to come) is some “reverse innovation” in the payments and remittance space.

The media seems to have bias on the way that consumers would embrace a Western mobile payments ecosystem (e.g. ApplePay) as a global standard. However, with a head-start, many emerging or developing markets in Asia and Africa have robust mobile payment ecosystems already.

While there are some inherent development reasons behind these, I am excited to see what influence these ecosystems in Africa or Asia might have on the evolving consumer mobile payments space in the US and Europe.


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Jeffrey Alan Pietras - Vice President, International Product Development at WorldRemit

Responsible for all business development, partnerships, and new market opportunities for WorldRemit. Jeff has extensive knowledge of strategic product & partnership development with a particular focus on consumer mobile & online services within the emerging markets.

Jeff holds an MBA from London Business School and a BS in Finance from the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia. He has lived in several European countries, North America, and Middle East and speaks several languages including French and Spanish.

 


Charmaine Oak is Author of The Digital Money Game, co-author Virtual Currencies – From Secrecy to Safety

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http://www.linkedin.com/in/charmaineoak

Join us on Twitter @ShiftThoughtDM and The Digital Money Group on LinkedIn


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Mobile Money in Zimbabwe– freely transfer money, in minutes not weeks!

 

As mobile penetration reached 106% , and effectively 60% of people in Zimbabwe now have access to mobile services, mobile operators have gone a step further. They now offer people safe and convenient ways to transfer money, pay for electricity and basic services and last but not least, add much needed top-up to their own mobile phones, or those of friends and family. Having helped people communicate, they’re now helping them transact and receive money from abroad, helping the country recover from the hyper inflation of 2008 and the loss of their currency.

 

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When the Zimbabwe dollar failed to recover in spite of multiple rebirths: ZWD in 1980, ZWN in 2006, ZWR in 2008, and it’s fourth incarnation of ZWL in 2009, foreign currency finally got legalised in January 2009 and the Zimbabwean dollar was abandoned by April 2009. It is difficult to imagine how a country of 14 million people quietly went about with “business as usual”, as less than 2 million had access to any kind of formal banking services.

In a country where every individual is an entrepreneur there was a gap for how they pay and get paid locally, regionally and internationally. Now new services are starting to fill the needs, but success for all the entrants can by no means be taken for granted.

 

Mobile money brings new hope

Now though, a transformation is under way as over 5 million people have found new ways to carry out daily transactions through a 10,000+ agent and merchant network of small stores that function as points for people to open accounts, deposit and withdraw cash and pay bills.

 

ecocashThe largest operator in the country, Econet Wireless, now has 3.5 million of their subscriber base using their EcoCash Mobile Money service, since it launched in September 2011. At the time, the other two operators had already launched similar services that failed to capture the market, so it was not clear whether they would succeed. Today though, they already handle over $4.5 billion worth of transactions, and a vibrant ecosystem of merchants and services has built up in a remarkably short time.

 

telecashThe second largest operator, Telecel (Orascom) had entered the market in December 2011 without much success, but just as Telecel closed down their service Skwama, Econet made a break through with their Ecocash service. So while it may have seemed like Telecel had an option, the reality is that mobile money is now a part of the core package subscribers expect in Zimbabwe. Early this year Telecel launched Telecash, and four months ago they launched a mobile money Android app for Telecash. This time with a promise of free transfers, free cash in and cash out have had the desired effect, with 600,000 users taking up the service and reported transaction levels of $17 million.

 

imageThe third operator Netone is also seeing better traction with their mobile money service One Wallet now supported through a 1,100 strong network, though active subscribers are still nearer to 200,000 than to their 750,000 target.

 

 

nettcashMobile operators are not the only active players. In May 2014 a service call NettCash launched with a unique contactless technology called Near Sound Data Transfer (NSDT), an additional API and promise of online payment. As of today it claims to have over 200,000 customers supported by 1052+ agents and merchants. Our Shift Thought knowledge base registers over 18 services from a variety of players, as the market grows to meet the needs of the people.

