Remitting with Purpose
About a year ago, I was in San Francisco and I needed to help pay my partner’s electricity bill in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Earlier, I needed pay a hospital bill. I’ve also frequently wished that I could pay for a massage, and I often need to purchase mobile airtime at emergency hours. One would expect these actions to be easy for me to execute. After all, I’m also a resident of West Africa with local bank accounts, and my banks have branches in Abidjan. However, the reality is that cross-border money and purposeful value transfers are still far from simple.
The rationale for some level of complexity is understandable: Regulators and financial institutions have worked over many decades to ensure that international money transfers are heavily scrutinized and the identities of the senders and recipients are closely detailed and monitored. Terrorism, money-laundering and fraud are still major concerns, especially within the popular remittance corridors, and it is in the interest of the financial system and global security for all actors to enforce strict anti-money laundering and know-your-customer requirements when it comes to international money transfers.
I understood this clearly and appreciate the logic, but I still needed to pay that electricity bill in Abidjan. I tried the obvious channel first. I contacted my local bank to make a transfer from my account to my partner’s account at their Abidjan branch, but they didn’t offer the service. Although Lagos to Abidjan is only a 90-minute flight, the Naira currency spent in Lagos and the West African franc spent in Abidjan are not directly exchangeable. One would need to first convert the Naira into an intermediary currency like the USD or Euro at the heavily-restricted open market before attempting to transfer to Abidjan. My partner and I needed to open a Dollar-denominated domiciliary bank account so that I can do a traditional international wire.
I just needed to pay a simple electricity bill, and even if I was willing to go through the prescribed process, I couldn’t because I was in San Francisco at the moment.
Fortunately, I had a US bank account with a debit card. Surely, I should be able to easily send some Dollars from there to Ivory Coast, so, I followed an elaborate registration/verification process and initiated a transfer with a popular remittance service provider. I received a call 24 hours later from my bank. Apparently, a money transfer request from San Francisco to Abidjan has raised some flags, and they needed to get very intimate with me. After a 30-minute call, I’d shared the circumstances surrounding the meeting of my Ivorian friend, our biographies and lifestyles, the nature of our relationship, and the expectation of our relationship’s direction going forward. There were intermittent 5-minute breaks during the call to relay those details to the compliance team. The electricity bill remained un-paid.
Eventually, nearly 48 hours after initiation, the transaction was approved and the recipient picked up local currency at an agent location in Abidjan. Although I was not happy with the fees I had to pay and the exchange rate used, I was more displeased about the general invasiveness of the process. Nonetheless, I found relief in finally getting the electricity bill paid. I couldn’t go through that process again. It would have failed if I were out of the US anyway. So, I’ve had to ignore or get creative around the massage, hospital bills, mobile phone airtime and other things.
Across the world, there are hundreds of millions of immigrants and travelers like me that need to transfer some immediate, non-cash value internationally, but the systems that have been set up to facilitate that don’t take into account the nature of transfers. Purposeful transfers of value account for over 40% of all international money transfers ($250bn in value), and they do not have the same risks as money transfers because the destination and use-of-funds have been pre-determined by the sender. If the destination and use of funds can be controlled, then there is simply no need to subject senders to the time, procedures, security hazards and fees inherent in pure money transfers.
All I needed was a service that allowed me to pay the electricity or phone bill directly, or send a voucher that can only be redeemed for massage or hospital services in Abidjan. This is why the team at SureGifts are building SureRemit. The product connects the senders of value directly to the merchants that offer the goods and services they need. By aggregating a network of merchant and service providers, and working with aggregators across the world, SureRemit can leverage blockchain and cryptocurrency to bypass IMTOs, banks and agents and connect people to what they really need at no cost, and without stress.
We’re excited about the project and its possibilities. You can learn more about SureRemit and our ICO at https://token.sureremit.co.