Mobile money: Digital transfer is the future
Gabriella Poczo is the Chief Technology Officer of WorldRemit, a global money transfer company. She explains the company’s commitment to ensuring that money transferred across the world is sent digitally as mobile airtime top up, bank account transfer or as mobile money. Poczo tells COLLINS NWEZE that WorldRemit offers same-day transfers to banks in Nigeria from more than 50 countries, adding that there are more ways to receive money digitally.
Global trends in connectivity show that the future of financial services will be mobile. For Gabriella Poczo, the Chief Technology Officer of WorldRemit, the company’s goal is to help people use online services to send money to friends and family living abroad, using the computer, smartphone or tablet.
On online transfers, Poczo said WorldRemit is built on strong partnerships with banks, telcos and other pay-out networks.
“Our service connects to a myriad of different payment systems, both in the send and receive countries. Technically, that means allowing our partners to query our systems through an API, processing transfers as quickly as possible, and updating both senders and recipients about the progress of their transfers. Sometimes that requires “high touch”, especially when we are dealing with partners at different levels of technical sophistication,” she said.
She said remittances are one of the last frontiers of the internet, adding that in a world where one shops online, books travel online, or listens to music online, people have begun sending and receiving money online.
“Right now, the vast majority of remittances are still sent and received at bricks-and-mortar agents. WorldRemit is built to disrupt this archaic industry, and take sending money online. With us, all money transfers are sent digitally, and a growing proportion are received digitally – as mobile airtime top up, bank account transfer or as mobile money,” she said.
Poczo, one of Silicon Valley’s engineering heads, who oversaw Skype’s move from desktop to mobile, was hired by WorldRemit to revolutionalise its mobile money services.
Her appointment underlines WorldRemit’s status as the leading player in mobile money transfers – with a mobile-first strategy for senders and the largest selection of mobile money wallets for recipients.
“This company is so far ahead of the game in terms of mobile money transfers. While others are still talking about the opportunity, WorldRemit is sending hundreds of thousands transactions to mobile devices across Africa and Asia,” said Poczo.
“They know this space better than anyone. Now it’s time to take our service to the next level – integrating more Mobile Money partners, and providing enhanced apps for our senders.”
On the global mobile money integration and the impacts on emerging markets, Poczo said there are more than 260 mobile money services in the world, the vast majority of which operate in emerging economies and have seen rapid growth.
“Across many emerging markets, there are two billion people who don’t have a bank account today, and Mobile Money will be their first and only means of accessing financial services. With a few exceptions, however, those services are for domestic person-to-person transfers only. There is no underlying infrastructure to move money from a VISA card in the United States or in the United Kingdom, to an MTN mobile wallet in Tanzania, for example,” she said.
“So that’s where WorldRemit is offering a convenient solution to connect Diaspora communities with mobile wallets back home in emerging markets”.
On the strength of WorldRemit’s Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and what distinguishes them from those of other competitors, she said the company’s focus on a mobile experience is unique and simple.
“We have used our APIs and our platform to directly integrate with a large number of mobile money services – offering customers the option of sending money instantly from a Smartphone to a mobile wallet. We have a large, truly global footprint, allowing people to send money from more than 50 countries to over 125 destinations,” she said.
“Our strength lies in simultaneously offering the technology as well the robust compliance platform to potential partners. As a financial services company, we are heavily regulated and compliance factors in as an integral part of our technical development process. Technology ultimately allows us to scale many of the compliance checks we are doing for our customers”.
As the CTO of WorldRemit, Poczo said he mission is to enhance the use of instant messaging and Voice over Internet Protocol services like WhatsApp, Viber, or Skype have fundamentally changed the way we communicate and connect with people.
“Compare that to today’s financial services, which have remained archaic and cumbersome. People genuinely still fill out paper forms or queue in line, when they really shouldn’t have to. WorldRemit has the technology in place to offer a financial service on par with today’s communication technology – we make sending money as easy as sending an instant message,” she said.
“And it doesn’t stop there: We are continuing to improve on the user experience to offer customers the service they want – quick, simple, and intuitive”.
Speaking further, she said WorldRemit is already ahead of the game in remittances to mobile money. “We have the largest market share in international remittances going to mobile wallets, and have secured the right strategic global partnerships to keep our momentum. At the same time, we are poised to expand our partnerships with Mobile Money services across the world,” she said.