 

The banks awaken

Now that the people have voted with their feet and regularly visit conveniently located agents, banks are anxious to get a slice of the newly established market. Econet owned Steward Bank supports Telecash, but a few days back launched their own new AllSave Bank Account that is supported at some of the Telecash agents. This low cost account is expected to help to deepen the customer relationship, with loans and other services. As seen in Pakistan, I expect this could result in the other mobile operators looking around for a suitable bank to acquire, to match the business models that Econet can now aspire to.

 

Agent networks: To share or not to share?

The new battleground is the agent network. As the pressure mounts to enrol customers, there has been a reluctance to share agents. This recently resulted in a directive from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to discourage exclusivity of agents. However an interoperable agent network may raise as many questions as it solves and I see a need for new processes and compliance structures that are likely to gain focus in 2015.

 

Remittances made easy

Now that domestic money transfer has been conquered, the providers are turning their attention to the $1.9 billion formal remittances (equal amount of informal?) that are sent into the country. There has been concern as this declined markedly by 15% from $2.1 billion in 2012 to $1.8 billion in 2013. The main send countries include South Africa, UK, Canada, Australia and the United States.

If these transfers can be used to fund mobile money wallets and use digital money for daily transactions, that would help the fledgling services to thrive and grow. UK-based WorldRemit  offers an internet-based money transfer service from UK, from where an estimated 600,000 diaspora send money home to Zimbabwe. Telecel has partnered with UK based Mukuru.com for remittances from South Africa, from where an estimated 2 million migrants send money home. And certainly, Econet is well placed to address the opportunity for regional remittances, thanks to their presence across neighbouring countries in Africa.

 

Online payments – at last!

The vibrant mobile money market is injecting life into other parts of the economy.  In June 2014 card based transactions increased in value by a whopping 21% over the previous month, to reach $361 million. MasterCard recently announced a partnership with EcoNet to offer debit cards for EcoCash Accounts. Mobile and Internet transactions together have risen to $388 million, with electronic payments bringing in a new era of accountability and hope for the country.

 

The future of mobile money in Zimbabwe – will it mature into digital money in 2015?

What happens next depends on whether the Zimbabwe ecosystem is able to make that difficult transition to non-cash payments, merchant payments and retail payments. As the agent network grows, the small stores must fully embrace the services and find their businesses succeeding due to this. The country must go a long way to strengthen the building blocks and weaken the real enemy, cash and this means that all will need to pull in the same direction.

But underlying all this progress is one building block that must not be forgotten. Zimswitch provides the rails that allow for instant funds transfer and also supports mobile and online payment services. These underlying enablers need to be strengthened and connected into the vast developing digital economy – regional and global.

Though this is hard at first, Shift Thought research in markets around the world show that if everyone in the ecosystem starts to believe from their hearts that the success of one money service does not mean the failure of another, more people start to embrace the services and the whole market grows. I believe we have much to look forward to with the march of digital money in Zimbabwe, not just for Zimbabweans or even Africans, but for the future of payments around the world.

 


Charmaine Oak

Practice Lead, Digital Money

Email   : contact@shiftthought.com

 

Author of The Digital Money Game, co-author Virtual Currencies – From Secrecy to Safety

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http://www.linkedin.com/in/charmaineoak

Join me on Twitter @ShiftThoughtDM and The Digital Money Group on LinkedIn

 


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Easypaisa Pakistan: A 5-year journey from OTC to digital money

 
Easypaisa from Telenor Pakistan and Tameer Microfinance Bank has now woven 50,000 small stores into a brand new fabric of financial services that help move Pakistan from a cash based economy towards a position where the mainstream population can avail of a range of financial services that better their lives.

 

easypaisa1Easypaisa, a pioneer of branchless banking (BB) in Pakistan, today plays a key role in offering services through which customers can make payments in an assisted model as well as from digital wallets linked to their mobile phones.

Today I have the privilege to speak to Omar Moeen Malik, Head of Strategy & Projects at Easypaisa. Omar shares about his 5-year journey, some of the key strategic decisions Easypaisa took along the way and what excites him about the future.

 

Omar, thanks very much for your time today. Could you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your role

As Head of Strategy and Projects for Easypaisa, I am responsible for developing and driving the strategy for Easypaisa. I head the key strategic projects as well as the product development for Easypaisa and I am responsible for developing our mobile money financial ecosystem in Pakistan through strategic partnerships. I was part of the core team that first conceived and implemented the project in 2008.

