Building an agent network for a direct-to-bank led strategy for remittances to Africa

 

In this exclusive interview with Charmaine Oak of Shift Thought, Samish Kumar, CEO of cross-border payments company Transfast, shares about his vision and the recent expansion of Transfast in building a network in 23 countries across Africa. Kumar discusses why the network is good for Africa, how Transfast hopes to be different from its competitors, and how it addresses financial inclusion needs, to further goals of governments in Africa.

 

Samish, thanks for your time today. I am keen to understand more about Transfast and your expansion in Africa

image Transfast is a provider of online and cross-border payments solutions. One of the fastest growing cross-border funds transfer companies in the industry, we operate the third-largest proprietary network, covering 120 countries. We recently announced the launch of an extensive direct-to-bank network in Africa, reaching 23 African nations, and covering up to 90 percent of adult bank account holders in those nations. We believe this to be the most extensive network of its kind on the continent.

Our omnichannel offering enables customers in the US and Canada, and shortly from UK and EU as well, to send money online or via mobile, directly into recipient bank accounts or for withdrawal in cash at around 600 banks representing an estimated 6,000 cash pick-up locations of banks in Africa.

Direct deposits are currently available at banks in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Ethiopia and Mali. Soon, direct deposits will be available in 17 more countries, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Congo, Egypt, Guinea, Morocco Niger, Sierra Leone and Togo.

How could this be beneficial for Africa?

Remittance plays an important role in African nation economies, as an estimated 30 million Africans diasporas send around $160 billion to the continent annually. Direct bank deposits and electronic payments can play a key role in building financial inclusion and help further the financial inclusion goals of governments in Africa by engaging account holders in the banking system.

But how is this different to the services of other cross-border payments companies?

Direct-to-bank is the most efficient and cost-effective way to receive funds. At present we believe that we are the only cross-border payments company enabling direct-to-bank in this many countries in Africa.

We are able to do this because of our proprietary network and excellent bank partner relationships. But direct-to-bank isn’t all we’re doing in Africa. Stay tuned for more announcements on new product offerings in Africa in the coming weeks!

Can you explain how your direct-to-bank network builds financial inclusion?

Banking penetration continues to grow in Africa. For unbanked recipients, the ability to pick up cash at a bank provides a positive experience in a bank environment. This is a first step toward becoming banked, when they can enjoy further advantages from our direct-to-bank deposits.

Could you share a bit about the challenges faced in getting this of the ground?

Building a network is definitely one of the most challenging aspects of this business, and at the same time, it’s been very rewarding. Our independent, direct-to-bank network is arguably one of the world’s largest, and the result of blood, sweat and air miles racked up by Transfast executives travelling to India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Bangladesh and more countries than we can list here, to create and solidify relationships with banks globally.

When it comes to compliance, regulation and fraud protection, they can present challenges in this industry as well. We believe in keeping those functions in-house, and our compliance teams and well-established regulatory systems have taken years and millions of dollars to build, including obtaining and maintaining the licenses necessary to operate in over 50 jurisdictions around the world.

Then comes the talent framework needed to comply with each separate and distinct set of regulations. This translates to hiring experts that make up more than 10% of our employee base – who are solely dedicated to compliance.

Fraud protection completes this trilogy of important factors. Fraud control is serious business, as remittances supply vital funds that support families back home and keep them thriving. Our bank-level security has to ward off hackers on a daily basis. So we have systems in place to ensure our  security and privacy for our customers.

How do you plan to differentiate your services?

One of our goals is to build a close relationship with our customers, and that’s always on our minds as we move forward. To us, this means not inviting a third party into the process of sending our customer’s money around the world. 

The real untold story of cross-border payments is that many companies don’t have their own bank networks. They “ride the rails” of other companies.

Our customers come to Transfast and whether or not they realize it, the reason they are satisfied is that everything we promise as part of our value proposition – great rates, reliability and fast delivery times – is backed up by our product and network, not potentially unreliable third-party offerings. We also run our own in-house treasury, which cuts out the middleman and enables our customers to get better foreign exchange rates.

When you talk of omnichannel, what channels have you found to work best for different segments? Could you please share a couple of unique characteristics from the US-Africa corridors?

Each corridor has its unique characteristics, calling for differing channel mix. In the African continent, one unique characteristic we see however, is a strong interest in direct-to-bank transfers, which tracks along with the growth in the banked population in each country.

When you talk of direct-to-bank, which market segments can/ cannot participate, and how do you choose the countries you’ve expanded to?

We’re realists who understand that collaborating with the banks to build a better network is smarter than working against them. Our strategy works well with the culture in the communities that we are sending payments into, as national and community banks are often well regarded and have the trust of our customers in developing countries. This factor is critical to our strategy.

As such, we expect to expand into any country where our network can build on that trust level while offering speed and competitive pricing for those transferring funds. So far, we are in more than 120 countries — and growing every day.

Samish, thanks for sharing about your vision and I wish you the very best for your future growth.

 

Samish Kumar CEO TransfastSamish Kumar, CEO and Director of Transfast, is an expatriate from India who moved to the US with his family in 1982. After graduating from the University of Colorado-Boulder with a degree in Aerospace Engineering and obtaining an MBA from Columbia University, Samish went on to accumulate nearly 20 years of experience in financial markets at global banks.

In 2007, Samish led the acquisition of Transfast in partnership with GCP Capital Partners, a New York-based $1.9 billion private equity fund. Under his leadership, Transfast has become one of the fastest-growing companies in the world-wide remittance market. 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Payments and Remittances Industries meld further into Digital Money as PayPal acquires Xoom

 

When I first entered the remittances industry the separation of these two industries was seen to be one of the laws of the universe, just as mobile was seen to be a desirable channel for which new silos were being built.

paypal   xoom

I wrote The Digital Money Game to address the issues I foresaw with the convergence of industries and services into a multi-trillion dollar space we at Shift Thought continue to map out as Digital Money through our research in each country, as it transforms industries we have so far taken for granted.