“There are more than 260 live services – and we want to partner with all of them. Already, we have set the standards to scale our integrations, and we have a fantastic track record: We’ve seen double-digit monthly percentage growth with existing partners”.
She explained that sending money home has for too long been a frustrating experience for migrants. The company, she said, is using technology to bring real change to an industry where migrants have traditionally faced high fees, costly trips to high-street agents, long queues, and disappointing customer service.
“WorldRemit lets people use an app to send money – and customers love it. One of our customers recently said that being able to send money instantly makes her feel like her friends are “right next to her.”
Mobile money challenges
Poczo admitted there are challenges ahead for the company’s partners in the mobile money space. However, she said telcos are increasingly investing in better infrastructure and laying the fibre to expand coverage and bring down the cost of data.
At the same time, we also need more education on the security and ease of use of Mobile Money. Consumer awareness will in turn drive increased demand for better connectivity on mobile devices.
She said the company launched low-cost money transfer in The Gambia and Burundi. According to her, the company already has on offer, same-day transfers to banks in Nigeria from more than 50 countries, and we are always looking to expand our service by partnering with new correspondents and offer more ways to receive money.
She said mobile money service providers have a big role to play in raising awareness and educating customers about the convenience and security of mobile money.
“In countries where WorldRemit sends to mobile wallets, we help increase the viability of Mobile Money as a service. International remittances can help overcome the problem of getting money into the digital ecosystems: Compared to a small peer-to-peer transaction of $10 or $40, the typical international remittance transfer is between $200 to $300,” she said.
Poczo says WorldRemit already sends to 12 mobile money services across Africa. “In Zimbabwe, where we partner with the successful EcoCash wallet, more than 80 per cent of our transactions go to mobile phones. In Kenya, the huge success and adoption of MPesa has meant that more than 90 per cent of transfers go to mobile money,” she said.
“At the same time, we have also been expanding our Mobile Money partnerships beyond Africa: In recent months, we launched instant transfers to mobile wallets in Armenia, Fiji, Samoa, Sri Lanka, and Tonga”.
She said mobile money has grown exponentially all over the world. “Active users of mobile wallets have shot up from only 30 million in 2013 to more than 100 million at the end of 2014. Mobile money already is WorldRemit’s fastest-growing receive option and we fully expect growth to continue,” she said.
“The growth of active users of Mobile Money, along with increasingly affordable smartphones and data connections, will only make it more attractive to send money to a mobile phone. We offer an industry-leading service and are primed to offer the best possible experience to new customers”.
She said the majority of those sending money with WorldRemit already use a smartphone or tablet to make a transaction, and we already see the impact of voice and instant messaging services on recipients. “We’ve been described as the “WhatsApp of Money” in the press, which is a nice comparison. Our customers are constantly connected by messaging, and now by money,” she said.
WorldRemit recently launched the global rollout of its new mobile App, enabling customers to send fast, secure and low-cost money transfers from their Android devices. The App makes it possible for people to send money to more than 110 countries across six continents. Transfers can be received as a bank deposit, cash pickup, Mobile Money or mobile airtime top-up, depending on the recipient’s country.
WorldRemit has gained recognition as a leading player in the shift to mobile-based financial services.
Founder and CEO of WorldRemit, Ismail Ahmed, said: “When WorldRemit started sending money online it freed people from transfer agents. Our mobile App means you can now step away from the computer and send anytime, anywhere.
“This is part of a wider mobile revolution. On the receiving end, the number of transfers going to Mobile Money services is growing while mobile airtime top-ups are also increasing. The future of remittances and all financial services is clearly mobile.”
WorldRemit predicts that the majority of its customers will use the service via mobile Apps in the near future. In the UK, mobile web traffic to worldremit.com has already overtaken that coming from desktop.
The move to mobile for remittance senders is mirrored on the receiving end with a growing number of money transfers going to mobile devices.
In Kenya, 82 per cent of WorldRemit transfers are received on M-Pesa Mobile Money, while 60 per cent of all transfers to Zimbabwe are sent to EcoCash Mobile Money. Overall, more than 50 per cent of all WorldRemit transfers to Africa are received as mobile money or airtime top-ups.