I designed and deployed the OTC and e-Wallet businesses back in 2009, launching the first mobile money service in Pakistan, and was involved in multiple functional areas over the years. I’ve played an important role in developing and managing the distribution channels for Easypaisa and have a key responsibility of interacting with the Telco and Banking Regulators on the Regulations for Branchless Banking (BB).

 

Congratulations on celebrating 5 years of Easypaisa last month. Could you please share a bit about the early days of the service

Back in 2008 we were captivated by the possibilities of bringing financial services to over 100 million adults in Pakistan, of which just 15 million were banked, but an estimated 70 million were mobile phone users. Inspired by success stories from Kenya and the Philippines we knew that as telcos we had the dual advantage of accessible technology and a vast distribution network across the country. The last 5 years has been a journey to leverage this to offer a full range of services, while working with our partner Tameer Microfinance Bank and our regulators to create enabling regulations to make this possible.

Once Branchless Banking Regulations were issued by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) in March 2008, we were the first in the market, with Easypaisa launched in October 2009. We achieved this through our strategic partnership and investment in Tameer Microfinance Bank Ltd (TMFB), the first recipient of the Branchless Banking license, so as to offer services under the bank-led model.

Today as the leader in BB with 57% of the volume of transactions, we serve 7 million customers across Pakistan on a monthly basis – they walk in to a shop to pay bills, and send money or receive money. These services are not limited to Telenor subscribers, but any person in the country can avail these OTC services. However, this is still a small number compared to the potential - there is a lot of work ahead of us still!

 

What kind of work do you see ahead of you?

The big piece is our on-going struggle with our largest competitor – Cash. Moving toward non-cash payments requires the development of entire ecosystems, and while we have a key role to play some of the work we’re doing is opening up big potential for our partners.

Then there is the OTC/ mobile wallet issue. How do we move from transactions to customers, and how do we get customers to keep money digital?

 

So why did you choose to go with OTC first, and how has that worked out?

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We launched Easypaisa as an over-the-counter (OTC) service, whereby all transactions were agent-assisted and no registration was required.

We did this for 3 main reasons:

Firstly, this model made it possible to serve all mobile phone subscribers instead of only Telenor Pakistan customers, moving the needle on potential market size from 21 million to 110 million adults.

Secondly, for the agents, the cash in-cash out (CICO) business could just not be enough to establish branchless banking as a serious investment. OTC services, with their pricing model allowed for generous commissions to agents, compelling them to invest in Branchless Banking. Even if we had a wallet model we would need a CICO system anyway, and had to set up agents for this all over the country.

Thirdly, we believed in laddering the services for our customers. We started with OTC because OTC services entail the least behavior change. Customers were already used to walking into a Bank branch to pay their Utility Bills. All we asked them to do was to walk into an agent location. Customers would never have been able to do all these services on their own from a wallet. The low levels of literacy and use of technology meant customers prefer to have someone else carry out the operation for them.

 

I believe we were probably one of the first in the world to launch this assisted-model method for branchless banking. Although we only proposed to start this way and expected to soon move customers to the use of a mobile wallet, this shift has proved harder than we expected.

 

Please describe how you leverage your top-up network of a quarter of a million to build your agent network that grew from 2,500 to 50,000 agents today

clip_image006The key thing was to give the agents sufficient business and provide our customers with an incentive to use the money from their mobile wallets rather than withdrawing and spending in cash.

Over the last 5 years we’ve worked on many levels – to improve the customer experience and make it easy to use services from their mobile phones, but also to create the assisted model for bill payment, utility payment and services that people need to use for their daily lives.

 

As Easypaisa celebrates 5 years of touching the lives of millions of people in Pakistan, could you please give us some background on the services such as this, offered by Easypaisa today?

Today in addition to our walk-in customers, we have more than 3 million customers subscribed to Easypaisa Mobile Accounts. Nearly 400,000 transactions take place on Easypaisa each day and in 2013, Easypaisa moved 1% of Pakistan’s GDP.