 

While the remittances industry is alone worth over $580billion, when you consider the melding of industries into Digital Money the prize increases exponentially as I prove in my book. Why would a consumer care to sign up  to a new service (with perceived security, identity and operational inconveniences) for executing what is likely to be at most a single transaction a month? Would the consumers who choose to stay with cash as an economy goes digital really be the segment the brand wishes to deepen relationships with?

 

So it is no surprise that PayPal announced a few hours ago that it acquired Xoom for $890 million, as it prepares to leave eBay. As I see it, there was no option. When viewed from the Western perspective PayPal seems like a market leader, but as I studied each Asian country in depth, many challengers came to light as far back as 2011, when we announced that Alipay was claiming to have way more digital wallet users than PayPal. Since then Alibaba has grown substantially and Ant Financial Services has become a comprehensive digital money brand, as we report in our China analysis.

 

In our recent analysis of PayPal versus Alibaba’s ANT Financial Group we discovered that while PayPal, Paydiant and Venmo together form a strong capability this leaves a big gap to fill. To what extent will Xoom help fill this gap? This will depend on how soundly it goes international with PayPal’s help.

Xoom founded in 2001 today operates only to send money from the US, with 1.3 million active customers who send $7 billion to 37 countries, and this will have to change rapidly. Xoom has been recently entering emerging markets such as Mexico, India, Philippines, China and Brazil, but this has been in terms of receiving money electronically. What Xoom has capitalised on is the real-time payment infrastructure beginning to be established around the world, and this is how it entered India for instance. What is has yet to do is to establish Send operations from other markets.

 

So for me the success of this venture hinges on the question of whether with Xoom, PayPal has better success in the last mile in India and China, and other key emerging markets. To achieve the ubiquity of Western Union and MoneyGram PayPal will need to address remittance corridors in 200+ countries and territories, and do this rapidly.

 

As I’ve said before, brands are being built and broken by the trend towards Digital Money and we’ve entered the age of mega-groups, but it will not be easy to get this right. There are substantial differences between the market segments, as I’ve learnt through numerous studies, focus groups, interviews and research we carry out in each part of the world. However it is well worth attempting, and indeed as I repeat, I see no other option.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The impact of new technologies on global remittance costs and flows

A new report from the World Bank shows that alternatives to cash are helping to drive down the cost of remittances around the world. The global average cost of sending $200 declined from 8% in Q4 2014 to 7.7% of the amount transferred in Q1 2015. But is this progress enough?

As development efforts have intensely focussed on driving down the cost of remittances (5% less over 5 years) it raises questions on why more has not been achieved.

Separately a report from World Bank that measures financial inclusion around the world, out this month, indicates that between 2011 and 2014, 700 million adults became account holders, with the number of unbanked dropping by 20% to 2 billion. While 2 billion adults without access to financial services is still hugely concerning, it seems that the 130 live mobile money services have achieved great things within domestic areas. People are increasingly gaining access to basic banking facilities thanks to the use of alternatives to bank branches, such as mobile-based accounts, agent networks, kiosks and other advances.

Domestic remittances (people sending money to other people within a nation) have thus benefited from the use of new technologies, in particular the services that leverage access to mobile phones. While the ownership of fixed line phones remains poor in certain African countries, large numbers of population now have access to mobile phones.

In my interviews with experts who are launching innovative services around the world I understand a lot more needs to be done to make sure that it's not just every household that has access to mobile phones. The key individual who can ensure household money is spent as it should, often the woman of the house, needs control of a mobile phone. This is likely to happen as government benefits and subsidies are routed directly to these individuals, often while providing free SIMs as is happening in Indonesia. This has the important side-effect of bringing down the cost of person-to-person money transfer.

Additional value-added services are being launched, to hopefully stop people from immediately withdrawing the money, and reducing the amount of cash in circulation. The new mobile money and branchless banking services have helped to bring down the cost of domestic remittances – for instance by 20% in Cameroon.

Yet the average cost of remittances still exceeds 8% in East Asia, the Pacific and MENA. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the home of mobile money, costs of sending money across borders remains the highest. Sending money from South Africa to Zambia, Malawi, Botswana and Mozambique are the highest in the region. With the global average cost for sending money standing at 8% in Q4 2014, it is substantially higher at an estimated 12% in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

201504RemittanceCost

In the Figure above, courtesy of the World Bank Migration and Development Brief for April, we see just how much higher SSA costs are, and the lift in MENA costs. What strikes me is the sharp decline in cost of SSA transfers over 2009 was arrested in Q2 2010, and sharply rose then. We do not see a similar decline in spite of many new entrants and launches of services by global technology companies, card networks, mobile operators, handset manufacturers, retailers and others – indeed the list of industries alone is endless, leave alone individual providers.

Although there are more international migrants than ever before, with an expected 250 million in 2015, flows to developing countries are expected to slow down to 0.9% growth in 2015, increasing only from $436b in 2014 to $440b in 2015. Global remittance estimated at $583b in 2014 could rise to $586b in 2015, with recovery expected over 2016 to bring the figure to $636b in 2017.

Factors that are affecting these flows include uneven recovery in developed countries, lower oil prices and the Russian problem, tighter immigration controls and conflicts that are driving forced migration.

With an expected slowdown in the remittances market in 2015, it is vitally important that causal factors that stand in the way of better cross-border remittance services be better addressed. These include a number of factors that are well-understood (compliance, regulatory, exclusivity, interoperability) but others that are not yet under discussion, and may prove more critical. 

