A mobile phone that can be used to send money, an ATM machine that works across two continents and an agent who delivers money to a remote village - these are just some of the innovations that have transformed the world of money transfer services.
New products are constantly being created to meet customers' evolving requirements. And when it comes to remittances, necessity has prompted the invention of several indigenous and community-specific offerings. Several of these are being launched this summer and many are currently in the works.
One such remarkable addition is the result of the partnership between UAE Exchange and the Union Bank of the Philippines. Together, the organisations have adopted payment technology company Visa's new platform, Visa Personal Payments so as to allow anyone holding a Visa card to remit money in real time. The service is available to those holding debit, prepaid, credit or platinum cards from Visa.
Al Fardan Exchange has recently signed an agreement with Emirates NBD to provide customers with a convenient way to send money. The service, available from this month, allows customers to withdraw their salaries from and transfer funds through Emirates NBD ATMs.
Other players rolling out new developments include Lulu Exchange, which plans to introduce remittance services and Wage Protection Services (WPS) through mobile vehicles, and Western Union.
Sobia Rahman, Regional Vice-President - Gulf, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Western Union, says, "In February 2011, we signed an agreement with Etisalat to introduce the Western Union Mobile Money Transfer service in the 18 countries where Etisalat operates. Once the service is introduced, it will enable Etisalat subscribers to send and receive Western Union Money Transfer transactions using their mobile ‘wallets', or accounts tied to their mobile phones. Subscribers who initiate transactions from their mobile phones would be able to send funds toa receiver for cash payout at more than 400,000 Western Union Agentlocations in 200 countries and territories. In addition, Etisalat subscribers would be able to send funds to other selected mobile subscribers who have mobile wallets."
Many of these services are tailored to local communities. For instance, in Italy, MoneyGram has partnered with Poste Italiane. In the UAE, the company has partnered with the National Bank of Abu Dhabi for mobile transfers that can reach any of their global agent locations.
In the Philippines, says Ananth C. Srivatsa, Director - Marketing, Middle East and South Asia, MoneyGram International, 40 million smartphone users can receive funds from a growing list of countries and territories.
In Australia, the company has enabled customers to shorten transaction time through kiosks at 7-Eleven stores. Consumers set up their money transfers at a kiosk before handing money over to a cashier.
"We feel that the needs of certain communities are different than others," says Zameer A. Punjabi, Senior Manager, Marketing and Business Development, Al Fardan Exchange. "The current UAE remittance market is getting very competitive and even consumers are very well aware and educated about the offers and products available in the market."
Sometimes regulations also drive a product.
In Russia, QIWI, the country's largest brand of cash kiosks operator, partnered with Unistream,a well-known money transfer service in the CIS to make its services available to its network of over 100,000 kiosks.
The product was introduced in the wake of a 2009 enacted bill that allows sums up to 15,000 roubles (Dh1,965) to be transferred without the need for identification. Customers can input the name, number and address of the recipient at any kiosk to transfer payments in the country andwithin CIS.
While MoneyGram counts the United States as one of its top receiving countries, the World Bank's Migration and Remittances Factbook 2011 also counts India, China, Mexico and the Philippines as the countries that received the most number of recorded remittances in 2010. "In India and China combined we have over 100,000 Western Union locations," says Rahman.
The US is listed as the country that sends the highest number of remittances at a total of $48 billion in 2009. Saudi Arabia is ranked second, followed by Switzerland and Russia. The World Bank lists the US as the country with the largest increase of immigrants between 2005 and 2010. The six Gulf Cooperation Council countries have also seen a significant increase in incoming immigrants in the past few years.
"The large number of expatriates from the Asian countries are the top senders, with India coming in first followed by Bangladesh, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal," says Adeeb Ahamed, CEO of Lulu International Exchange. "The major recipients are beneficiaries in emerging countries because more expats from these countries are employed here. Since there are more unbankedsegments in these countries, new services suchas cash pick up and door-to-door services have been introduced."
In January this year, Vijaya Bank, a Bengaluru-based public sector bank, partnered with TimesofMoney, a digital payments service provider in India, to offeran online remittance platform for its customers across the globe. Non-resident or expatriate Indians can use the bank website to transfer money online from 22 countries leveraging TimesofMoney's branded remittance service.
The Visa PersonalPayments service came about due to the popularity of the card across the Philippines compared to other markets.
Currently, the preferred method of remittance is via money exchanges. According to figures, remittances to the Philippines reached $4.6 billion in the first quarter of this year - 5.9 per cent higher than a year ago.
"Online services are the most convenient in my opinion but they have to be integrated to all of the banks," says designer Boyet Santos, a UAE-based expatriate who regularly sends money to his home in a smaller province of the Philippines. "Some people receive their salary through EmiratesNBD, while some are RAK Bank customers. The transfer option should be global in regardless of what bank account you have."
At the Money Transfers Dubai 2011 conference, organised by the International Association of Money Transfer Networks, it was revealed that the Wages Protection System introduced by the Department of Labour and the Central Bank of UAE in May 2009 processed salary payments for 60 per cent of all workers in February 2011.
Often, the first ones to sense an opportunity in various communities is a trusted service. Dahabshiil, now based in Dubai is a major remittance channel to the Horn of Africa - and across five continents. It is even used by relief agencies for distributing cash to refugees. Dahabshiil handles remittances from the international Somali diaspora. CEO Abdirashid Duale has 24,000 agent locations and branches across the world.
Safaricom, Kenya'slargest mobile provider, started its M-Pesa service in March 2007, today used by about 10 million people. This is because in South Africa, cell phone penetration is extremely high while it is estimated that more than 13 million economically active South Africans do not havea bank account.
The United Nations claims that only one in five households in Africa had access to a bank account.
"Beyond the UAE we have also expanded our mobile money transfer service in Kenya, allowing consumers to send money directly to M-Pesa subscribers in Kenya from WU locations in 45 countries," says Western Union's Rahman.
"This means sending cash to a mobile wallet - especially convenient for expats with families in countries such as the Philippines and Kenya where the concept of mobile wallets is well-developed," continues Rahman. "In the Middle East, the service is now available in nine countries including Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Yemen. The service also is availablein Pakistan."