How is the remittances market faring in the region?
The UAE saw a 17.3 per cent surge in remittances year-on-year in the first quarter, according to the central bank. We see an increase in activity for several reasons. One, there is economic stability on the back of stable oil prices. The second is the positive sentiment as a result of the recent policy announcements by the government to further boost the non-oil economy. The projected trade and tourism numbers in the run-up to Expo 2020 are also adding to the sentiment. When the economy is growing, remittances also grow. The other reason is the strong dollar. Many Asian currencies are under pressure, so we are seeing an increase in remittances.
UAE Exchange was involved in acquisitions recently. What’s the group’s strategy on acquisitions?
UAE Exchange is part of the Finablr network of companies, which includes various financial services brands. For us, acquisition enhances our capability. That was the strategy announced in 2015 soon after Dr B. R. Shetty acquired Travelex. Travelex was a scale acquisition because at that time we wanted global reach. After that, our investments focused on enhancing capabilities. For example, we acquired Remit2India, which had strong capability in digital money transfer from the US, UK, Canada and Australia, largely into India. The same was the case with investments in Swych, a digital cross-border gifting services company, Loyyal, a blockchain-based loyalty firm, and Dubai-based Souqalmal. Going forward, acquisitions and investments will continue to be a key strategy for us.
What are your expectations from the tie-up with blockchain firm Ripple?
We tied up with Ripple to explore settlement, reconciliation and transfer messaging. Currently, money transfer is still on a two-speed world, where messaging happens in real time, but settlement takes a lot of time. Adoption of this technology allows us to offer a competitive service, as it will have an impact on the speed and cost of transactions.
What is the strategy behind the recent rebranding exercise?
In April 2018, we announced our intention to bring the financial services brands under Finablr. As part of the Finablr strategy, UAE Exchange’s operations outside of the UAE will operate under Unimoni, which covers 22 markets across the globe. The reason is that the kind of services that we offer and the customers we serve have evolved. Unimoni is all about the universality of money, but we are equally proud about the legacy and equity UAE Exchange has in the UAE. Here in the UAE, we will continue to operate as UAE Exchange.
With your association with Dubai FinTech Hive, how do you plan to leverage fintechs?
The world is becoming borderless, so it’s important to collaborate and work with fintech start-ups. Working with FinTech Hive has been an encouraging exercise. We participated in a lot of their programmes. We are also offering mentorship to some of the start-ups.
How will the remittances industry evolve in the next decade?
The first is the proliferation of digital — it will be a key trend. Secondly, the kind of efficiency that comes as AI, machine learning, big data and blockchain pick up speed. The most important thing is the collaborative mindset. We find institutions coming together and finding newer ways of doing things.