What is your view on this? What has helped in the progress towards cheaper and more accessible cross-border remittances, and what has hindered? With technologies now well-understood, what needs to happen to put people more in control, not just for sending money home, but also for gaining other forms of livelihood in the vibrant, rapidly evolving global digital economy?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Disruptive innovations in remittances in the US-India Remittance Corridor

 

The US-India Remittances Corridor is arguably the most important one in the world today. The US is the most important sender to India, the largest receiver of remittances. A disruptive service such as the one just launched by Remitly is therefore highly significant. I caught up with Matt Oppenheimer, one of the innovators of our time, to understand what motivated him to launch the first mobile only remittances firm, congratulate him on his entry into the US-India corridor and find out a bit about how it all works. I hope you find this of interest, whether or not you are a specialist remittances firm, as money transfer is now an important component for any digital wallet service.

 

20150122_Remitly_App_Store_Images_3_5_1Matt, could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your mission at Remitly?

Sure. I started Remitly after graduating from Harvard Business School and running mobile and Internet banking initiatives for Barclay’s Bank in Kenya.

Living abroad I experienced first hand how difficult and expensive it can be to send money across borders. That’s why I started Remitly as a secure and convenient way to send money abroad.

Our mission is simple: to build the easiest, most affordable and secure, mobile device oriented international money transfer service.

Could you share a bit more about Remitly?

Remitly is a mobile payments service we launched in 2012, for consumers to make person-to-person international money transfers from the United States. Our digital service leverages the latest technology to eliminate the forms, codes, agents, extra time and fees typical of the traditional money transfer process.

We are authorized to operate in 41 states and we currently send over $100 million dollars annually.

We are proud to be backed by industry-leading investors, including Trilogy Partnership, QED Investors, Founders’ Co-Op, Bezos Expeditions, and TomorrowVentures.

We are headquartered in Seattle, WA with additional offices in the Philippines.

 

What has been your experience so far, in bringing out a mobile-only remittance service in the US?

As a banker I was aware of the regulatory hurdles and importance of security inherent to building a robust money transfer service. Accordingly, we took a measured and systematic approach from day one, while at the same time always maintaining a customer centric view.

The response from our customers has been fantastic. Since 2012, our convenient and reliable Apps have enabled thousands of customers to send millions of dollars to the Philippines.

 

What are the advantages of offering a service that leverages the mobile channel in USA?

Well, I believe the time was perfect for us to build a mobile remittance company in the USA. Here’s why:

There are now over 188 million smartphone users in the USA. This is up by 21% versus the prior year. It is part of a worldwide trend, with 1.7 Billion smartphones globally, up 28% from the prior year.

And consumers are increasingly demonstrating their keen interest in using their mobile phones for remittances. Over 48% of smartphone users have used mobile financial services in the last year.

 

I understand you have just expanded into India. I am curious to understand a bit about how this works

Remitly_IndiaWe are excited to now offer our services to the those in the U.S. wishing to send money to India.

Customers can use our iOS and Android Apps, or our website, to send money to any major bank in India. As always, they can pay using their bank accounts or debit cards.

We believe these new customers will enjoy the ease of our digital experience, along with 24/7 customer service.

With Remitly, every money transfer carries a unique delivery guarantee: We deliver on time, or your money back!

Our service is also great value for customers. Transactions under a $1,000 are free and transactions above that amount are only $1.99. We also offer some of the best foreign exchange rates in the industry.

 

Matt, I think those are great consumer advantages, congratulations on implementing them! I am curious to know more about your service to India, announced last week

We are proud to welcome India as its newest destination country. Our coverage in India spans a network of over 120 banks and their branches.

  • Instant direct deposit is available for many banks year-round, 24/7, including ICICI, Yes Bank, and PNB.
  • Four hour deposit is available during regular Indian banking hours for all other banks.

Our customers in the US can use our popular IOS and Android apps for sending money to India. We’ve had great feedback from customers who have told us they love the user experience. We continue to add innovative features to enhance speed, reliability, and usability.

For instance, iOS users can now sign in using Apple’s Touch ID, while Android users can review foreign exchange rates in real time by simply adding a widget to their Android home screens.

Senders can also visit www.Remitly.com/india to send money online via desktop computers and other devices.

The Remitly app is available to download from the Apple Store and Google Play.

 

What are the unique opportunities you see for Remitly over the next few years?

Remitly is already sending over $100 Million annually. We are growing over 400% year over year. With the launch of our service to India we are now in two of the largest U.S. remittance markets. We strongly believe that Remitly is uniquely positioned to exceed customer expectations in these markets and others.

Although we’re confident we already have an industry leading mobile based product, and offer the best deal for sending money to India and the Philippines, we really are just getting started.

 

Matt, I take this opportunity to say how much I appreciate the work you are doing in changing the way migrants can send money home. I wish you, and Remitly every success for the future and will be on the lookout for more announcements!

 


Matt OppenheimerMatt worked for Barclays Bank first in London and then Nairobi, Kenya where he oversaw mobile and internet banking initiatives. It was there that he became passionate about solving the difficulty in sending and receiving money from overseas.

Matt launched Remitly in 2011, with the mission of leveraging mobile phones to build the best and most affordable way to send money across borders.  Matt has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from Dartmouth College.  He's a 5th generation Idahoan and avid traveller.  Follow him on Twitter at @matt_oppy.

 


Charmaine is author of “The Digital Money Game: Competing in the multi-trillion dollar payments Industry

finallidmgShift Thought is a UK-based consultancy specialised in payments and remittances. We have built a unique 360 degree view across 32 key services we term as Digital Money for which we maintain a continually updated knowledge base that we share through our portals and Viewports (Portal in a Report). Our latest Viewport “Digital Money in China 2015” is just out and offers highly important insights into the trends, opportunities and risks, ecosystem and digital money initiatives in China.

