WorldRemit: The WhatsApp of Money Transfer

When Ismail Ahmed was a student in London, he was sending money to his family in Somalia. He then incurs the costs of transferring money. He founded in 2010, with Catherine Wines, WorldRemit – an online service that allows you to send money to relatives abroad from a computer, smartphone or tablet. More convenient and cheaper, it has become the leader in its market segment in seven years, with a presence in 50 countries, transfers to more than 120 destinations, and 41 million pounds of turnover in 2016. Interview of Catherine Wines, Executive Director of the group.

Propos recueillis par Dounia Ben Mohamed


Interview by Dounia Ben Mohamed

In seven years, WorldRemit has become a world leader in online money transfer. An extremely rapid rise in a sector already occupied by major global groups…

WorldRemit is an online money transfer company created in 2010. At the beginning of this story: Ismail Ahmed, the co-founder with myself. While he was a student in London, he was sending money to his family in Somalia. This is where he reflected on a way to provide a simpler and cheaper service. This is how WorldRemit was born. With, at the beginning, a fairly classic system: from sending money that can be recovered in cash. But soon, we realized the emergence and potential of mobile money in Africa, Kenya in particular, but also elsewhere. Today, we send money from more than 50 countries to some 40 destinations, mainly in Africa, but also in Asia and soon in South America. This represents more than a trillion dollars of mailing and is progressing every month. This is how we became a leader in the development of mobile money. From the point of view of remittances to mobiles, from North to Africa, we are also the world leader, with 350 employees and a turnover of 41 million pounds in 2016. The previous year we were at 26 million. We have almost doubled in one year thanks to the network and the partnerships we have put in place. But what is most important to us, what we are helping financial inclusion in Africa. Because we allow many people, who do not have bank accounts, to manage their funds, to do financial transactions, to save, and even to create small businesses.

How have you distinguished yourself from your competitors, who have been on the market for a long time?

By making the transfers easier and feasible in the immediate future. This reduces costs by eliminating the need to travel by bus or other means to recover money. It is instantly received on its laptop and can be used immediately to settle invoices or make a withdrawal if cash is needed. Western Union and Money Gram, not to quote them, are older so have a more advanced network, but for the companies in line we are leading. The difficulty in our industry is that things do not happen so quickly. Obtaining a license in a country can take two years, then negotiate partnerships, make integrations … In some countries we set up local offices but most of the time we work with partners.

You have chosen to form partnerships with telephone operators. In the long term, this is not likely to become a hindrance?

No, on the contrary. Telephone operators have a network on which they are grafted. You have to know that for all money transfers, a very regulated activity, we have licenses in the shipper countries, it is easier for us to forge partnerships with companies already well established in the countries of destination. Especially since they share our offers with all of their clientele.

Are they not likely, in the long term, to develop this type of service themselves? Some already do it…

Orange is the only one to do so because they are present both north and south. Our partners, on the other hand, are only present in Africa. It is therefore more interesting for them and for us to work together. We have expertise. Moreover, this is mainly large volume on small operations, so margins are very low.

You talk about expertise. I assume that you are closely following the evolution of new technologies in your sector to adapt or even anticipate. Things are changing very fast…

Innovation is at the heart of our model. We can not rest on our laurels, we must continually keep an eye on new developments in the field, in order to proNew products and partners that will help us to further facilitate service and reduce costs. That is why you started in Kenya, a country particularly developed in the field of Tics? Kenya is indeed one of the first countries. But it was especially in East Africa that we started. An area that allowed us to spread very quickly from one country to another. But we also operate in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire … with Morocco and Wafacash we will go together in Senegal. It is more the partnership that motivates our establishment in a market. Today we are waiting for a license in South Africa also to send from the country to other destinations. It is a trend that is developing: there are more and more movements from Africa and intra-Africa. Things that were not possible seven years ago, because online payment was limited … but today with smartphones, less and less expensive, it is possible. Mobile money is indeed booming in Africa which serves as a field of experimentation.

How do you see the evolution of the sector?

In Europe the concept of mobile money is not well understood. Everyone has a bank account and access to their accounts online, so you do not see the need to call mobile money. Whereas in Africa, where only 20% of the population is banked, mobile money plays an essential role. It meets certain needs but not at all. Generally telephone companies have restrictions on large sums and therefore can not use mobile money.

Bank transfer remains necessary on large volumes. The proof is that bank transfers have increased. You do not represent competition for the traditional bank?

No, we are not here to compete with them. The proof is that they send money to the banks. We even see some of them create their money portfolio themselves to offer additional services to their customers. They need to move forward in order not to lose the market.

Do not the new constraints in terms of international regulation, given the terrorist threat and the tracking down of illicit funds, slow down your margin for progress?

Regulation is changing because the world is changing. The terrorist threat calls for more regulation. Applications become heavier. We have to adapt. It is also a way of protecting us. Even if things do not move as fast as you would sometimes. At the level of central banks in Africa, for example, they did not immediately realize or realize the service that the mobile portfolio represents, especially when they were still on small amounts, they were not interested, but When in Kenya more than 90% of transactions were made via M-Pesa, they began to watch. In Uganda they are registering all SIM cards. By a certain deadline, those who have not been identified will lose the use of the card and the funds that are there at the same time. It should be noted that money transfer companies have themselves suffered greatly from money laundering. Western Union had to pay heavy fines. On the other hand, we know who sends and who receives, our system ensures greater transparency.

Author: Dounia Ben Mohamed // Photos: Catherine Wines, Executive Director of the Group © WorldRemit



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