This new network supplements the 11,000 bank branches and 6,000 existing ATMs that were all that customers had to serve them across the whole of Pakistan at the time of our launch. From walking in to stores just to top-up their phones, anyone in Pakistan with a valid Nadra CNIC can now send and receive money and enjoy a lot more services as well.

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We chose services that would help customers easily move away from cash. In addition to a range of payments and insurance services we’ve added some unique new products.

So for instance, there is a lot of interest in holding savings in gold. We recently launched two unique products with ARY Digital, a popular Pakistani television network available in Pakistan, the Middle East, North America and Europe and a subsidiary of Dubai-based ARY Group. Now customers can deposit an amount of their choice into an ARY gold account.

Life insurance, government benefit disbursement and other key services are helping to make the lives of people more secure while also helping the government address concerns relating to money laundering and terrorist financing.

 

Omar, like millions of others around the world, I am deeply inspired by Malala, the youngest Nobel Laureate winner in the world. How do you see Digital Money initiatives furthering the cause of education?

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This year Easypaisa worked with Sindh Education Reform Program (SERP) unit for educational stipend disbursements and we have a number of projects such as disbursements to 400k students and social payments to 1 million women through government social cash disbursement programs. We are also enabling about 50,000 retired Government pensioners collect their monthly pensions

 

Easypaisa is one of the few mobile money services that support international remittances into wallets. What’s your experience with this? Does this drive the take up of wallets? Do people like it?

International remittances for Pakistan are considered the backbone of the economy. Yearly an estimated $20b comes in from large diaspora in Middle East, Europe and America. SBP estimates an equal amount could be moving informally that would mean a total market of $40 billion per year.

Initially we enabled our agent network to cash out remittances. However the value cashed out tended to be almost as much as their investment in provisions in their entire shop. We now find it a better model to ask customers to open a mobile wallet first. Today customers can withdraw this money directly to their wallets, making it safer and more convenient.

However in order to make this service really useful we need to have regulations appropriate to branchless banking, as these are not yet in place.

 

Omar, what do you find most exciting in terms of new services going forward into 2015?

With the platforms and network we now have in place, as well as the entire ecosystem getting established across Pakistan, I see literally billions of services that could take off. I am most excited about the immediate potential from online payments, retail Payments and merchant payments.

Paying for goods and services online has huge potential as more customers start to expect this service. Similarly we’re introducing ways to pay at the store through a customer experience that is actually the simplest of all services and we expect this to vastly help in the uptake and use of our mobile wallets.

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Could you please share a bit about the huge potential of merchant payments in Pakistan and the project you recently launched for supply chain management?

We’ve recently launched a very successful initiative to streamline the supply chain for FMCGs and their distributors, leveraging our Easypaisa merchant network. This has worked out very well and is one of the transformational services that will further develop over 2015.

Starting with a paper-based system for order management, inventory and payments we’ve been able to create ways for our agents, who are also small stores, to order from and pay their distributors. This reduces wastage and risk for distributors while also helping our agents – a clear Win Win that we hope we can now replicate with our merchants in Pakistan.

 

Omar, speaking to you today has sent tingles down my spine. I am captivated by the vast transformational potential of what you have done and what you plan to do going forward. Thanks for so generously sharing your experiences and I wish you and the entire Easypaisa team the very best for achieving your ambitious goals.

 

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Omar Moeen Malik, Head of Strategy & Projects, Easypaisa

Prior to his 5 years of experience in Mobile Financial Services, Omar headed the GSM Value Added Services Products unit at Telenor. He has also worked with Teradata and has experience in Advanced Analytics with Data Warehouses for mobile operators and banks in the MEA region.

A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Omar also has 3 years of experience in working as a Software Engineer with different organizations in the States including IBM. He also holds a MBA degree from the LUMS, Pakistan.

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Email contact@shiftthought.com for details

Part of the Global Interview Series by Charmaine Oak

Author of The Digital Money Game, co-author Virtual Currencies – From Secrecy to Safety

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http://www.linkedin.com/in/charmaineoak 

Join me on Twitter @ShiftThoughtDM and The Digital Money Group on LinkedIn

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