Contact us at contact@shiftthought.com for details on this unique, one-of a kind report.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

A deep dive into China’s innovations in Mobile Payments, Internet Finance and Banking

It is easy to write-off what is happening in a market far away from you, and to believe that somehow your services are not affected. After working on our latest in-depth study of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), I believe this would be a fallacy. If you are offering or intend to offer digital money services of any kind, you really need to be aware of what’s happening in the most populous country in the world, and now the largest online retail market. Here’s Why ..

chinaimageOn a trip to Beijing a few years ago I found myself on a main road trying to hail a cab in the evening at rush hour. After moving to several different locations and not succeeding I finally walked the long distance to my hotel and put this down to one of the most difficult travel experiences ever. Now, though, you can simply order and pay for a cab from your mobile phone, and this is just one of a set of highly convenient mobile payment services now available.

An immense change has taken place in mainland China over the last 5 years over which we have carried out in-depth studies of this market. This has positioned China as the largest online retail market in the world, and a leader in the use of Digital Money. Services started strongly on the Internet and have now gone mobile and offline, in contrast to a number of African countries that grew on the M-Pesa Kenya model.

A strong focus on innovation

Over 2014, the downturn in traditional sectors such as real estate and slower growth in exports resulted in Q3 2014 economic growth sliding to 7.3%, the lowest growth level since the global financial crisis. This prompted the China State Council to promote innovation especially in the MSME sector, with a new 40 billion yuan ($6.5 billion) venture capital (VC) investment announced in January 20154. To place this figure in context, since first launch of the VC program in 2009, just 9.1 billion yuan was allocated.

Shift Thought sees this as one more indicator of how China is reinventing it’s positioning in the global business value chain, and digital money services are an integral part of this plan. Several large IPOs are expected as the large Chinese banks continue to restructure and go public, with a reported 5 banks doing so since Oct 2013.

Over the past 4 months Shift Thought has completed an immersive study and analysis of the highly complex China financial services market, leading to the publication of our 380 page in-depth report on every aspect of money going digital in China, including details on regulation and sizing of the various different sub-markets. I share a few highlights in this blog, as the first in our “Focus on China Series”.

Historic changes in regulations

As the market has demonstrated a voracious appetite for the new services, regulators have struggled to stay in control and also safeguard the existing licensed players in the market. In rapid succession we’ve seen regulations that brought in new third party providers, online banks and agent banking. New regulations are imminent that will have wide ramifications for start-ups and existing players alike.

First online private banks

Last month we saw the launch of the first private online bank WeBank, and there are a number of other newly licensed banks about to launch. What is interesting is the strategic potential this creates for the category Shift Thought terms as the ’Internet Tech Giants (ITG)’ of China: including groups such as Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and others. We see huge M&A activity and rebranding activities that are readying these groups for the next level of strategic expansion over 2015.

Internet Finance

With the rapid increase in the use of the Internet, especially through smart devices, the most important trend we saw in 2014 was the meteoric rise of Internet Finance including a range of online financial services such as online payment, crowd funding, P2P Lending and others. This prompted the banks to jointly issue limits on the amount that could be transferred to investment funds such as Alibaba’s Yuebao, with P2P regulations expected shortly.

Third party providers deepen services

In 2010 the PBC released regulations to allow third party non-bank providers of payment services. Since then over 264 licenses or extensions were granted to third party payment institutions, of which over 97 supported online payment and over 30 (including the 3 mobile network operators) have permission for mobile payment services. Favourable tax treatment for online transactions has further ignited this market.

Online Payment market slows down after meteoric rise

Over the last 4 years along with massive growth, there has been stiff competition in the online payments market, with some of the providers already forced to close down. However the achievements have been phenomenal, leading to the creation of the largest online retail market in the world, and digital wallets transforming into mobile wallets.

The rise of O2O services

Both online payment and mobile payment grew strongly over 2014, with mobile payment substituting offline payment and new O2O services emerging that connect online and offline services in a manner that has been uniquely innovated in China. These O2O services allow consumers to find and use products online and offline in new ways that support their lifestyles and completely shake up the existing retail market, with strategic partnerships being formed to reposition and link retailers and online providers.

Financial inclusion

A key concern of senior Chinese Government, working with development groups this year has been for the 400 million unbanked/under-banked in China, and the 100 million under the poverty line residing largely in rural areas. Other underserved segments include migrant workers, MSMEs and unemployed workers, with recent lay-offs from state-owned enterprises (SEOs). We explore each of these segments at length, to look at the services now available to them and how these are changing – including domestic remittances, inward remittances, lending and branchless banking services.

Focus on rural areas

Some of the most interesting innovations we saw were those that are now going into rural areas, with the rapid spread of the mobile internet. In a manner that creates rich scenarios for The Digital Money Game as described in my recent book, providers are targeting multiple services over multiple channels in a bid to cement their market shares and create and grow new markets through their innovations. Our report details these innovations, such as a unique green telephone that has been adapted to support Point-of-Sale and banking transactions and was distributed free to rural households.

So why is this important to you?

This is not just important from the perspective of making an entry into the largest digital money market in the world – a feat not for the faint-hearted, I’m afraid.

As we saw Chinese goods flooding Western markets in the past, the new digital channels are enabled a new Chapter in Chinese export capabilities. We see a number of services already extending across South-East Asia. With the benefit of massive IPOs (such as Alibaba’s  $25 billion, the largest IPO of it’s kind ever), providers are readying themselves to travel further afield, and you may need to compete against these new services in the US and European markets and not just in Asia Pacific.

Digital Money in China 2015

viewport_china_2015

We are proud to announce the release of our globally unique report “Digital Money in China 2015”. This is essential reading for anyone who offers, or plans to offer any one the 32 key services we cover under Digital Money: including Online Payments, Mobile Payments, P2P Lending, Digital Banking, Remittances and more. Contact us today to look inside this report and learn more. Our team is ready to support you in your plans for China and elsewhere in the world. Drop us a line at contact@shiftthought.com to arrange for a call to discuss your unique requirements.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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.


