In the 30 years since Ismail Ahmed fled his native Somaliland to escape civil war, he has spent much of his time trying to make it easier for immigrants like himself to send money home.
Now WorldRemit, the London-based company he created eight years ago, has more than 800,000 customers using it to send money from some 50 countries to more than 2.7m people in over 145 countries.
The company specialises in sending money more quickly and cheaply than Western Union or MoneyGram via its mobile phone app. It uses a network of banks, telecom operators and mobile wallet providers around the world to distribute cash to people in developing countries.
Remembering the many hours he spent as an economics student in Kent travelling to money transfer agents in London to send cash back to his family in an Ethiopian refugee camp, Mr Ahmed (pictured) said: “The transport costs and friction of sending money are still very high”.
“Only 10 per cent of world remittances are digital on the sending side, but in the next three to four years as much as 50 to 60 per cent will move to digital,” he said. All of the money WorldRemit sends is paid in digitally and it pays out seven in 10 remittances digitally — compared to only one in five globally.
The digital remittances company has teamed up with the instant messaging service WhatsApp to notify people in real time when they have been sent money using WorldRemit.
Mr Ahmed launched the company using a £200,000 compensation award he received after blowing the whistle on corruption in a United Nations’ remittance programme. WorldRemit has since raised $220m from venture capital groups including TCV and Accel Partners.
The company, which dubs itself “the WhatsApp of money”, increased its revenues 47 per cent to £60.5m last year and Mr Ahmed expects it to grow even faster this year to hit £95m of revenues. Its growth has been fuelled by heavy spending on marketing and communication, which rose 64 per cent to £13.6m last year.
While its net losses widened from £15.2m in 2016 to £19.4m last year, Mr Ahmed expects it to break even next year, predicting that its costs will stabilise as it no longer needs to invest as much in gaining new licences.
This summer, WorldRemit gained a licence in Nevada, meaning it is now authorised to send money on behalf of US customers in all 50 American states. Mr Ahmed said its US business was growing at 150 to 200 per cent a year and the country had already become its biggest market for originating remittances, generating over a fifth of its revenue.
The company is handling 1.2m transactions a month, up 60 per cent from the previous year. Mr Ahmed estimated that 15 per cent of these were smaller transfers that would not have happened previously because they would not have been worth it. “The Uber driver in New York is often sending ‘skip the latte’ money to Harare or Nairobi that they would not have done previously,” he said.
WorldRemit plans to start offering money transfer services to business customers — initially in east Africa. The aim, said Mr Ahmed, is to send enough money from African countries for businesses to pay suppliers that it matches the flow of remittances moving the other way. “We will get to matched funding in Africa from business transactions,” he said.
“We have a better network in Africa than banks do,” he added. “We can offer a Kenyan company direct access to an individual’s bank account in Nigeria — so why should they pay a high price to go through Swift?”
FT fintech video interview
We recently caught up with Kristo Käärmann, who set up TransferWise with a fellow Estonian in 2011 after they were shocked by the cost of sending money overseas. He remembers how he and his co-founder Taavet Hinrikus said to each other soon after launching the company: “Wow the banks are making an absolute killing on this, it must be gravy.” But he adds that despite their high margins, the banks are weighed down by high costs, so many of them barely break even on cross-border money transfers. TransferWise recently started making a profit, but Mr Käärmann says its low prices have still saved its more than 4m customers over £1bn on money transfers this year. He also says it has no plan to apply for a banking licence, dismissing deposit insurance as “an old artefact” or a “problem that hasn't been fixed yet”. Watch the full video
Further fintech fascination
Data danger The US Senate banking committee will take up the subject of data sharing among technology companies and big banks this week. The hearings will be a first opportunity to review a report from the Treasury, which talks approvingly of the idea, suggesting data-sharing will create efficiency and scale, and lower consumer prices. The FT's Rana Foroohar will watch with trepidation. She writes that the Treasury is in danger of skating over the systemic risk and predatory pricing that could emerge if the world’s largest technology companies and the biggest banks on Wall Street share consumer data. This would hardly be surprising, given the Trump administration’s consistently deregulatory stance, but it could be bad news for consumers, she notes. Imagine if your Facebook page had a checking account attached. What could go wrong? Read or listen to the full article
Crypto gone In spring this year Level39, a tech start-up hub in London’s Canary Wharf, was buzzing with new cryptocurrency and blockchain businesses keen to make their mark. Oliver von Landsberg-Sadie, whose cryptocurrency brokerage BCB Group is among the hundreds of companies based there, said that more recently a number have disappeared and no new ones have popped up. In some cases “you see a whole vacant area where there was once a flourishing team”.
Teacher Ma Relinquishing the chairmanship of China's Alibaba next September will leave Jack Ma free, in theory, to spend more time on the road. But few believe Mr Ma, who remains a lifetime member of Alibaba’s powerful 36-member partnership, will not continue pulling the strings of the nearly $430bn company.
Bits and bobs
The next crisis How might a financial crisis triggered by a cyber attack unfold? A likely scenario would be an attack by a rogue nation or terrorist group on financial institutions or major infrastructure. Inside North Korea, for example, the Lazarus Group, also known as Hidden Cobra, routinely looks for ways to compromise banks and exploit cryptocurrencies. An attack on a bank, investment fund, custodian firm, ATM network, Swift, or the Federal Reserve itself would represent a direct hit on the financial services system, write Paul Mee and Til Schuermann of Oliver Wyman in the Harvard Business Review.
Gone shopping Stripe is going after the high street, launching its own point-of-sale payments terminal package targeted at online retailers making the jump to offline. Stripe has built itself up into a multibillion-dollar company off the back of making it easy for online sellers to accept card payments. Now, with Stripe Terminal, it is promising to bring the same ease of use to in-person payments, reports Finextra.
Unbanker-like Monzo is not really a bank. The UK fintech has a banking licence. But instead of lending out deposits it aims to use its growing base of users to construct a kind of financial marketplace. This, in theory, allows Monzo to provide depositors with access to a wide range of other banking services, including loans. It would then receive commission from these other providers, reports Alphaville.
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