Profile photo

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

clip_image004 clip_image006

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

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


Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Ria Digital – Innovation in remittances within the Euronet group

Today I am speaking to Darren Bruce, who set up Ria Digital at Ria Financial Services, the third largest money transfer operator in the world. Darren shares with us what it means for remittances to go digital, the trends he observes and the outlook for 2015. Enjoy!

 

Darren, it is a pleasure to speak to you today. Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and your role at Ria Digital?

RMT-Mobile-Nav-in-Android-PhoneI joined Ria two years ago as Vice President and General Manager to create Ria Digital as a startup within Ria Financial Services, the money transfer division of Euronet. I oversee Ria’s digital business including the ground-up development and expansion of Ria’s digital products and services across the globe.

Prior to joining Ria I spent 4 years with the Western Union Company in Denver, Colorado, as Head of Global Emerging Product Operations. In this capacity, as you know Charmaine, I oversaw the strategic management and operational direction of the company’s new/emerging products consisting of e-commerce, account based money transfer, prepaid cards and mobile money transfer. Prior to Western Union, I lived in the Netherlands for 10 years where I worked for Canon, Cambridge Technology Partners, and Nike mainly focussed on web/e-commerce capacities.

I started Ria Digital to lead the company into the fast-paced world of customer needs in the digital age including linking the physical world, which Ria is already very strong, to digital world where the opportunities are endless.

 

 

Please could you give us some background about Ria Financial Services and how Ria Digital fits in, as well as how HiFX which you just acquired fits in. As a Group how do you work? I understand Euronet has become a big prepaid issuer in Europe

rialogoSince opening our first storefront in 1987, we have grown into the third largest money transfer service in the world. Ria has over 240,000 locations in more than 130 countries—and growing very quickly—as well as connections to over 50k banks across 100 countries.

In addition to money transfer services, Ria also offers bill payment, mobile top-ups, prepaid debit cards, and check cashing. In every service that we provide, we work hard to ensure a clear, simple and valuable experience.

 

In April this year imageWalmart and Ria launched a retail industry first – Walmart-2-Walmart Money Transfer Service. Walmart-2-Walmart offers a clear fee structure with just two pricing tiers: customers can transfer up to $50 for $4.50 and up to $900 for $9.50. This leverages Walmart’s existing footprint and technology, with Ria being the licensed money transfer operator for all Walmart-2-Walmart transactions, and Walmart the authorized agent of Ria.

 

imageIn May this year Euronet acquired HiFX, this has been a great addition and very complementary to our core business. It is a UK-based mainly online initiated international payments and foreign exchange services provider that enables us to extend towards delivering an account-to-account international payment service to high-income individuals and small-to-medium sized businesses. HiFX transferred over $15bn for customers in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Europe during 2013.

 

imageLooking at the Euronet level, our global payment network is extensive and it now includes over 19,000 ATMs, approximately 72,000 EFT POS terminals and a growing portfolio of outsourced debit and credit card services which are under management in 47 countries. We have card software solutions, a prepaid processing network of over 600,000 POS terminals at approximately 295,000 retailer locations in 33 countries. So in short, we have a lot of great products and capabilities as a group as you can see.

 

How much of Ria business is cash-to-cash and how much is digital?

As far as Ria Digital goes, we celebrated 2 years in October this year, so we are still quite new and have been focused on building the foundational elements needed to compete in the digital space. The vast majority of Ria’s business is still cash from the send side, delivered into accounts or as cash around the world.

As you can see, Ria has a robust set of products and capabilities, and at Ria Digital we are “digitizing” these products and services so we can offer our customers more convenience and choice. We are very complementary to our core business. Digital builds on the values and tradition of our core business while looking to target customers that have become accustomed to an easy, efficient online consumer experience. We get to innovate and push for change in this industry while standing on Ria’s solid foundation which is a big advantage—we have the network and the experience behind us.

It is also important to note that “customers” are not only end consumers, they are also our key partners, those who are looking for a company to help power their financial services in an easy, simplistic way, and can move quickly to deliver – this is a very important part of our strategy.

 

What are some of the key trends you observed in the remittances industry over the last year?

Well, I guess sending money using the digital channel is old news now, and the mobile trend has also been obvious for years, but specifically around “digital”, it is the experience within the channel that has continued to evolve. There are so many new technologies that remove, or at least improve, the friction at various points throughout the customer experience. It has made sending money online a lot easier and safer than in the past.

I mentioned key partners already, and the truth is there are more and more companies looking to add money remittance to their current offerings or product sets. Companies that have not been involved in remittance are jumping into the mix, a lot of them up the game from a user experience or brand perspective, but money remittance is not an easy business to enter, therefore these companies look to partner with companies like Ria who know how to do it, we’ve been talking to immigrant remitters for 30 years.

At Ria Digital we move at the pace of a startup, within days rather than months and years!

 

How do you see the recent entrants such as Apple Pay and Google Wallet and what this may mean to MTO business?

There is a lot of talk about these new entrants recently and I see this really reaffirming and validating digital payments. People have been mainly taking about what’s happening at the POS but there is a lot happening in the online experience as well by removing friction, for instance, on-boarding of new customers is becoming easier.

Anyone who has anything to do with commerce or financial services on the handset and pushes the envelope on the experience really helps all of us get better.

 

How are people taking to digital channels around the world – are there some interesting regional differences?

There are definitely regional differences when it comes to money transfer in the digital channels, no two global markets are identical; each is driven by local conditions of environment (economic, technological, and demographic elements such as a market’s average income, and access to the Internet), infrastructure (broadband and/or mobile phone penetration), regulation (legal and governmental areas such as compliance and eKYC), financial services (the accessibility of financial services, the options for paying online), and most important of all – consumer readiness (their familiarity with, and willingness to use digital channels).

 

How has the advent of smartphones affected how people transfer money?

Today, out of the seven billion people in the world, approximately six billion are cell phone subscribers. Not all of these own a “smartphone”, but smartphone penetration is growing very quickly. For many people, the phone is the primary or sole internet connection, no need for a PC. The point is that these connected devices put a lot of power in the hands of the consumer and provide them a great deal of choice and convenience.

Aside from sending an actual money transfer, customers can easily check exchange rates, compare service providers, view the status of their transaction, and even find a physical location where they can send or pick up a transaction, which is a great example of how smartphones are connecting the physical world to the digital world.

Another obvious area related to phones is stored value / Prepaid debit cards and mobile wallets which empower the “un” or “under” banked, and allow these customers to take part in the ecommerce and/or digital financial services world. Specifically in regards to money transfer, these customers had no other choice in the past but to travel to a physical location with cash in order to send money to loved ones back home, now they can send from the palm of their hand easily and securely.

 

Are there some key opportunities you see in the evolution of money transfer?

Specifically when it comes to money transfer in the digital channels I think there are many opportunities in terms of taking more costs out of the process. Performing electronic verification, taking payments online, and mitigating fraud are all necessary but add cost to the process.

At Ria we pride ourselves on providing a fair price to consumers, it is very important to us, and the more costs that can be reduced in a transaction, the more savings that can be passed on to the customer.

 

What are some of the challenges faced by providers?

As you know Charmaine, we are in a highly regulated industry, and therefore we have some very important responsibilities to ensure we provide safe, reliable, and compliant services for our customers. There is a lot of work, and skill required to ensure this, and at Ria compliance is number 1, we have a great team of people who focus on this day in and day out, and that extends far beyond our Compliance team.

Everyone at Ria is responsible for compliance, it is in our DNA. So I would say compliance is both a challenge and an opportunity.

 

What is your vision for 2015?

That’s just around the corner isn’t it!

Over the past 2 years we have built the foundational elements, and developed the key capabilities that are required in the Digital space, in 2015 we will start to capitalize on these efforts as we accelerate our current US business, expand our service globally, and deliver on our Partner Program, which as I mentioned earlier is an important part of our strategy. We are in a very exciting time, the space is buzzing.

 

It has been a real pleasure to speak with you Darren, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us and wish you the very best for the ambitious plans you have going forward.


image

Darren Bruce is Vice President and General Manager of Ria Digital for Ria Financial Services, the money transfer division of Euronet Worldwide, Inc. He has held this position since October 2012. Darren oversees Ria’s digital business including the ground-up development and expansion of Ria’s digital products and services across the globe. Darren has a Bachelor of Science Degree (Physics, Math, and Engineering) from Mount Allison University in Sackville, Canada. He also has a Diploma in Applied Information Technology from the Information Technology Institute in Halifax, Canada.

Ria Digital Website : https://www.riamoneytransfer.com


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

clip_image002 clip_image004

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

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

Thank you for reading, and thanks in advance for sharing about us to your network!

 

==

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

SMART unlocks mobile operator revenues in the Philippines with multiple World firsts

 

For the Philippines, remittances is a game-changer, showing healthy growth over the last 5 years and a highly competitive set of services from players across a wide range of industries. Philippines became the first country to introduce mobile money in 2000 and is a pioneering example for many different digital money services today. It is therefore highly instructive to hear from the experiences of Smart (PLDT), the largest mobile network operator in Philippines, and one of the very first to launch Smart Money as a mobile operator-based solution.

 

UN ban ki-moon2Today I am delighted to share with you some brilliant examples that use the concepts of digital money to unlock revenue streams.

I have with me Lito Villanueva, Vice President and Head, e-Money Innovation, Digital Ecosystem Build & Global Engagements at Smart Communications, Inc. Lito shares how 14 years down the line, SMART is launching innovative services to create new revenue streams.

 

 

Mobile Operators in Financial Services

Financial services were once seen as a certain business model for new revenue streams for mobile operators. However this has proved to be harder than expected. This year Host Card Emulation (HCE) has sharply focussed on the fact that mobile operators are no longer the sole gate keepers to Mobile Payment NFC revenues. The GSMA has this year promoted Interoperability initiatives that hold a promise of better mobile money adoption, but this is not an easy solution as mobile operators do need to make the business model work through better churn reduction.

 

The Filipino Context

Although 12th in terms of population, The Republic of the Philippines is the third largest receiver of remittances in the world, with $22.7b for 2013, forecasted to rise to $28 million in 2014. Remittances touched a new monthly high of $2.286 b in Nov 2013, 7.5% higher than previous year due to Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), giving a boost to the new aid-oriented services.

 

Makati_skyline_j_0_n philippines

 

SMART Money evolves into a “surround” experience

 

At Shift Thought we have for some years described how mobile phones are the magic sauce, but not the sole ingredient in a mobile operator’s toolkit for succeeding in financial services. It is important to create rich customer experiences across multiple channels and services, that I have termed a “surround” experience.

I think one of the markets in which we see good examples of a diverse set of services is in the Philippines. On a visit to the country to trial the service I found it delightfully simple to use my SMART Money card to pay for provisions at a department store as well as transfer money to other users.

I was interested to see the new Smart Postpaid app that was launched a few days ago as a one-stop portal to manage postpaid accounts. For use on Android and iOS devices, this makes it easy to access a range of features through one number *121#. It is products like this that can create consumer experiences that put the customer in charge.

Now this month SMART launches something revolutionary: A unique solution branded as  LockByMobile. I was delighted to hear all about it from Lito.

My interview with Mr. Lito Villanueva follows. Enjoy!

 

It is great to have you here today Lito. Could we begin with a bit of background about yourself and the unique expertise you bring to the industry?

I currently lead initiatives at SMART to unlock the potential of e-money, extending beyond mobile money. Naturally we seek to leverage our unique capabilities with respect to mobile services.

Our mission is simple – to keep pioneering world-first solutions and unlock digital finance services to meet the unique needs of Filipinos including those in high growth and emerging markets.

Take for instance our world first anti-fraud and security solution. This month we are rolling out this solution to allow our customers in the Philippines to lock and unlock ANY ATM or credit card using its patented and proprietary LockByMobile.

We all know how important it is to control card security especially as online card-not-present use cases become more prevalent. Using our service people can finely tune what their card is allowed to do and lock down services themselves to prevent fraud.

 

You have been at SMART in the early days, back in 2007 – how has your strategy regarding financial services changed since then?

Well, for one thing, we did not have smartphones back then. Today over 10 million of our 70 million user base access our services via smartphones.

The Philippines is very much an Android market, and as the cost of handsets gets lowered we’re able to enhance the user experience of our services.

 

Yes, I’ve just been analysing implications of the launch of Android One, shortly planned for the Philippines. But what of the recent Apple Pay announcement?

Apple Pay is expected Q1 2015, but our NFC service will be launched ahead of that.

In November, we plan the first wave of a contactless payments rollout to our 2.5 million post-paid subscriber base. This is in partnership with Visa and Citi and will let people pay at Starbucks, McDonalds and other retail stores for face-to-face or via Paywave POS including our massive online merchant base such as Zalora, Easy Taxi, and a lot more in partnership with Rocket Internet for online commerce.

Remember that our parent company PLDT invested Euro333 Million into Rocket Internet representing approximately 10% equity share.

 

I understand you are also innovating with mobile loans services?

Yes, we offer salary loans via mobile to over 120,000 employees at 260 government agencies in Phase I.

This will extend in Phase II to include up to 20 million employees of private companies. They get access to what we believe is one of the lowest interest rates, at just 0.83%. This is touted to be the world’s first mobile-based paperless and fully electronic credit, savings and insurance in one.

 

What about money transfer and international remittance services?

At present domestic money transfer is big – it represents 70% of the volume, with international remittances accounting for 30%.

We’ve not so far made a big dent in this huge opportunity. One reason for this is the Philippines is a key market on which banks and money transfer operators in the key send corridors remain sharply focussed.

 

What are the differences that SMART Money has brought about in the Philippines?

Over 8 million of our 70 million subscribers use our services today. SMART is cited for being proactive and dynamically focussed on financial inclusion initiatives.

 

help.PH gsma2

 

Three innovations launched by wireless services leader Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) and its subsidiary Smart e-Money, Inc. (SMI) were recently ranked among the world’s best by Telecoms.com.

Smart Money Padala was nominated this year as Best Mobile Payment Solution. It serves the domestic and international money remittance requirements of Filipinos. With this service, Pinoys can transfer funds to tens of millions of Smart subscribers at the speed of a text message.

Smart Money Padala boasts of a large remittance network, with 95,000 international and 27,000 local remittance partners.

 

What are the biggest challenges faced?

Since our last conversation, we continue to be very focussed on customer education, and increasing the number of value added services.

Customer education is very important in order to lift the percentage of active subscribers from the current level of around 20%. It is a steep learning curve for customers to change the way they pay and we continue to create campaigns to address this.

 

What is your vision for 2015?

Our vision is to harness digital commerce to support every customer’s digital lifestyle. The time is right – the time is now. Things have come together to let us move from mobile phone payments to a much broader spectrum and support across an entire set of use cases.

No less than our chairman Mr Manuel V. Pangilinan is a firm believer of democratizing data by making free and available across our prepaid base of over 66 million. This is a strategy to shift our customers to the digital marketplace!

 

Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts with us Lito. We wish you the very best for 2015 and beyond!

 

imageLito Villanueva is Vice President & Head for Payments Innovation, Digital Ecosystem & Global Engagements at Smart Communications, Inc.

Lito has unique expertise that crosses multiple segments and services from his work at SMART, IFC-World Bank and Visa. He is one of the few mobile money global practitioners to have a mix of experience in both banking and MNO sectors with a great deal of exposure in multi-market interventions and global best practices with established relationships with key stakeholders including international funding agencies.

 


viewport_philippines_2014

Shift Thought has recently published “Digital Money in Philippines 2014”, a detailed study on the complex Philippines market. We have also created a unique research document focussing in depth on the remittances opportunity with respect to the Philippines.

Contact us today at contact@shiftthought.com  to get access to this and other recent research on the Philippines and each of the emerging markets around the world. Each reports uses our proprietary Viewport format to create a highly interactive experience connected into our unique portal.

 

 

==

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Remittances remain buoyant but cross-border mobile remittance still less than 2%

 

World Bank’s recent reports on remittances indicate a welcome continued buoyancy. India remains the largest receiver, as growth in 2014 is led by East Asia and the Pacific, South Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. However MENA flows are affected due to disturbances in the region, and ECA countries traditionally receiving inflows from Russia are badly affected. While mobile money has been adopted for domestic money transfer, 7 years on it has yet to make the inroads into cross-border remittances that was originally expected.

 

Good news as global cost of remittances falls from 8.9% to 7.9%

The global average cost of sending $200 fell from 8.9% in 2013 to 7.9% in Q3 of 2014, as remittances go online and digital. Account-based money transfer (cash-to-account is the lowest-cost method today). However although mobile money is being used for domestic money transfers, and is making an impact on sending money from urban to rural areas, its use for cross-border transactions remains limited. Less than 2% of remittance value took place through mobile phones. Yet with global remittance flows at $542 bn this even now represents a flow of $10 bn.

However Bill Gates believes that even with all the regulatory compliance it should be possible for pure digital to digital transactions to be moved at less than a percent. We are still far from achieving this goal. Is it a case of further enablers or something else that is needed to make this this possible?

 

Global remittance flows to developing countries are projected to reach US$435 billion in 2014

image

At a much welcome 5% increase over last year, the growth is expected to continue into 2015, though at a reduced rate of 4.4%. Total flows are expected to rise from US$582 billion in 2014 to US$608 billion in 2015.

 

Forced migration is at an all time high with 73 million forced to leave home

The main message from the latest World Bank report on migration is that forced migration due to conflict has reached the highest level since World War II. Of the 73 million who had to leave their homes, over 51 million were forced to move due to conflict, and 22 million moved due to natural disasters.

 

India remains largest recipient at estimated $71 billion

Highest receivers are India ($71 b), China ($64 b), the Philippines ($28 b), Mexico ($24 b), Nigeria ($21 b) and Egypt ($18 b). Yet these flows are not as high as they could be. The largest receiver, India, only receiver 3.7% of GDP in 2013.

 

Remittance flows respond to natural disasters

Remittances continue to offer a much-needed lifeline of support in times of natural disasters, rising by 16.6% for Pakistan in 2014, and 8.5%  in the Philippines in 2013 in response to destruction from the super typhoon.

 

Regional trends

Remittances are projected to increase by 7% in the East Asia and Pacific region (EAP) with China and Philippines being the largest receivers. Remittances to South Asia have rebounded strongly in 2014, expected to grow by 5.5% to over $117 bn in 2014, with very strong growth for Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Growth in remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa is picking up in 2014, expected to reach $33 billion in 2014. Nigeria continues to dominate in terms of inward remittances flow, with $21.3 bn forecast for 2014.

 

imageRemittances to Europe and Central Asia (ECA) are slowing as compared to 2013 affected by conflict in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. The figure shows how receivers of remittances from Russia have been affected as remittances received continue to decelerate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another affected region is the Middle East and North Africa, but despite the volatility, remittances represent substantially larger and more stable sources of inflows. Remittances to the region are expected to grow by 2.9% to reach $51 bn. Remittances to Egypt are expected to stabilize in 2014,  after the 2013 decline of 7.3% in remittances to Egypt (biggest receiver in the region, 6th worldwide).

 

For the full World Bank report click here: Migration and Development Brief 23 

 

Charmaine Oak, Practice Lead, Digital Money

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

DMGCovervcbookcover

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

 

=======

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

If Bitcoin becomes “too big to fail”, who will be at the rescue table?

As we continue to experience regular occurrences of Bitcoin volatility, I wonder if and when Bitcoin might become too big too fail. As it continues to go mainstream if its Achilles Heel of Volatility gets further exposed, and the worst happens, who will care? If we visualise the rescue meeting, who is likely to accept a seat at the table?

 

512px-Achilles_heel

 

Bitcoin, together with Altcoins and alternative currencies continues to excite interest across multiple segments around the world. In spite of warnings from CFPB, FATF, EBA and other regulators, news of Bitcoin related conquests continue to come thick and fast.

One thing that experts seem to agree about is that this is not going away any time soon. But as the movement gathers momentum and becomes increasingly entwined with mainstream ecosystems, a lot more businesses and consumers could potentially stand to lose if the services were to fail.

Reportedly Bitcoin is making strides in Australia. Living Room of Satoshi reports that Australian residents have paid $150,000 toward BPAY-enabled utility bills, electricity bills, school fees and tax payments through their service. BPAY is an important bill-payment system in Australia and supports innovative ways to pay through digital banking, QR Codes and more.

 

livingroomsatoshi

 

Bitcoin bill payments is also happening in Canada, and elsewhere in the world too, Bitcoin is becoming a part of everyday life. Overstock plans to launch International Bitcoin Payments on September 1st. Yet, more bill payment and more retail payment may not necessarily translate to Happy Days. Retailers need fiat currency, and the more the mainstream services, the more the potential exposure to currency quirks.

As prices declined this week, and Bitcoin experienced one of the most volatile periods this year, reportedly going into a 38% free fall in some areas yesterday, I wonder whether the industry is already showing signs of age. Still in the first flush of growth, the industry must nevertheless go through all the growth phases of its predecessors, however different they may seem. But when teenage angst gives way to middle age worries, who will take care of Bitcoin?

Studying trends in Digital Money as we do, it seems as if each wave of new entrants and services seems indomitable at first, but may be brought down by some of the very factors that at first made it successful. Mobile money services can find it hard to support the very high volume low value transactions that are their reason for being.  Money transfer operators feel the heavy burden of compliance due to the highly specialised nature of their business and their sprawling agent networks that made them successful for so long. And we all know what happens when banks become too big to fail: every one gets roped in to take care of them. But more importantly processes exist for detection and correction in these industries, and remedial action can proceed along well understood lines.

As the Cryptocurrency industry enters it’s sixth year, some of the processes have already been streamlined for efficiency. However this very maturity is exposing its Achilles heel of Volatility in new ways. The fact  that it is possible to attack a pool more easily than the same number of independent miners, for instance, raises new possibilities for attacks as we saw recently. At the start of the month one hacker was revealed to have stolen $83,000 over four months by targeting a mining pool and using a vulnerability in the border gateway protocol.

A number of incidents, such as Mt. Gox have brought home the vulnerabilities of doing business involving Bitcoin. When traditional businesses fail, there are fall backs typically at the country or economic zone level. If the industry is to grow out of adolescence is it possible to put trusted guardians and a protection mechanism in place?

Cui Bono? Although it is clear that everyone stands to benefit from their being such a mechanism, it is not clear who stands to benefit from being such a mechanism.

Yet this will be vital for when cryptocentric systemically critical services such as Bitcoin need to be stabilised or bailed out. Otherwise the knock-on effect to other parts of the ecosystem will increasingly translate the shock onward, not just to Litecoin, Darkcoin and other cryptocurrencies as recently happened, but even to external entities that may seem totally disconnected at present.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail